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Iconic moments from Summer Olympics history

by Bioreports

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt looks back at his Olympic competitors during a 100-meter semifinal in 2016. Bolt won the final a short time later, becoming the first man in history to win the 100 meters at three straight Olympic Games. Bolt, the world-record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, won eight gold medals during his legendary Olympic career.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Updated 1:46 PM ET, Thu July 22, 2021

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt looks back at his Olympic competitors during a 100-meter semifinal in 2016. Bolt won the final a short time later, becoming the first man in history to win the 100 meters at three straight Olympic Games. Bolt, the world-record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, won eight gold medals during his legendary Olympic career.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The Summer Olympics have provided us with many unforgettable moments over the years.

These include record-breaking performances and phenomenal displays of athletic skill. But some also transcended sport.

Here are the iconic moments we remember most.

No one has won more Olympic medals than swimmer Michael Phelps, and it’s not even close. The American won 28 medals — 23 of them gold — over four Olympic Games. Here, South African swimmer Chad Le Clos glances at Phelps during the Olympic final of the 200-meter butterfly in 2016. Phelps won the race for his 20th career gold, avenging one of the few losses of his Olympic career — a second-place finish to Le Clos in 2012.

Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Nadia Comaneci became the first gymnast in Olympic history to score a perfect 10 in an event — and she did it seven times at the 1976 Olympics. The Romanian, who collected three golds in Montreal, finished with three 10s on the balance beam and four on the uneven bars.

Suzanne Vlamis/AP

American athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raise their fists and hang their heads while the US National Anthem plays during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. Their gesture became front-page news around the world as a symbol of the struggle for civil rights. To their left stood Australian Peter Norman, who expressed his support by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge.


American high jumper Dick Fosbury clears the bar on the way to winning Olympic gold in 1968. His back-first jumping style revolutionized the sport, and the “Fosbury Flop” is now used by almost everyone who competes in the event.

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US gymnast Kerri Strug injured her ankle on her second-to-last vault during the team competition at the 1996 Summer Games. But with a gold medal in the balance, she still had to go once more and land on her feet. She did just that, clinching victory and making her an American hero.

Susan Ragan/AP

US track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Games, which took place in Berlin during the rule of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Hitler wanted the Games to showcase what he believed to be the racial superiority of white Aryan athletes, but Owens spoiled that idea and became a cultural icon.

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Michael Jordan soars for a dunk during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Jordan was a part of the “Dream Team,” the US men’s basketball team that was the first to include NBA stars. Many consider that team, which included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and many other future Hall of Famers, to be the greatest sports team ever assembled.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina won six medals in the 1964 Summer Games, giving her a then-record 18 medals — nine of them gold — over three Olympics. Only Michael Phelps has won more Olympic medals.

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Before Michael Phelps, there was Mark Spitz. Spitz, seen here on the shoulders of American teammates Tom Bruce and Mike Stamm, won seven swimming events at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany. It was the most golds won at one Olympics until Phelps won eight in 2008.

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It was the thud heard ’round the world. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, all eyes were on American diver Greg Louganis, who had been one of the stars of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He had wowed viewers with his strength and grace, and as he stepped up to the diving board four years later, nothing less was expected. Instead, he hit his head on the board in the middle of a complicated dive. He would go on to win the event’s gold medal. But for a moment, America held its collective breath.

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos/Getty Images

American sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, aka “Flo-Jo,” dominated the 100 and 200 meters at the 1988 Summer Games. She set a world record in the 200 (21.34 seconds) that still stands today. Her Olympic record in the 100 meters (10.62 seconds) was just off the world record she set a couple months earlier. That record (10.49 seconds) still stands today as well.

Russell Cheyne/Allsport/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali rose to prominence at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, where he claimed a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division. The story goes that when he returned to a hometown parade, even with the medal around his neck, he was refused service in a segregated restaurant because of his race. According to several reports, he threw the medal into a river out of anger. The story is disputed by people who say Ali misplaced the medal. Thirty-six years later, he was given a replacement medal and asked to light the cauldron at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, something he said was one of the greatest honors in his athletic career.

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During the 1972 Olympics, the second-place podium remained empty as the US basketball team protested the decision to give the gold to the Soviet Union. The Soviets won on a controversial last-second play after the officials gave them another chance to inbound the ball and score.

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos/Getty Images

Michael Johnson and his flashy gold shoes set a new world record in the 200 meters, finishing in 19.32 seconds in 1996. The American also added gold in the 400 meters that year.

Doug Mills/AP

US swimmer Katie Ledecky was one of the biggest stars of 2016, winning five Olympic golds and setting two world records — one in the 400-meter freestyle and one in the 800-meter freestyle. She was the first swimmer since 1968 to win the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles at the same Olympics. Here, Ledecky obliterates the field in the 800-meter final. She won by 11.38 seconds.

Jordan Murph/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

American long jumper Bob Beamon obliterated the world record by more than 21 inches in 1968, leaping an astonishing 9 feet, 2 1/2 inches (8.90 meters). Beamon was so stunned by the distance that he collapsed to the ground in what doctors later diagnosed as a cataplectic seizure brought on by nervous excitement. The record stood until 1991.

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Rulon Gardner, a Greco-Roman wrestler for the United States, made history in 2000 when he defeated Russia’s Aleksandr Karelin in the gold-medal match of the 130-kilogram (287-pound) weight class. Karelin, the gold medalist in 1988, 1992 and 1996, had not lost a match in 13 years.

Billy Stickland/Allsport/Getty Images

Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila became the first Black African to win Olympic gold when he won the marathon in world-record time in 1960. And he did it in his bare feet, just the way he had trained.

Central Press/Getty Images

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