Top 10 Memorable Moments in Olympics History

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Olympics History
© PA

For many athletes, the Summer Olympic Games is the pinnacle of their career. Once every four years – or five in the case of the postponed Tokyo Games – men and women from all over the world gather in one place to aim for coveted medals and achieve personal best performances.

Over the years there have been countless memorable moments: from tearjerkers like injured British 400m runner Derek Redmond being helped to the finish by his dad at Barcelona 1992, to the shock of Ben Johnson being disqualified from the Seoul 1988 100m.

We're going to stick to the positive in this list, although one was certainly not viewed as such at the time.

Berlin 1936 – Jesse Owens' Fantastic Four


Amid the straight-arm salutes, there was one outstanding performer in Berlin much to the chagrin of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. African American Jesse Owens won the 100m followed by the long jump, the 200m and the 4x100m relay to claim four golds in the 1936 Games.

Hitler's vision of Aryan dominance was wrecked by the 'Buckeye Bullet'. The long jump saw Owens prevail in a fine tussle with home favourite Luz Long. The pair swapped the lead a number of times before the American settled it with 8.06m. They embraced afterwards and kept in touch before Long, a Nazi officer in World War II, was killed in the Biscari Massacre of 1943.

Owens' colour left him largely unable to convert his fame into riches, but his name is synonymous with the Olympics. Carl Lewis famously won the same four events at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Rome 1960 – Abebe Bikila Wins The Marathon


Before Rome 1960, no black African had won an Olympic medal. That changed in the Italian capital when Ghanaian Ike Quartey took silver in the light-welterweight boxing division.

Five days later, Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila lined up for the marathon after being called up late to the squad. Having been unable to find a pair of suitable running shoes upon arrival in Rome, he decided to run barefoot.

It came down to a battle between the 28-year-old and Morocco's Rhadi Ben Abdesselem. With 1km to go, the pair passed the obelisk of Axum – a monument seized by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Bikila made his bid for glory and went clear to clock a new world best and become the first black African Olympic gold medallist.

Four years later in Tokyo, wearing shoes and less than six weeks after having his appendix removed, Bikila recorded another world best time as he became the first athlete to win two marathon Olympic titles.

Mexico City 1968 – Black Power On The Podium


Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expected to fight it out for gold in the 200m. In the final, Smith won in a world record 19.83s with Australia's Peter Norman beating Carlos for a surprise silver.

Smith and Carlos were involved with the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) which sought to highlight racial injustice across the world. Ahead of the medal ceremony, they decided to make a silent protest – including raising black-gloved fists – and informed Norman of their plan. Carlos forgot his gloves but Norman suggested he and Smith wear one apiece.

As an opponent of his own country's anti-immigration policies and discrimination against Aboriginals, Norman was supportive of the Americans' stand and joined them in wearing an OPHR badge on the podium.

When Smith and Carlos raised their fists, the reaction in the stadium was one of shock followed by anger. As they left the arena, they were immediately suspended by the US team and banished from the Games. But their protest was a defining moment in the push for civil rights. They went on to play in the NFL and became noted human rights activists.

Norman also suffered, being controversially left out of the Australian team for Munich 1972 and largely ignored after that. Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral in 2006, and Norman has recently received posthumous apologies and recognition from the Australian Government and the Australian Olympic Committee. His 20.06s in Mexico City remains an Australian record.

Montreal 1976 – Nadia Comaneci's 'Perfect 10'


Perfection is often sought but rarely achieved in sport. At the age of 14, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci attained it on the biggest stage of all.

The previous year, the youngster had won four golds at the European Championships in Skien, Norway. Her big rival was Soviet Nellie Kim who prevented Comaneci from claiming a clean sweep of titles on the floor.

In March 1976, Comaneci received 10s on the vault and the floor at the American Cup in New York. She went to Montreal as a warm favourite, and justified it with a stunning uneven bars routine in the team compulsory round featuring dizzying transitions between the two bars.

