The Olympics are upon us once again! Time to stop by Costco for an entire pallet of Kleenex! If you’re like me, you enjoy watching the Games as much for the stories of human triumph as for the actual sports-joyment of it. While there have been dozens, if not thousands, of tear-jerking, heartwarming, faith-in-humanity-restoring Olympic memories, I present to you (in no particular order) my Top 10 Most Inspirational Olympic Moments of All Time. So feel free to get a little weepy. That’s what those 800 boxes of tissue are for.
10) Nadia Comaneci, 1976 Summer Olympics, Montreal, Canada
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci was not only a medal-winning machine. Due to her uneven bar routine at the 1976 Olympics, Nadia was also the first female gymnast to score a “perfect” 10 in the Olympics. Ever. Comaneci would go on to receive six more 10s in her Olympic career, which begs the question: Can you imagine watching a performance that is literally flawless? I still have chills. Fabulous, fabulous chills. NOW- SHOULD WE BRING BACK THE 10 point system?
9) Dan Jansen, 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehammer, Norway
Favored to win at the 1988 Games, speed skater Jansen found out the day of his 500 and 1,000 meter races that his sister Jane had died of leukemia. Distraught, Jansen fell twice and lost his events. When he returned in Lillehammer, Jansen managed to take gold as his first and only medal, dedicating his 1,000 meter win to his sister and skating a victory lap with his 1-year-old daughter in his arms. What was Jansen’s daughter’s name? Oh, you know it was Jane. Youknow it was. I don’t mess around when it comes to inspiring you!
8 ) U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, NY
American semi-amateurs and college players. Soviet pros that had dominated hockey for decades. The only situation in which the U.S. should have won in the face of such terrible odds is a Might Ducks movie. Even without Emilio Estevez by their sides, the “Miracle on Ice” managed to pull it off, scoring the final goal against the Soviet Union with seconds to spare, going on to win the gold after beating Finland and making all the dads of the world pretend they have something in their eye. Forever. I was lucky enough to have ACTUALLY BEEN AT THIS GAME! THANKS MOM AND DAD FOR LETTING ME GO!
7) Kerri Strug, 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta, GA
Another Olympics that I was at. Anyone who was involved in gymnastics between 1990 and 2000 remembers the Magnificent Seven, the U.S. women’s gymnastic team that took team gold in Atlanta. While I have to give props to Dominique Moceau‘s profoundly fierce “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” floor routine, Strug was the athlete that had America holding their breath, going up for a second vault after injuring her ankle on the first. Despite her injury, Kerri got a high enough score for the team to bring home gold. Okay, it later turned out Strug technically would have earned us the gold had she only done her first vault, but no one knew that at the time! And girls all over the world wouldn’t have had Strug posters to put on their wall! LOVED THAT OLYMPIC BOOM at MY GYM. Probably the best we have ever had.
6) Derartu Tulu, 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona, Spain
Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu snagged the gold metal for the 10,000 meter event in Barcelona, making her the first black African woman to win an individual gold. Then she held hands with silver medalist and South African competitor Elana Mayer while she took a sweet, sweet victory lap. Done at a time when apartheid was in its death throes, Tulu and Meyers were seen by many as an emblem of hope for a racially unified Africa. Are you crying yet? Why must you pretend you aren’t crying?
5) Derek Redmond, 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona, Spain
Or maybe you’ve been saving all your tears for Derek Redmond? The British athlete tore his hamstring during the 400 meters semifinal in 1992. Seeing his son unable to continue, Derek’s father Jim Redmond barged past security and helped his son finish his lap to thunderous applause. Derek was disqualified because someone else helped him cross the finish line, but we doubt the rest of humanity noticed, what with all the sobbing and all.
4) Greg Louganis, 1988 Summer Olympics, Seoul, South Korea
The American diver cracked his head on a diving board while performing a 2 1/2 pike during the 1988 Olympics premininaries. Despite having a concussion, Louganis was back in the games within an hour, and went on to win gold in 3m Springboard and 10m Platform. Like a boss.
3) Muhammad Ali, 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta, GA
I remember watching the opening ceremonies with some friends and watching Muhammad Ali Visibly suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease, the boxing legend proudly took the stage at the Atlanta opening ceremony and, trembling, lit the Olympic torch. If you aren’t crying by now, honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe see what’s on Netflix instead?
2) Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman, 1968 Summer Olympics, Mexico City, Mexico
Most people are familiar with the image of Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the winners’ dais as a gesture of solidarity with those working for African-American civil rights. Did you know, however, that the 200 meter dash medalists and several other athletes were part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and had prepared to make the gesture beforehand even though they knew they would be expelled from the Olympics for making a political statement? To wit, pictured above is the American men’s 4×400 relay race, visibly supporting their teammates after Smith and Carlos were ejected from the Games. While he didn’t raise his hand, Austrian silver medalist Peter Norman was also ostracized for wearing a OPHR badge. In 2008 Carlos and Smith received an Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, because of course they did. Come on, people!
1) Jesse Owens, 1936 Summer Olympics, Berlin Germany
It’s almost unfathomable to anyone in the modern era that 1) Adolph Hitler hosted the Olympics and 2) people showed up for it. But American track star Jesse Owens did more than rake in four Olympic golds (the 100 meters, 200 meters, the long jump and the 4×100 meter relay) in 1936. He also undermined Hitler’s argument of racial superiority in the most public forum imaginable, thus giving us all a reason to chant “USA! USA! USA!” and really, truly mean it.