The Olympics is an event that unites the world. Avid sports fans, sporadic supporters and people who wouldn’t recognise a trainer if it hit them in the face, gather to watch the games.
For two weeks we celebrate not just sporting gold, but determination, dedication and integrity. We gasp as Bolt catapults past the finish line, yell with delight as Jess Ennis leaps over hurdles and cheer Chris Hoy around the velodrome.
This was clear during the 2012 London games. Despite months, even years, of political wrangling and public outcry over expense and bureaucracy of the planning and construction process, as the opening ceremony began the country joined together to support our athletes.
Today, all eyes are fixed on Brazil as talented athletes from across the globe push the boundaries of their sport, creating new personal bests and breaking more records. However, there are some Olympic moments that will go down in history; occasions to be remembered for years to come. Some awe-inspiring, others hair-raising and a few even heart-wrenching.
Jesse Owens, Berlin 1936
The Berlin Games were held at a time when Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich began to close in on Germany. They were supposed to exhibit Germany’s prowess to the world and promote the victory of the ‘Arian’ race. However, African-American athlete Jesse Owens’s sporting triumphs showed Hitler’s fascist regime just how wrong it was.
Usain Bolt, Beijing 2008
Since breaking the 100m and 200m record in the 2008 Beijing games, Usain Bolt has become a household name. At successive Olympics we are all asking the same question; will Bolt be beaten? CAN Bolt be beaten?
In August 2008 the world watched in amazement as ‘the fastest man in the world’ thrashed fellow competitors, cruising over the 100m finish line in just 9.69 seconds.
We ALL know the classic Bolt pose…
Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power Salute, Mexico, 1968
Standing on the podium at the 200m medal ceremony in Mexico City, Gold and Bronze medallists Tommy Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a black gloved fist while the American national anthem played. The gesture endorsing human rights captivated the world. However the International Olympic Committee were not so impressed and demanded that both athletes were banned from the Olympic village. Peter Norman who had taken 2nd place and joined them in wearing the badge of Human Rights on his jacket was reprimanded by his country’s Olympic authorities.
At the 2008 ‘Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award’ Smith and Carlos were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Derek Redmond, Barcelona, 1992
Redmond’s story is one of determination, love and humanity that really characterises the essence of the Olympic Games. Tipped to win the 400m Gold, this was supposed to be Derek Redmond’s moment. However at the semi-final while running down the final straight he tore his hamstring, falling to the ground in agony. Nonetheless Redmond was determined to complete the race and picked himself up. Yet it was what happened next that has gone down in history and has even been described by Obama as a prime example of the Olympic ideal.
Redmond’s father, Jim, pushed past security guards and onto the track to support his son as he hobbled towards the finish line.
If you’re seeking some #mondaymotivation, the footage of Redmond’s courageous moment is a good start.
While many of the other Olympic moments here give us reason to celebrate human achievement, the Munich games in 1972 is remembered for a different reason.
11 members of the Israeli team were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorist organisation, ‘Black September’. The attackers stole into the poorly secured athlete’s village and held the athletes hostage in their accommodation, demanding immediate release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel.
Following confusion amongst rescue teams and several missed opportunities to save the Israeli athletes, hostages and attackers were in a standoff. The games were subsequently suspended – for the first time in history – and a memorial service was held in the stadium, attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes.
Michael Phelps, Beijing 2008
Nicknamed ‘The Fish’, Michael Phelps is arguably the best swimmer the world has ever seen. With 22 Olympic medals (18 of which are gold) to his name he is also the most decorated.
Although it was in London 4 years ago where Phelps finally achieved this title, the Chinese Olympics in 2008 were his most spectacular and within two weeks he racked up 8 gold medals, surpassing Mark Spitz’s record of the most gold medals at a single Games.
Despite announcing his retirement from the racing, Phelps qualified for the Rio Olympics this year. Will he bring home another medal? We’ll have to wait and see…
Jessica Ennis-Hill wins Heptathlon
Since her success in 2012 Jess Ennis has been widely regarded as a national treasure. In the lead-up to the games she was tipped as one of GBs biggest stars. She had collected several medals from the Commonwealth and European Championships, but her Olympic cupboard was empty.
However Ennis lived up to – and even exceeded – our expectations, achieving Gold in the Heptathlon. She now has a hoard of commendations to her name, including the Laureus ‘World Sportswoman of the Year’, Sunday Times Sportswoman of the year, and ‘Ultimate Woman of the Year’ from Cosmopolitan.
Mo Farah, London 2012
There is little contesting Farah’s position as the UK’s greatest long distance runner. Mo’s victories on the track never seem to stop and his cheeky persona at London’s games conquered our hearts and brought Britain to the forefront of the athletics track.
Since his first medal at the 2006 European Championships Mo Farah has enjoyed success after success. But it is his astounding performance at the 2012 Olympics that Mo is remembered for. Not only is he the first Brit to win the 10,000 metres but he is one of just five athletes to take both the 5,000 and 10,000m.
His symbolic ‘Mobot’ pose holding both arms in an M over his head was repeated by aspiring runners across the country, and many celebrities! If images of Mo and Bolt together fail to stir your Olympic spirit, there is something seriously wrong with you…
Gaysli Leon, London 2012
This is not a narrative of spectacular victory like Bolt, or an unrivalled hoard of medals like Phelps. Instead it was Gaysli Leon’s perseverance that captured viewers across the world. The Haitian hand cyclist suffered severe spinal cord injuries during the 2004 Earthquake, a tragedy in which his wife and children were killed. Leon was invited to compete as part of an initiative to support Haitian athletes entering the Paralympics.
Despite finishing 10th (a full 16 minutes behind his nearest competitor) he attracted cheers of delight from the crowd. “I hope to be an example to those back home that disabled doesn’t mean you are useless”.
Ellie Simmonds, London 2012
Ellie’s performance in the 2012 games established her position as one of the (if not the) most successful British Paralympians. Before the London Olympics Simmonds had been stockpiling medals left, right and centre, but her amazing victories in the home games are one for history books. Seizing two Gold, a Silver and a Bronze she had the entire nation screaming her name from the stands of the Aquatics centre and in front of our television sets.
Ellie has already broken her World Record at the trials for the Rio games, so fingers crossed for another roaring success this August!
See our interview with Ellie here
Images: Maxisport / Featureflash Photo Agency/ Mitch Gunn/ catwalker/ rmnoa357/deepspace/ Ververidis Vasilis/ Alex Broadway / Shutterstock.com