Photo: Mike Ridewood

Top 10 human moments in Olympic history

Excellence, Friendship and Respect: These are the values which the Olympic Games celebrate. And to honour Olympic Day, here’s part one of a three-part series to commemorate the power of the Games.

Every year on June 23 (International Olympic Day), millions around the world unite through sport and mark the birth of the modern Games by celebrating the values that make up Olympism. Are you living by the Olympic values?

PART 1 of 3 – The top-10 most impactful human Olympic moments:

At Beijing 2008 Michael Phelps made history by becoming the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Games. He then rewrote the record book at London 2012. When Phelps touched the wall first to carry his American 4X200m freestyle relay team to victory, the boy from Baltimore became the most decorated Olympian of all-time, earning his 19th medal and giving new meaning to the phrase ‘Olympic excellence’. He stood on three more podiums before retiring.

Jesse Owens‘s remarkable four-gold medal performance at Berlin 1936 might not have happened without advice from his German rival Luz Long. The story goes that after Owens fouled on his first two qualifying long jump attempts, Long approached Owens and suggested laying down a towel in front of the takeoff board to avoid the risk of fouling out. Owens easily advanced to the final and went on to win gold. Long, the silver medallist, was the first to congratulate him while Hitler watched. After the Games, Owens and Long became good friends before Long was killed during World War II. But the link between the two families was forged. At the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, the children and grandchildren of Owens and Long presented the long jump medals.

With her silver in the team pursuit at Turin 2006, Canadian icon Clara Hughes became the only Olympian to ever win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. Though this incredible display of athletic excellence in cycling and speed skating is a massive contribution to the Olympic movement, it is equaled (if not surpassed by her positive impact on society with her heartfelt influence on making positive change for mental health and creating more opportunity for youth through sport. Her leadership, personality and experience has become an invaluable part of the Canadian Olympic Team.

Johann Olav Koss was the star of the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, winning three gold medals in Olympic record times on home ice. The iconic speed skater donated his prize money to Olympic Aid, the precursor of Right to Play of which he is now president and CEO. His long-term vision and advocacy for play has helped children develop through sport in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

When Romania’s Nadia Comaneci earned the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics history at Montreal 1976, she showed the world pure excellence is achievable through the eyes of others, in a subjectively (and sometimes controversially) judged sport.

Cross-country skier Philip Boit was Kenya’s first-ever Winter Olympian at Nagano 1998. He had been a middle distance runner until February 1996 when he began training in Finland as part of a comprehensive project to see if Kenyan runners could transfer their endurance skills to snow. He would finish last in the 10km freestyle race in Nagano, eight minutes behind the next-best racer and 20 minutes behind winner Bjorn Daehlie, who would leave Nagano as the most decorated athlete in Winter Games history. Respectful of his competitor’s determination, Daehlie delayed the medal ceremony so that he could greet Boit at the finish line. Boit, in turn, named his son Daehlie in honour of the Norwegian legend.

Japan’s Sueo Oe and Shuhei Nishida raised the bar for the Olympic values system when the pair of pole vaulters took their 1936 Olympic results into their own hands. With the gold medal awarded to American Earle Meadows, the two Japanese were in a jump-off with another American Bill Sefton for the two remaining medals. Sefton missed on his attempt, while Oe and Nishida succeeded. That put them both on the podium but in what order? Oe and Nishida were still tied when the competition was terminated and Nishida was awarded the silver medal while Oe was given bronze, for reasons that remain unclear. But once back in Japan, Oe and Nishida had their medals cut in half then soldered together into a pair of mixed medals, thus giving them equal halves of bronze and silver – now known as the Medals of Eternal Friendship.

The International Committee for Fair Play was founded in 1963 by UNESCO and several international sports governing bodies in the aftermath of the death of Danish cyclist Knut Enemark Jensen at Rome 1960 as a result of a performance enhancing substance. To instead bring attention to honourable acts in sport, the Committee chose to establish the Pierre de Coubertin Fair Play Awards to reward acts of fair play, a general attitude of sportsmanship and/or activities aiming to promote fair play.

The first Pierre de Coubertin Fair Play World Trophy was awarded in January 1965 to Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti for his remarkable act of sportsmanship at the Innsbruck 1964 Olympic Winter Games. Monti was the prohibitive favourite for Olympic two-man gold, having won six world titles in the event. During the first run, British pilot Tony Nash suffered a broken axle bolt. Monti loaned Nash one of the bolts from his own sled and it was the Brits who went on to win gold while Monti came in for bronze. Monti was similarly helpful in the four-man event to eventual gold medallist Vic Emery and his Canadian crew, providing the use of his own mechanics to repair a rear axle on the Canadian sled. Monti again took the bronze medal.

With about half the race to go in the semifinal of the 400m at the Barcelona 1992 Games, Briton Derek Redmond tore his hamstring and collapsed to the track. After a brief moment, he stood up and continued to limp toward the finish in what was clearly excruciating pain. Suddenly embraced by his father Jim on the track, the two completed the lap together to an incredible ovation from the crowd. Despite officially not finishing because of the assistance, Derek and Jim created one of the most memorable and emotional moments in Olympic history. As his father said “We started your career together. We will finish this race together.”

Tanzanian John Stephen Akhwari was the last man to finish the 1968 Olympic marathon, more than an hour after the winner and about 20 minutes slower than anyone else. His body was visibly battered from the competition and he was bleeding by the time he hobbled into the stadium. However, when he was asked why he did not just give up, his answer was: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race, they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” The quote continues to inspire and exemplifies the idea of living and competing through the Olympic values system.

UPCOMINGPart 2 of 3 part series: “The power of sport – Beyond the podium” the top-10 examples of Olympic sportsmanship.