As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games officially open, we look back at some of the most memorable and inspiring moments in summer Olympic history.
Referred to as The Greatest Show on Earth, the Olympic Games is the world’s most prestigious multi-sport competition. Reaching the Games is often the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, and what that they train for day in day out, year after year. Held every four years, the summer and winter Games comprise over 400 events, with athletes competing from over 200 nations.
The Olympic Games originated in Greece some 2,800 years ago, taking their name from the Olympia region in which they were held. The games of the ‘modern’ Olympiad were created by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, with the first event held in Athens in 1896. Athletes competed in many of the sports we still see at the Games today, including athletics, cycling, fencing, swimming and tennis.
The motto of the Olympic Games is Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together, representing the unifying power of sport, and the importance of solidarity.
Here, we look back at some of the most memorable and inspiring moments in summer Olympic Games history.
Michael Phelps breaks records
American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history. He has a total of 28 medals to his name, a staggering 23 of which are gold. In a glittering career that saw him compete at five Olympic Games, it was his performance at Beijing 2008 which proved to be most memorable. Phelps won eight gold medals, breaking Mark Spitz’s record of seven. Not only that, but seven of his medals were won in world-record times.
“Records are always made to be broken no matter what they are…Anybody can do anything that they set their mind to.” – Michael Phelps
Nadia Comăneci’s perfect 10
Aged just 14, Romanian athlete Nadia Comăneci was the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10.0 at the Olympic Games. Her routine on the uneven bars won her the gold medal and made her a household name. She is often credited with popularising gymnastics around the world.
Comăneci scored a further six perfect 10s during the Games, winning a total of three gold medals.
Derek Redmond wins hearts
The Olympic Games have produced many tear-jerking moments. Perhaps none is more memorable than that of British athlete Derek Redmond being helped over the finish line by his father. Redmond was competing in the 400 metre semi-final when he suffered an injury. Determined to complete the race he limped around the track, assisted by his father down the home straight.
Unfortunately he was disqualified, but won the hearts of the fans watching in the stadium, and around the world.
Eric “The Eel” Moussambani’s show of spirit
Eric Moussambani represented Equatorial Guinea in the 100m freestyle at Sydney 2000. He was given a wildcard entry, having taken up swimming just eight months earlier. When he dived into the pool for his heat, it was the first time he’d ever been in an Olympic-sized 50 metre pool. Visibly struggling to complete the distance, Moussambani won over the crowd and was roared to the finish line.
Eric’s show of determination has seen him go down in Olympic history. He was the epitome of Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s famous quote “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well”
The Dream Team dominate the court
Historically, professional NBA players were prevented from playing in the Olympic Games. However in 1989 that rule was overturned. So, in 1992 the United States sent a team to Barcelona that included the biggest names in the sport.
The team featured global megastars including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird. After training together for just six days, they went on to dominate the court, winning each game by an average of 44 points. The team won gold, beating Croatia 117-85 in the Final.
The ‘Dream Team’, as they became known, have often been described as the greatest sports team to ever be assembled.
Cathy Freeman’s home triumph
Going into her home Games in 2000, Australian athlete Cathy Freeman was the host nation’s only hope of a gold medal on the track. Such was her profile at the time, she had also been chosen to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony a few days earlier.
As she took to the track for the 400m final in the iconic hooded bodysuit, the atmosphere in the stadium was almost at boiling point. Freeman remained composed and powered to victory. In doing so, she became the first Aboriginal athlete to win Olympic gold.
Jesse Owens makes his mark
American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Games in Berlin. His victories, in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m and long jump, were particularly poignant given that the country was under the rule of Adolf Hitler at the time. Hitler had hoped to use the Games to promote his nation and belief in a superior Aryan race. Owens’ achievements shattered that theory and he was considered a hero by the majority of spectators. So memorable were his achievements that a street near the stadium in Berlin still bears the name Jesse-Owens-Allee.
Super Saturday’s gold rush
Saturday 4 August 2012 marked the half-way stage of the London 2012 Games. As as the host nation, the British team were already having a great Games. That day alone they had secured three gold medals in rowing and cycling.
In the evening, attention turned to the Olympic Stadium, and athletics. 80,000 spectators in the stadium, and millions more at home, saw Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Sir Mo Farah (10,000m) all win golds, and all within 44 astonishing minutes. Super Saturday is now considered by many as the best ever moment in British Olympic history.
Refugee Team send a message of hope
Rio de Janeiro 2016
Since the Olympics began, over 200 nations have competed in the Summer and Winter Games. At the Games of 2016 in Rio, a team of refugees, the first of its kind, also competed. The team was made up of ten athletes, originally hailing from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The inclusion of the team sent a message of hope to millions of refugees around the world, and demonstrated the strength of the human spirit. A refugee team will also compete at the Tokyo Games this year.
Usain Bolt’s ‘triple triple’
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt competed in his first Olympic Games in Athens, 2004. However it was at the Beijing Games of 2008 where he really came into his own. Having already broken the world record for the 100m earlier that year, Bolt doubled up and also ran the 200m in Beijing, coming away victorious in both events, as well as the 4x100m relay. In doing so, he also broke world records in each event.
Bolt went on to win golds in the same three events at London 2012 and Rio 2016, making him the first athlete to win the “triple triple”. He is widely considered to be the best sprinter of all time, and still holds the world records for 100m, 200m and 4x100m*.
*Record is held by Jamaican team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt.