Ah, the Olympics, when the greatest athletes from all over the world converge in an explosion of sporting splendor. Hundreds of unbelievable stories spring from every Olympic Games, but some are more inspirational than others. In this feature, we’ll share tales of triumph over adversity from Olympic history, aiming to give you a little hint of the inspirational power that the games can have. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 10 most inspirational Olympic moments.
No. 10 - Jamaican Bobsled Team Races for the First Time (1988)
The whole deal with the Olympics is that it pits each country’s best against each other. But geographical factors make it easier for some countries to field a team than others. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the island nation of Jamaica fielded a bobsled team for the first time. The tropical country doesn’t have much in the way of snow, but the plucky foursome -- who had to borrow sleds from other teams to compete and had problems staying on the track -- won the hearts of spectators for their never-say-die attitude. They also inspired the hit 1993 movie, "Cool Runnings."
No. 9 - Rulon Gardner Beats Goliath (2000)
We love an underdog story, and we also love to put one over on our former enemies in Russia. The U.S. got the opportunity to do both in the wrestling competition at the 2000 Summer Games. Russia’s Aleksandr Karelin was widely regarded as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time, and he came into his match with Gardner -- a humble farmboy from Afton, Wyo. -- without having a single loss in 13 years. Amazingly, Gardner withstood Karelin’s bulldozer assault, never allowing himself to be lifted off his feet, and with five seconds remaining, the Russian wrestler stepped back and conceded to the American upstart.
No. 8 - Abebe Bikila Wins Barefoot (1960)
Athletes get a lot of support for their Olympic turnouts, but in 1960, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila proved that it’s not the shoes, but the man inside them. Adidas was the shoe sponsor for the marathon at the Summer Games in Rome, but by the time Bikila got to the pile, there were no pairs that fit him. So, like a boss, he decided to just run the damn thing barefoot. That was how he’d trained for the race, after all. Not having any footwear didn’t slow Bikila down, and he wound up taking home the gold medal. Then he did it again four years later.
No. 7 - Greg Louganis Gets the Gold (1988)
Overcoming an injury is one of the toughest things for an athlete to do. During the 1988 Games in Seoul, American diver Greg Louganis tried a reverse 2 1/2 pike, only to knock his head on the diving board and suffer a concussion. Despite his injury -- which had serious health risks as additional impacts could worsen it and cause him to lose consciousness in the water -- Louganis continued in the preliminary rounds and went on to win the gold medal, beating his closest competition by 25 points.
No. 6 - Teofilo Stevenson Becomes a National Hero (1972)
Winning the gold in Olympic boxing is a sure path to a top-level pro career, with such legends as Cassius Clay and Joe Frazier going that route in the 1960s. At the 1972 Games, the American boxer who was set to follow that route was Duane Bobick. Coming off of a 65-bout undefeated streak, Bobick looked unstoppable until a Cuban named Teofilo Stevenson took him down in three rounds on his way to the gold. So did Stevenson go on to worldwide fame in the capitalist boxing world? Nope, he turned down a guaranteed million-dollar contract, and chose instead to stay in Cuba with the people that gave him the opportunity in the first place. His famous quote: "What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" He went on to win three Olympic gold medals in boxing.
No. 5 - Lawrence Lemieux Saves Lives (1988)
Some of these inspirational stories don’t end with a medal win for the competitors. Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was in his second go-round at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. He was in the middle of a solid run in his class when he saw a nearby boat piloted by Singaporean sailors capsize, with the two men on board injured and unable to right their boat. Lemieux broke away from the racecourse and went to their aid, lifting both men out of the water and delivering them to a patrol boat before heading back to his course. He ended up finishing 22nd from his original second-place position, but his fearless acts demonstrated to the world that there is more to life than winning medals.
No. 4 - Derek Redmond's Dad Helps Him Finish (1992)
The Olympic Games aren’t just about winning and losing; they’re about the love of the game. One of our favorite inspirational Olympic stories comes from the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. During the 400-meter semi-finals, British sprinter Derek Redmond tore a hamstring. One of the favorites to win the race, Redmond rose to his feet despite the intense pain and tried to continue. His father Jim broke through security to join him on the track, propping Derek up and supporting him as he crossed the finish line to the applause of the crowd.
No. 3 - Kerri Strug Fights Through the Pain (1996)
It’s kind of funny that one of the most emotional events at the Olympics is women’s gymnastics, but the long-running rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union often was acted out by little ladies in tight leotards. 1996 was the year of the Magnificent Seven, the team of U.S. women’s gymnasts who won the world’s hearts. The American team was barely ahead of the Russians going into the final rotation, so when Strug under-rotated a vault landing and damaged her ankle, it could have meant disaster. But the plucky teen worked through the pain to do her second vault and landed it, securing the gold for the United States.
No. 2 - The Miracle on Ice (1980)
Some Olympic events just belong to certain countries. For most of the 20th century, the Soviet Union was king when it came to ice hockey. The Commies won the gold at every Winter Games since 1964, and regularly steamrolled the United States to humiliating victories. 1980 didn’t look to be all too different. The Cold War raged, and the previous year, the Soviet national team had smashed the NHL All-Stars 6-0. So the crew of amateur players fielded by the U.S. didn’t seem like much of a threat. That is, until the American team started ripping through other countries on their way to the medal round. A tense match saw the U.S. play their absolute best to score a 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union, one of the greatest hockey moments of all time. Team USA then went on to win the gold in their next game against Finland, but the "Miracle on Ice" is what everyone remembers.
Next: The Strangest Olympic Events of All Time
No. 1 - Jesse Owens Defeats Hitler (1936)
Oh, Hitler, you crabby little bastard. The Fuhrer wanted the 1936 Munich Olympics to be a showcase for the obvious superiority of the "master race." Unfortunately, an African-American sprinter named Jesse Owens had other ideas. Owens, the youngest of 10 children, had been running track in still-segregated America for Ohio State University, and went to Germany to give it his all. He ended up smashing records, taking home four gold medals for the 100-meter sprint, the long jump, the 200-meter sprint and the 4x100-meter relay. Hitler only shook the hands of German athletes after they won medals, causing the Olympic authorities to ban him from future medal presentations. Owens achieved international fame and went on to become an American "Ambassador of Sports."