Like a reverse 'Spinal Tap', the scoreboard didn't go up to 10. Her score came up as 1.00, but confusion soon gave way to realisation that something very special had just occurred.

Comaneci had no fewer than seven 10s in Montreal – four on the uneven bars, three on the balance beam – as she won three individual gold medals before adding two more in Moscow four years later.

Barcelona 1992 – Enter The 'Dream Team'


While the notion of the Olympics as an amateur endeavour had pretty much vanished in the 1980s, it was still missing top professionals in several sports. Basketball was one, and after USA had only won bronze at Seoul 1988 – their worst placing in Olympic history – change was afoot.

Before then, basketball's international federation FIBA had barred NBA players from competing at the Games with USA selecting their best college athletes. In 1989, FIBA overturned that rule and the 'Dream Team' was born.

As a nod to its roots, they included one college player – Christian Laettner – in the squad. But the squad was filled with stars including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. Johnson had tested positive for HIV the year before, but selection boosted his morale and did much for awareness of the virus.

Commanding huge attention wherever they went, the team swept all before them. Their smallest winning margin was 38 points against Puerto Rico in the quarter-finals, with a 117-85 victory over Croatia securing gold.

Their triumph inspired basketball players around the world, and helped make the NBA one of the biggest sporting leagues on the planet.

Atlanta 1996 – 'Pocket Hercules' Does It Again


As head-to-head duels go, the battle for 64kg weightlifting in Atlanta was one of the very best. It saw Turkey's two-time reigning Olympic champion Naim Suleymanoglu face off against Greek rival Valerios Leonidis.

With supporters from both nations in great voice, and a political edge given the two countries almost went to war earlier that year, it was a furnace-like atmosphere inside the Georgia World Congress Center.

Suleymanoglu, nicknamed Pocket Hercules, had the advantage after the snatch as he lifted 147.5kg with his third and final attempt. Leonidis was on 145.0kg after failing to match the Turk with his final effort.

The tension reached the boiling point in the clean and jerk as Leonidis raised 187.5kg with his second attempt to match Suleymanoglu's total weight lifted. Due to his lighter body mass, the Greek was in a gold medal position.

The champion had to lift 187.5kg with his final attempt or lose his crown. He succeeded and the roof almost came off. That left Leonidis with one try at 190.0kg to take the gold. He just failed and Suleymanoglu had his third Olympic title.

Announcer Lynn Jones called it “the greatest weightlifting competition in history”. Few could argue.

Sydney 2000 – Cathy Freeman Stops The Nation


The Sydney Olympics were spectacular in every sense. Ian Thorpe was awesome in the pool and helped the home team to a huge upset in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay after the USA's Gary Hall Jr said they would “smash them like guitars”. And British rower Steven Redgrave became the third athlete to win gold at five consecutive Olympics, the first two being Hungarian fencers Aladar Gerevich and Pal Kovacs.

But the undoubted highlight was Cathy Freeman winning the 400m. An Aboriginal Australian, she came into the Games as the two-time reigning world champion, a silver medallist from Atlanta 1996, and a symbol of unity in a country still riven by inequality.

Freeman lit the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony and, with defending champion Marie-Jose Perec pulling out citing harassment in Australia, was fully expected to go one better on home soil.

Wearing an eye-catching aerodynamic bodysuit, the 27-year-old Queenslander responded admirably to the pressure. In front of 112,000 fans inside the Olympic Stadium, she strode clear of Jamaica's Lorraine Graham in the home straight to delight the nation. She then sat on the track for what seemed like an eternity before carrying the Australian and Aboriginal flags on a truly memorable lap of honour.

Beijing 2008 – A Bolt From The Blue


Usain Bolt started out as a 200m specialist and became the first junior to break the 20-second barrier. By 2008 he had added the 100m to his repertoire and, in May, clocked 9.72s in just his fifth senior race over the distance to break Asafa Powell's world record.

