Olympic Moments: 47-39
47 - Titter ye not
“...and there goes Juantorena down the back straight; opening his legs and showing his class.” The most infamous Olympic double entendre came not from David Colemanballs, as most people assume, but his colleague Ron Pickering, who delivered this gem live on the BBC. The commentary was in fact accurate, as 400m and 800m gold-medallist Alberto Juantorena was famed for his nine-foot run stride. Plus he was nicknamed ‘El Caballo’ (or ‘the horse’), so probably packed a mammoth Johnson.
46 - Wine with your medal?
A notorious end to London’s first Olympic marathon saw the victorious Dorando Pietri helped across the line by officials and later disqualified. He’d already collapsed five times in the stadium before struggling on, although some claim this was as much to do with the Italian’s habit of gargling wine during races as it was his physical exertions. Hic.
45 - Swim of the century
Ian Thorpe. Michael Phelps. Pieter van den Hoogenband. Grant Hackett. Four swimmers who share a total of 25 Olympic gold medals (and counting) between them. In Sydney, they all faced off in a 200m freestyle final billed as the most anticipated race ever. Result: victory for the Thorpedo, narrowly beating Van den Hoogenband in a hundredth of the time it takes to say the Dutchman’s name.
44 - The Greatest
Trust the USA to blow us all away with heavyweight star power. At Atlanta, the defining moment of the opening ceremony was the appearance of the most famous gold-medallist of them all. Muhammad Ali, hands trembling with a mixture of Parkinson’s and nerves, held the Olympic flame aloft and the world in his thrall once again. More memorable than jet-pack man, but not the greatest Olympic opening ever…
Watch it here
43 - Olga melts hearts
It wasn’t the gobsmacking gymnastic displays or three golds that let Olga Korbut steal the show in Munich; it was the post-routine smiles and tears that showed the world the warm face of USSR athletes previously all thought to be cold, Ivan Drago-like automatons. Sadly, her dismount into adult life was not so easy, filled as it was with injury, shoplifting and celebrity boxing on TV.
42 - Fanny-power
At 30 years old and a mother of two, many thought Fanny Blankers-Koen had missed her chance at glory when London ‘48 began. Fanny left those doubters with rancid egg all over their faces: four track-and-field gold medals later, Holland’s ‘Flying Housewife’ was confirmed as an all-time legend.
41 - Epic Gail
The 25-year-old American sprinter Gail Devers shouldn’t really have been in Barcelona at all, having been diagnosed with the debilitating Graves’ disease two years earlier. But she was, and the radioactive iodine treatment she had undergone in her recovery seemed to have given her superpowers as she blazed to a shock gold in the women’s 100m, leading home a stellar field including Irina Privalova, Merlene Ottey and Gwen Torrence. A follow-up in her favoured 100m hurdles seemed a formality – and so it looked until she ploughed inexplicably through the 10th and final hurdle while leading. In that split-second, Devers went from the brink of making history, as the first athlete ever to complete the sprint/hurdles double, to a flailing desperado collapsing over the finish line in fifth.
40 - Man vs Locomotive
Emil Zatopek had already taken two Olympic golds (5,000m and 10,000m – the latter of which he had successfully defended as reigning champion) when he began his first ever marathon in Helsinki. Unsure of the correct pace, the newcomer just ran alongside world record holder Jim Peters, asking the Brit after 15km what he thought of the race so far. Running at a fierce lick, Peters tried to unsettle Zatopek with some mind games by replying that the pace was “too slow”. The ‘Czech Locomotive’ responded by steaming off into the distance to claim his third Olympic record of the games. Peters failed to finish.
39 - Feel the power
Mexico City 1968
Shoeless, heads bowed with a black-gloved fist raised to the sky while the US national anthem played, 200m medallists Tommie Smith (who took gold as the first man to break the 20-second barrier) and John Carlos ensured that the iconic image of Mexico ‘68 came not from the track, but from the podium. The pair’s black-power protest against racial discrimination drew an immediate backlash, The Daily Mail running with the headline ‘Olympic sacrilege and disgrace’. Both athletes were suspended from the Games and sent home. Gold-medallist Smith defended their position, saying: “If I win, I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” It took some time, but most of the world now understand what they were trying to do as well.