Beijing 2008: Great Olympic Moments

Team USA tops the medal count again

Lopez Lomong carries the U.S. into the stadium
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, was selected the U.S. flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony.

By Zach Miles

It was an emotional moment when Team USA entered the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Leading the way was the U.S. flag bearer, Lopez Lomong. One of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Lomong and his family fled their home and spent the next 10 years in a refugee camp. Lomong eventually came to the United States in 2001 at age 16.

One year after becoming a U.S. citizen, Lomong qualified for the Beijing Games in the 1,500-meters and he was selected to lead the U.S. delegation into Beijing National Stadium.

The Beijing Games were successful for Team USA, which once again topped the medal count with 110 medals (36 golds, 38 silvers, 36 bronzes), 10 more than host China. The 2008 Games featured memorable moments such as Michael Phelps’ domination in the pool, basketball star Kobe Bryant’s first gold medal, Carli Lloyd’s extra-time, match-winning goal in the women’s soccer gold-medal game and more. 


Swimmer Michael Phelps wins record eight Olympic gold medals, sets seven world records

Michael Phelps slaps the water in celebration
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

Michael Phelps’ performance in Beijing is one of the greatest in Olympic history.

Eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture and the opening day of Beijing 2008 was set for 8-8-08. Eight also became the lucky number for Michael Phelps, as he won eight gold medals in Beijing, the most ever by any athlete in a single Olympic Games.

Phelps’ history-making journey included exciting wins in the 100-meter butterfly (besting Serbian Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds) and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay (capped by Jason Lezak’s spectacular anchor leg). The final gold medal of the Games for Phelps came in the 4×100-meter medley race where Team USA prevailed for Phelps’ seventh world record in Beijing.

Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals at Munich 1972 had been the previous mark.

Everything was accomplished,” Phelps said. “I will have the medals forever.”

More gold for U.S. women's basketball team

Team USA players pose with their gold medals
Associated Press photo/Dusan Vranic

Lisa Leslie (top row, middle) wore all four of her Olympic medals as Team USA celebrated.

Lisa Leslie held up two fingers on each hand as she stood atop the podium following the U.S. women’s basketball team’s 92-65 victory over Australia in the gold-medal game. 

And as the players later celebrated on the court, Leslie proudly wore her four gold medals: from Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

My vision and my dream was to have four gold medals around my neck by the time we finished the last game here in Beijing,” said Leslie, a 2019 inductee into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame.. 

Team USA put on a show in Beijing, winning its eight games by an average margin of 37.6 points. The U.S. was the only women’s basketball team in Beijing to break the 100-point mark in any game — doing so twice.

Team captain Kobe Bryant leads the Redeem Team to gold

Members of Team USA celebrate their impending gold-medal victory
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

From left to right, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and LeBron James celebrate the gold-medal victory.

Disappointment lingered for four years following Athens 2004 where Team USA won the bronze medal in men’s basketball. With a nod to the 1992 Dream Team, the 2008 squad was nicknamed the “Redeem Team” and avenged the 2004 performance by winning gold in Beijing.

Team USA went a perfect 8-0 in the tournament, the closest result a 118-107 victory over Spain in the gold-medal game.

The late Kobe Bryant sealed the gold medal victory for Team USA with a four-point play when with less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each averaged over 15 points per game in Beijing. 

The U.S. is back on top again,” James said.

Gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson combine for seven individual medals

Nastia Liukin executes a jump
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

Nastia Liukin won the individual all-around gold medal and helped Team USA to the team all-around silver.

Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson were sensational as they became the first U.S. women’s gymnasts to go 1-2 in the individual all-around competition. The pair also combined to win seven individual medals and led Team USA to the silver medal in the team all-around competition.

Liukin, a 2019 inductee to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, started things by winning the gold medal in the individual all-around as Johnson took the silver medal.

Two days later, Johnson and Liukin won silver and bronze, respectively, in the women’s individual floor event. Three days after that, Liukin claimed silver in the uneven bars individual event.

On the final day of gymnastics competition, Johnson won the gold on the balance beam, with Liukin winning the silver.

“This gold means more than anything to me,” Johnson said. “Beam is my favorite event, and I’ve worked [my] hardest on this for a long time. It’s the perfect ending to my Olympic experience.”

Carli Lloyd scores in extra time to lift women's soccer to gold

Carli Lloyd is about to strike the ball with her right foot
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

Both of Carli Lloyd’s goals in Beijing were in 1-0 Team USA victories.

For 95 minutes, the United States and Brazil were scoreless in the women’s soccer gold-medal match. Then Carli Lloyd scored with a left-footed strike from just outside the 18-yard box in the 96th minute to lift Team USA to a 1-0 victory.

“It was one of the most exciting moments of my career,” Lloyd said. “It was a great team win.”

Team USA had lost its first match in Beijing – 2-0 to Norway – before rallying to five consecutive matches and claim its third Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer. Goalkeeper Hope Solo allowed just three goals in the five U.S. victories.

Team USA sprinters make it a pair of podium sweeps

LaShawn Merritt is beside himself after winning
Photo courtesy International Olympic Committee

LaShawn Merritt is emotionally drained after winning the 400-meter run by the 0.99 seconds, the largest margin in Olympic history.

Three U.S. sprinters made the men’s 400-meter hurdles final and they swept the podium for Team USA. Angelo Taylor ran a personal-best 47.25 seconds race to win the gold medal, followed by Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson who won the silver and bronze, respectively. 

Three days later, another trio of American sprinters again stacked the podium with red, white and blue.

In the men’s 400-meter final, LaShawn Merritt captured the gold medal with a personal best-run of 43.75 seconds. Jeremy Wariner and David Neville finished second and third, respectively.

Anna Tunnicliffe navigates wind to win Team USA's only gold in sailing

Anna Tunnicliffe is working hard as she sails her boat
Associated Press photo/Herbert Knosowski

Anna Tunnicliffe credited her background racing on lakes for propelling her to win gold.

Sailor Anna Tunnicliffe moved from England to the United States with her family when she was 12 years old. At the Beijing 2008 Games, Tunnicliffe represented Team USA and her hometown of Perrysburg, Ohio – where she learned to sail on lakes – by winning the gold medal in the women’s individual Laser Radial sailing event.

In the 10th and final race of the competition, Tunnicliffe found herself second-to-last in a race plagued by windy conditions. But Tunnicliffe realized a shift in the wind pattern late in the race before all of her competitors pushing her to finish second and accumulate enough points over the 10 races to win the gold. Tunnicliffe was the only American sailor to win the gold medal in Beijing.

“I think that learning to sail on a lake teaches you a lot of patience,” Tunnicliffe said. “It teaches you to notice a slight change in the wind.”