For all that, no one could have forecast what they would witness in Beijing. The Jamaican had appeared at the 2004 Games, but went out in the first round having failed to recover fully from a hamstring injury. The skinny 17-year-old of Athens was replaced by a formidable physical specimen in China.

He was hot favourite for the 100m with Tyson Gay failing to make the final after hamstring trouble. He duly delivered as his compatriot Powell visibly toiled. Away and clear, Bolt exuberantly slapped his chest but still managed to break his own world record with a time of 9.69s.

Shrugging off accusations of showboating and disrespect, Bolt ran the 200m with Michael Johnson's stunning world record of 19.32s from Atlanta 1996 a possibility.

He was outside 20 seconds in the prelims, but the final was a different story. Bolt was away sharply and ran a superb bend to put daylight between himself and the field. His only opponent now was the clock, and a dip for the line saw him eclipse Johnson's mark by two-hundredths.

Bolt ran the third leg as Powell anchored Jamaica to victory in the 4x100m relay, but they were stripped of that medal in 2017 due to a positive retest for Nesta Carter. With trebles at London 2012 and Rio 2016 for a total of eight golds, he is undoubtedly the greatest sprinter in history.

London 2012 – Super Saturday


Rarely has a city risen to the challenge of hosting an Olympic Games like London. Even the British weather held and everything seemed to run like clockwork. And there was a huge success for home athletes.

Fresh from his historic Tour de France triumph, Bradley Wiggins won the time trial on The Mall as the hosts dominated cycling on the road and in the velodrome. The gold rush continued in rowing and equestrian, and in the ring courtesy of Luke Campbell, Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams – the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title. That inaugural women's competition also saw Katie Taylor win Ireland's first Olympic gold since 1996.

But the highlight was Britain's three athletics golds in the space of half an hour on a magical night in the London Olympic Stadium. First, Jessica Ennis completed victory in the heptathlon with a champion's kick at the end of the 800m. Then Greg Rutherford sailed out to 8.31m in the fourth round to win the long jump.

As Rutherford completed his lap of honour, he stopped to cheer on Mo Farah in the closing stages of the 10,000m. Farah led at the bell and was not for passing, deliriously slapping his bald head with both hands after crossing the line as the home crowd celebrated wildly. The Somali-born star would go on to win the 5000m and repeat that double four years later in Rio.

Rio 2016 – Neymar Seals Long-Awaited Football Gold


While swimmer Michael Phelps won five golds in Rio to take his tally to a record 23, and Simone Biles was a class apart in gymnastics, there is one standout magic moment from the first Olympic Games held in South America.

For a country synonymous with 'O Jogo Bonito' ('The Beautiful Game'), Olympic gold was conspicuous by its absence from Brazil's football trophy cabinet.

While it had long been an under-23 competition (with three overage players allowed per squad), bitter rivals Argentina had won two consecutive golds in 2004 and 2008 with the latter featuring a certain Lionel Messi. In Beijing, Sergio Aguero scored twice as Brazil crashed out 3-0 to their neighbours in the semi-finals.

Four years later in London, a 20-year-old Neymar helped Brazil to the final where they were stunned 2-1 by Mexico. Could they finally break their duck on home soil?

Neymar, an overage inclusion who was playing for Barcelona at the time, was captain and after goalless draws in their opening group games against South Africa and Iraq, Brazil found their stride. They beat Denmark 4-0 to reach the quarter-finals, and a 2-0 victory over Colombia followed by a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras saw them through to the final.

There they met Germany who had also drawn their first two games before finding the winning thread. To take gold, Brazil would have to beat the nation which so unceremoniously dismantled the hosts 7-1 in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals.

Neymar put Brazil ahead with a superb free-kick in the first half, but Germany levelled through their captain Max Meyer after an hour. Extra time failed to produce further goals, and it went to penalties.

After eight perfect spot-kicks, Brazil goalkeeper Weverton saved from Nils Petersen to give Neymar the chance to win it for the hosts. He sent Timo Horn the wrong way to send the Maracana into rapture.