July 2, 2024 | Eul Basa

Olympic Moments That Changed History

For the love of sports

As humans, we are drawn to competition. That's what makes the Olympic Games so exciting to watch—3,000 years after its conception, we still tune in to see our countries represented by athletes who give it their all for the gold. Here are some of the greatest Olympic moments that changed history.


The debut of women's sports, 1900

Women made their Olympic debut in 1900 at the Paris Games, competing in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, horseback riding, and golf. Only 22 out of nearly 1,000 athletes were women. British tennis player Charlotte Cooper became the first female Olympic champion, paving the way for more female participation in future Games.

Grayscale Photo of Charlotte Cooper Sterry vs Blanche Bingley playing tennisUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Jim Thorpe shines for his people, 1912

Jim Thorpe, a Native American athlete, won gold in pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Despite losing his medals for breaking amateurism rules (he had played minor league baseball for a small payment), his legacy endured. In 2022, he was reinstated as the sole champion in both events.

Grayscale Portrait Photo of Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer OlympicsCategory:Agence Rol, Wikimedia Commons

Luz Long extends a helping hand, 1936

German long jumper Luz Long showed sportsmanship at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by assisting African-American athlete Jesse Owens in the long jump event. Long advised Owens to change his take-off point to prevent fouling his jumps, and this helped Owens win gold. Long had no hard feelings and still took home the silver.

Luz Long walking arm in arm with Jesse Owens through the Berlin Olympic StadiumUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Jesse Owens proves everyone wrong, 1936

In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete, won gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m, long jump, and 4x100 m relay, defying racial biases and Hitler's propaganda. Despite myths, Hitler did not ignore Owens but stopped applauding all athletes. Owens faced racial prejudice upon returning to the US.

Grayscale Portrait Photo of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Summer OlympicsAcme News Photos, Wikimedia Commons

Introducing the Paralympics, 1960

The 1960 Paralympic Games in Rome were the first ever, marking a significant advancement in sports for athletes with physical disabilities. Following the Summer Olympics, 400 athletes from 23 nations competed in eight sports, showcasing disabled athletes' talents worldwide.

Australian Team 1960 Paralympics Opening CeremonyAustralian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Muhammad Ali gets the gold, 1960

Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, won a gold medal in light heavyweight boxing at the 1960 Rome Olympics at just 18 years old. He defeated Polish boxer Zbigniew Pietrzykowski with fast combinations, and the win marked the beginning of his legendary boxing career.

Grayscale Portrait Photo Muhammad Ali at the Rome Olympics in 1960Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Abebe Bikala runs barefoot, 1960

Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila made history at the 1960 Rome Olympics by winning the marathon barefoot and becoming the first African to win a gold medal. Competing in the afternoon to avoid heat, he finished in a record-breaking 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 16.2 seconds. His victory inspired many East African athletes after her.

Grayscale Portrait Photo of Abebe Bikila at the 1960 Rome Olympics.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The first Olympic games in Asia, 1964

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were historic as the first Olympic Games in Asia, showcasing Japan's post-war progress. Over 5,000 athletes from 93 nations competed in 163 events, with new sports like judo and volleyball introduced. The Games also featured the use of computers for timing and scoring, and it was a pioneer in live satellite streaming with a global viewership of 600 to 800 million.

Grayscale Photo of Tokyo Olympics 1964 Opening Ceremony.Keystone Press, Wikimedia Commons

Raised fists send a powerful message, 1968

Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racial prejudice at the 1968 Olympics by raising fists during the national anthem. They faced backlash but are now hailed for their courage against injustice. Today, their actions still resonate and influence much of the symbolism in the fight for racial equality and social justice.

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, along with Australian Peter NormanAngelo Cozzi, Wikimedia Commons

Vera Caslavska's big statement, 1968

Vera Caslavska won gold medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as a Czech gymnast. During the medal ceremony, she bowed her head and looked away while the Soviet anthem played, silently protesting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The demonstration was in honor of her country's fight for liberation.

Grayscale Portrait Photo of Vera Caslavskaa Czechoslovak artistic gymnastAnefo, Wikimedia Commons

A most violent year for the Olympics, 1972

The 1972 Munich Olympics were tragically marked by a terrorist. The Palestinian group Black September seized Israeli athletes as hostages, and 11 team members lost their lives in a failed rescue attempt. The incident led to increased security measures at future Olympic Games.

Procession of athletes in the Olympic Stadium- 1972 Summer OlympicsFortepan, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The first perfect 10 in gymnastics, 1976

In 1976 at the Montreal Olympics, 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci achieved the first perfect 10 in gymnastics history on the uneven bars. Her flawless performance revolutionized the sport and set a standard for greatness still aspired to today.

