The Olympics have a rich history of inspiring achievements as well as controversial moments, but these 5 milestones seem to have left perhaps the deepest impressions on the world and the Games today.
While most people probably couldn’t do it at all, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila did the seemingly-impossible: He ran a marathon barefoot — and won. We’re not talking 2012, when barefoot running was the cool thing to do. This was Rome. In 1960. It’s one thing to become the first black African gold medalist in Olympics history, as Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia did when he completed the 1960 marathon in a brisk 2:15:16.2 outside Rome’s Coliseum. It’s another entirely to do so without shoes.
Prior to the marathon, Bikila, an Imperial Bodyguard for the Ethiopian Emperor, couldn’t find a pair of kicks he liked, so he ditched them altogether and raced the same way he trained: barefoot.
Brushing off sneers from his competitors, Bikila soon left them in the dust, flying over the ancient cobblestone streets and into the history books.
2.Korean Unification Flag
Following decades of unrest post-Korean war, North and South Korea found common ground for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, marching together in the Opening Ceremonies under a unified flag (and uniforms). While the two countries did compete separately, their joint marching symbolized an openness to peace and cooperation.
In the past, politics have sometimes gotten in the way of the Olympics. However, during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, politics briefly took a backseat to sport when athletes from North and South Korea marched together as a single nation under one flag.
3. Black Power Salute
A defining moment of the 1968 games, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved hands in the Black Power salute during the 200-meter medal ceremony; they also accepted their medals shoeless to show support for impoverished African-Americans. Australian sprinter and silver medalist Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with his fellow runners.
At the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., black American athletes were encouraged to boycott the Games. Instead, African-American sprinters John Carlos (right) and Tommie Smith (left) staged a non-violent protest by raising their fists in a Black Power salute while the national anthem played during their medal ceremony. Although they were consequently suspended from the Olympic Village, their silent demonstration brought the American battle over civil rights to the international stage.
After winning gold and bronze in the men’s 200 metres at the Mexico City 1968 Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a silent protest against racial discrimination in their medal ceremony, bowing their heads and raising a hand to make a ‘Black Power’ salute.
The actions of Smith and Carlos, who were duly expelled from the American team, were hugely powerful and both men were subsequently honoured for their roles in furthering the civil rights movement in America.
Some form of protest from black American athletes had been anticipated, but few could have predicted the effectiveness of Smith and Carlos’ dignified actions.
4.Michael Phelps dominates in the pool
Like Bolt, swimmer Michael Phelps became an international sensation at the Beijing Games, winning an unprecedented eight medals.Phelps’s eighth gold medal came in the 4×100m medley relay. Phelps and his team-mates set a new world record with a time of 3 minutes and 29.34 seconds, more than a second faster than the previous world record.
With 22 medals to his name, Phelps is the most decorated Olympian ever and he hopes to add to his total at the Rio Games.
Mark Spitz looked to have set an Olympic record that would never be matched when he claimed seven gold medals at the Munich 1972 Games.
However, 36 years on in Beijing, Michael Phelps surpassed his fellow American with a stunning eight victories – setting seven world records in the process.
The ‘Baltimore Bullet’ had earned six golds and two bronze medals at the previous Olympics in Athens, but proved even more dominant in 2008.
Five individual triumphs and three relay victories saw Phelps – the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 18 golds among his 22 medals – make history.
In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States at the Summer Olympics. According to fellow American athlete James LuValle, who won bronze in the 400 meters, Owens arrived in Berlin to a throng of fans, many of them young girls, yelling “Wo ist Jesse? Wo ist Jesse?” Many of them had come with scissors and had begun snipping at Owens’ clothing, forcing him to retreat back onto the train. After that, when Owens left the athletes’ village, he usually had to go with some soldiers to protect him. Owens’s success at the games represented a counter to Adolf Hitler, who was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes that German athletes would dominate the games with victories. Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of “Aryan racial superiority” and depicted others, including those of African descent, as inferior. Owens countered this by winning four gold medals.