Top 5 USA Olympic Moments
The Olympics have the uncanny ability to transcend its purpose. The purpose of the Olympics is, of course, to serve as the world’s stage for athletic competition. Thousands of athletes come from hundreds of countries to play dozens of sports, each representing more than a team, or a club, but instead representing an entire nation. Athletes dedicate years of preparation for perhaps only a single opportunity to honor their homeland and supplant their legacy with a Gold Medal. Some athletes, however, are able to accomplish even more. The Olympics are a consistently important global event because of the ability of a single human to transcend athletics and become a symbol. My Top 5 United States’ Olympic Moments of all-time are prime examples of such a phenomenon.
5) The Rise of the Greatest (of all time).
Before Muhammad Ali became the GOAT, he was named Cassius Clay. Born and raised in Lousville, Clay first began boxing at age twelve. As legend has it, young Cassius wanted to learn how to fight in order to gain revenge against the thief of his bicycle. Legendary trainer Chuck Bodak molded Clay into the finest amateur fighter in the country and an overall amateur record of one hundred wins and five losses. However, it wasn’t until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome that Cassius Clay became a household name. This was the golden age of boxing, and the fight for the heavyweight Gold Medal was perhaps the single most anticipated event of the Olympic Games. Clay won the Gold, and proved himself as the best amateur fighter in the world. The story does not end there, however. According to Ali’s autobiography, he was refused service at a whites-only restaurant upon returning home to the United States, and the eighteen-year-old proceeded to throw his Gold Medal into the Ohio River. Muhammad Ali’s Olympic story came full circle during the Atlanta Summer Olympics of 1996. Ali, at this point now suffering from Parkinson’s, opened the ceremonies by lighting the Olympic torch, and was given a Gold Medal to replace the one he refused more than three decades earlier. Muhammad Ali was and always will be the Greatest.
4) The One and Only Dream Team.
Upon being assembled, the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team was quickly declared as the greatest sports team ever assembled. And they proceeded to live up to that declaration. The rest of the world had seemed to finally catch up with the United States in basketball at the end of the ‘80s, and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona were made the first international tournament in which professionals could participate. You know the rest of the story. Michael, Magic, Larry, Chuck and co. defeated their opponents by an average of forty-four points per game en route to winning the Gold Medal versus Croatia. The legacy of the Dream Team is simple: there will never be another.
3) The Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Games because they were held in Moscow of the Soviet Union. Although Cold War tensions had relaxed somewhat, the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan worried the government of the United States. President Jimmy Carter decided to set in motion a series of actions to condemn the invasion, including the U.S.’ boycott of the Olympics. Several nations, including Canada and Argentina, took notice of the United States’ stand against communist expansion and also chose not to participate. While the holdout of the U.S. did not do much to upend to Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, it showed that the United States was willing to make a stand communism. Overall, I view this as one of the greatest moments in Olympic history because it forced countries around the world to analyze the developing situation and to view the Olympics as more than merely an athletic competition.
2) Two Gloved Fists.
The 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, African-American track and field athletes representing the United States, respectively placed Gold and Bronze in the 200-meter dash. While standing on the podium during the post-race celebration, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, and the men raised their fists. Smith and Carlos were making a human rights protest that many mistook as a display of “Black Power.” The International Olympic Committee, who had previously allowed displays such as the Nazi salute, was outraged by the actions of Smith and Carlos. Their medals were stripped and they were forever banned from the Olympics. Furthermore, Americans back home did not support what the two men did. The media portrayed Smith and Carlos as militant and disrespectful and their families received death threats. Over the years, tensions began to settle the public slowly understood the statement that Smith and Carlos were banished for making. Both men continued to run track in the United States, and both eventually ended up playing in the NFL before injuries took their toll. Today, Tommie Smith and John Carlos are viewed as important members of the integration era. Their actions, while not supported at first, have become a symbol for the solidarity of black Americans, and the beliefs of equal-rights supporters everywhere.
1) Jesse Owens Crashes Hitler’s Party.
Adolf Hitler had specific views about human beings. Notably, Hitler claimed that his Aryan peoples were superior to anyone and everyone else, including athletically. Jesse Owens was not an Aryan. He was a track and field athlete that represented the United States in the 1936 Sumer Olympics, and he was black. Those Olympic Games just so happened to be held in Hitler’s backyard, Berlin. Hitler felt comfortable in his beliefs that his blonde-haired and blue-eyed contingent would dominate the Olympics, and especially the track and field category. Hitler created propaganda that illustrated Aryan athletes as the best in the world and African athletes as barbarians from the jungle that were unsophisticated and athletically inferior. During the first few days of the Olympics, Germany was dominant and Hitler was happy that everything was going according to plan. However, Jesse Owens was about to take a sh*t all over Hitler’s plans. Owens won the Gold Medal in each of the four most important track and field events: the 200-meter, the 4×100-meter relay, the long jump, and the invaluable 100-meter dash. With one fell swoop, Owens disproved Hitler’s claims of Aryan superiority and sent a message to the Nazis and racists around the world, including the many back home in the United States. By the end of the Olympic Games, Hitler had gone from saying that Africans were inferior jungle-dwellers, to complaining that Africans were superior due to genetics and asking for their removal from future Olympic competition. Jesse Owens is the greatest Olympian of all-time.