Olympic Games Montreal 1976, Nadia Comăneci and other Romanian athletesMariana Constantin K, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Bruce Jenner becomes a star, 1976

Bruce Jenner became famous during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal after winning the gold medal and setting a world record in the decathlon. His success not only showcased his talents but also his charisma, making him a widely recognized figure at the Olympics. After the games, he transitioned successfully into television and business, leter becoming Caitlyn Jenner.

USA's Bruce Jenner, San Jose, CA., displays the gold medalBettmann, Getty Images

Boycotting the Moscow Olympic Games, 1980

The 1980 Moscow Olympics faced controversy as the United States and 64 nations boycotted to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. This unprecedented political move aimed to put the spotlight on the Soviet Union, raising questions about the impact of its foreign affairs on global sports.

Photo of the 1980 Summer Olympics Luzhniki Stadium.Валентин Фёдорович Ботенков, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The rise of U.S. hockey, 1980

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, the United States ice hockey team defeated the favored Soviet Union team in a historic event known as the "Miracle on Ice." The win symbolized American resilience during the Cold War, as the team went on to win the gold medal by beating Finland in the final game.

USA - Soviet Union match, Winter Olympics 1980Henry Zbyszynski, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Boycotting the LA Olympic Games, 1984

1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles were boycotted by the Soviet Union and 13 other nations in response to the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. LA Games were successful despite boycott.

Olympic Torch Tower Of The Los Angeles ColiseumUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Carl Lewis vs. Jesse Owens, 1984

In the 1984 Olympics, Carl Lewis matched Jesse Owens' historic performance by winning four gold medals in track and field events. His victories in the 100 m, 200 m, long jump, and 4x100 m relay established him as a dominant sprinter and jumper just like Owens.

Carl Lewis during the long jump event at the 1984 U.S. OlympicJoe Kennedy, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Ben Johnson gets caught doping, 1988

Ben Johnson shocked the world with a new record in the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100 meters race, but was disqualified and lost his gold medal due to failing a drug test for anabolic steroids, sparking conversations on integrity and anti-doping measures in sports.

Portrait Photo of Ben Johnson and other Athletes in Seoul 1988Dennis Sevriens, Flickr

Greg Louganis' redemption, 1988

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Greg Louganis's remarkable comeback after hitting his head during the diving preliminaries. Despite the injury, he still won gold medals in springboard and platform diving. His resilience solidified his status as an Olympic diving great.

Portrait Photo of Olympic gold-medal winning diver Greg Louganis.Alan Light, Flickr

Derek Redmond crosses with his father, 1992

In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics 400 m semifinal, Derek Redmond suffered a torn hamstring. With his father's assistance, he bravely completed the task, resulting in a touching and unforgettable Olympic moment.

Great Britain's Derek Redmond limps to the finish line, helped by his dad JimPA Images Archive, Getty Images

The Dream Team, 1992

The 1992 US men's basketball team, known as the Dream Team, featured NBA stars like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson at the Barcelona Olympics. Coached by Chuck Daly, they dominated their games, showcasing talent that captivated fans globally and solidifying basketball's international appeal.

Dream Team at the 1992 Summer OlympicsKen Hackman, Wikimedia Commons

Tonya Harding's scandal, 1994

At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, a scandal erupted involving figure skater Tonya Harding, whose associates planned an attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. They succeeded, injuring her knee. Despite still being allowed to compete and winning silver, the incident still tarnished Harding's reputation and career.

Tonya Harding Returning From Norway 1994Andrew Parodi, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Michael Johnson's gold shoes, 1996

During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, American sprinter Michael Johnson wore gold racing shoes, and they caught everyone's attention. He won gold medals in the 200 and 400 m events, solidifying his reputation as a top sprinter in Olympic history.

Golden Shoes Michael Johnsonklew97, Wikimedia Commons

The ultimate wrestling defeat, 2000

The wrestling match at the 2000 Sydney Olympics between Rulon Gardner and Aleksandr Karelin was historic. Karelin, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, was undefeated for 13 years. However, Gardner, a lesser-known wrestler, achieved a remarkable victory over Karelin to everyone's shock.

Russia's Aleksandr Karelin (l) grapples with USA's Rulon Gardner (r).Neal Simpson - EMPICS, Getty Images

Cathy Freeman's homeland win, 2000

Australian runner Cathy Freeman won the women's 400-meter race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, carrying the hopes of a nation on her shoulders. As a proud Indigenous Australian, her victory represented unity and hope for her people. Her win marked a significant moment in Australian sports history.

