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10 Most Iconic Olympic Moments of the 21st Century

Posted on July 16, 2012 by Joe Plewes

It’s impossible to think of the Olympics without thinking about those moments. Whatever comes to mind first; whether it be the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in Berlin or even Muhammad Ali holding the Olympic torch aloft in 1996, that peculiar mix of human and athletic achievement as well as political statements is something only the Olympics – the biggest stage of all – can provide. Here’s a selection of the most iconic moments to have been broadcast around the world this century.

10. Eric the Eel, Sydney 2000

Where better to start in a list of outstanding athletic achievement than a swimmer that couldn’t swim!? Eric Moussambani’s 100m freestyle heat epitomised that often derided phrase “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part”, as he swam a time of 1:52.72.

The whole event was brilliant and I implore you to watch the video. His two opponents from Niger and Tajikistan jumped the gun and were disqualified, leaving the Equatorial Guinea swimmer to race on his own, and he appeared to nearly sink in the last fifty metres having charged out the blocks, but it’s hard to criticise his effort and endeavour as he broke his own national record! Now named as the country’s swimming coach – hopefully meaning they have some more athletes now to swim along with him – Eric will be at London 2012.

9. Radcliffe Breaks Down, Athens 2004

As her country’s finest long-distance runner, Paula Radcliffe arrived in Greece as Britain’s major gold hope. The Cheshire-born runner had run a new world record of 2:15:25 in 2003 and thus was the woman to beat, yet an injury to her leg two weeks before the event provided cause for concern. In response to that problem Radcliffe had taken anti-inflammatory drugs which had caused a bloated stomach, yet a determined Paula was still focused on success.

She started well and was in the leading group for the first fifteen miles, but appeared to be in a lot of discomfort as stomach cramps and heat exhaustion took their toll. With four miles to go Radcliffe had nothing to give and as Mizuki Noguchi pulled away, Paula was left slumped by the side of the Athens tarmac in tears. If all goes to plan and injury concerns abate, Radcliffe will have one last shot at London 2012.

8. Bikes A-Hoy, Beijing 2008

In 2008, Chris Hoy became the first Briton to win three golds at a games for one hundred years tearing up Beijing’s velodrome in the process. Having bagged himself a gold in the 1km track time trial in 2004, things were about to get three times better as he led the field in both the keirin and the sprint, catapulting himself into the public eye.

And Bran Flakes adverts.

7. Thorpedo Strike, Sydney 2000

On the cusp of the Sydney Olympics, Ian Thorpe was heralded as “invincible” by the Sydney Daily Telegraph. No pressure then.

With the hosts yet to attain a gold medal by the time of his 400m freestyle final, the whole country watched in anticipation to find that the Sydney Daily Telegraph was right. Thorpe was the most successful athlete at the games winning three golds, two silvers and setting three world records in the process.

6. Britain Stun World with 4×100 Win, Athens 2004

The single greatest upset in relay history bar none.

Britain’s team of Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis triumphed over the much fancied American team by one-hundredth of a second and in the process took Britain’s first victory in the event since 1912. The victory was even sweeter for Campbell and Devonish, who lost their World Championship silvers due to Dwain Chambers’ positive drugs test. Unfortunately, a heroic repeat in 2012 looks rather unlikely following a bungled effort at the European Championships.

5. Phelps’ Great Eight, Beijing 2008

Eight golds and seven world records? Job done for the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ who eclipsed Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds in an extraordinary display of swimming. The way Phelps owned the pool they ought to have passed the deeds over for the Beijing Aquatics Centre, as he swam to golds in the 100m Butterfly, 200m Butterfly, 200m Freestyle, 200m Individual Medley, 400m Individual Medley, 4×100 Freestyle Relay, 4x200m Freestyle Relay and 4x100m Medley Relay.

Phelps has lowered his expectations slightly as he will only compete in seven events in London! He will also have to deal with new golden boy, Ryan Lochte.

4. Kelly Holmes Eyes Success, Athens 2004

A career dogged by injuries and nearly moments was consigned to the history books as Holmes changed everything in six golden days.

When training for the 2004 Olympics, Dame Kelly suffered several leg injuries and was then diagnosed with clinical depression following a period of self-harming. Yet she came into the Olympics injury-free for the first time in her career, and five days before the 800m announced she would compete in both the 800 and the 1500. It proved a glorious decision. In the 800m she ignored the fast start by her competitors to scythe through the field, and appeared bewildered as she sought confirmation of her maiden Olympic win. A second gold (and personal best) did little to dampen her euphoria.

3. Steve Redgrave’s Famous Five, Sydney 2000

On the brink of retirement after grabbing his fourth gold in 1996, Redgrave’s triumph in 2000 became one of the most famous moments in British Olympic history. Having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997, the Buckinghamshire rower was left dejected having been unable to keep up with his previous diet. Defeat in the 2000 World Cup Regatta in Lucerne dented his crew’s invincible tag.

Yet Redgrave, Pinsent, Cracknell and Foster had another level. Beating the Australians into Bronze and triumphing over the Italians by 0.38 seconds, Britain’s coxless four went down in history.

2. Lightning Bolt, Beijing 2008

Two unforgettable world records for Bolt – both of which appeared to have taken minimal effort – propelled the chicken nugget eating sprinter into the pantheon of sprinting. The first, a staggering 9.69 run featuring chest beating over the last five minutes was followed by a 200m blitz of 19.31, with all the other athletes barely in view. A final relay victory cemented Bolt’s position in history.

Some question whether Bolt has it in him to perform at the same level once again with competition from countryman Yohan Blake and American duo Gay and Gatlin, but either way expect fireworks.

1. Freeman wins gold, Sydney 2000

The first Olympics of this century perhaps provided its greatest moment: Cathy Freeman’s stunning 400m win. Sporting a ridiculous looking full body suit, Freeman bridged a gap between black and white Australia as her country’s foremost Aboriginal athlete.

Her grandmother was one of the ‘stolen generation’, removed from her home and placed with a white family, and Freeman’s choice to display the Aboriginal flag on her 1994 Commonwealth Games lap of honour had angered some. Yet choosing Freeman to light the Olympic flame in 2000 was a decision that transcended athletics.

Propelled rather than dogged by those burdens of the political and historical as well as being driven by the loss of her younger sister in 1990 to cerebral palsy, Freeman became the first aboriginal athlete to ever win gold and in the same way Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali , Tommie Smith and John Carlos fought for their people, Freeman ran for hers.

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