Cathy Freeman dodges the media scrum at the end of the 400m final.Ian @ ThePaperboy.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

"The Eel" and his epic comeback, 2000

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, French swimmer Eric Moussambani, also known as "The Eel," became a sensation during the men's 100 meters freestyle event. Despite a lack of facilities in his home country of Equatorial Guinea, he qualified for the Olympics under special invitation. Then came an unexpected turn of events—suring the qualifying round, all his competitors got disqualified, so finished the race alone.

 ric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea powers through his men's 100m freestyle heat Sydney 2000 Olympic GamesFRANCOIS MARIT, Getty Images

Michael Phelps wins 8 gold medals, 2008

Michael Phelps made history during the 2008 Beijing Olympics by winning eight gold medals, surpassing Mark Spitz's previous record. His performances in events like the 100 m butterfly and 200 m freestyle mesmerized audiences and was proof to the world that he was the greatest swimmer of all time.

Michael Phelps Waves After Winning 400M in 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.Eric Draper, Wikimedia Commons

Usain Bolt domination, (2008, 2012, 2016)

Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter, dominated the Olympic Games from 2008 to 2016 with unparalleled success. He won gold in the 100 m, 200 m, and 4x100 m relay, setting world records at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, and 2016 Rio Olympics. Bolt's influence goes beyond medals, inspiring athletes to always strive for greatness.

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record 2008 Beijing olympicsJmex60, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Pistorius makes history, (2012)

During the 2012 Olympics in London, Oscar Pistorius made history as the first double-leg amputee to compete, using carbon-fiber prosthetic blades. Despite not winning medals, his participation in the men's 400 m and 4x400 m relay sparked global interest in disabled athletes' inclusion in traditional sports.

Oscar Pistorius, the first round of the 400 m at the London 2012 Olympic GamesJim Thurston, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Gabby Douglas strikes gold, (2012)

Gabby Douglas, an American gymnast, won two gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, leading the U.S. women's team to victory and becoming the first African American woman to win the individual all-around event. Her success inspired many others to follow suit.

Photo of Gabrielle Douglas waving to the crowd at the 2012 Summer OlympicDavid Jones, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Andy Murray wins on home court, (2012)

During the 2012 London Olympics, British tennis player Andy Murray made history by winning the men's singles gold medal. He defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon in straight sets, becoming the first British man in over a century to win Olympic gold in singles.

 2012 Olympic Tennis Men's SinglesChristopher Johnson, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Syrian swimmer, (2016)

Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer, grabbed attention during the 2016 Rio Olympics for her remarkable story and athletic talents. Fleeing Syria, she displayed immense bravery by swimming for hours to save her sinking boat with her sister. Competing for the Refugee Olympic Team, Mardini's participation symbolized hope and resilience.

Portrait Photo of Yusra Mardini at the 2016 Olympics.ONU Brasil, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Simone Biles takes the top spot, (2016)

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, American gymnast Simone Biles won four gold medals and a bronze, dominating in the individual all-around, vault, and floor exercise. Biles also contributed to the U.S. team's gold win. Her exceptional performances and talent made her an inspiration to young athletes worldwide.

Photo of Simone Biles competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics.Fernando Frazão, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

North and South Korea unite, (2018)

During the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, athletes from North and South Korea walked together with a unified flag, symbolizing peace between the two nations. This demonstration highlighted the Olympics' role in fostering global unity.

2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games Opening CeremonyKorea.net, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eliud Kipchoge runs for Kenya, (2020)

Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge cemented his status as a top runner by winning gold in the men's marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. His impressive finish time of 2:08:38 showcased his endurance and skill.

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge win the men's marathon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic GamesCHARLY TRIBALLEAU, Getty Images

Simone Biles withdraws, (2020)

Simone Biles withdrew from multiple events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the "twisties," prioritizing her mental well-being. Her decision sparked discussions on athletes' mental health, receiving widespread support. Biles later returned for the balance beam final, winning a bronze medal.

Portrait Photo of Simone Biles during a competitionAgência Brasil Fotografias, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The COVID-19 pandemic,(2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a one-year delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place in 2021 with strict health protocols. Athletes competed in empty stadiums, showing strength in times of adversity.

The Olympic rings on display at Tokyo Bay to promote the GamesDick Thomas Johnson, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The first gender-balanced Olympics, (2020)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics achieved gender equality by having nearly equal numbers of male and female athletes participate, with women making up around 49% of participants. The International Olympic Committee's efforts to promote gender equality in sports resulted in additional mixed-gender competitions.

A scene from the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium 2020 Summer OlympicsRede do Esporte, CC BY 3.0 BR, Wikimedia Commons


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