As a 16-year-old high school student, Betty Robinson won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games.
Betty Robinson was just a high school student trying to catch a train home. Her biology teacher, who also coached the school’s boys track team, was already on the train – and he couldn’t believe that Robinson was able to race and make the train.
The teacher and coach, Charles Price, invited Robinson to train with the boys track team. (The school did not field a girls track team.) A few weeks later, at her first-ever track meet, Robinson finished second in the 100-meter dash to American record holder Helen Filkey.
Three months later, in her second race, Robinson beat Filkey in world-record time. Just 16 years old, Robinson would qualify for the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games and win a gold medal in the 100 – the first ever Olympic competition for women in track and field — and added a silver in the in 4×100-meter relay.
But that was just one of Robinson’s incredible performances. She missed the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games after nearly dying in a plane crash the previous year. Once thought dead, Robinson recovered from significant injuries that resulted in one leg being shorter than the other and prevented her from getting into a runner’s crouch.
Robinson, though, did not give up on her Olympic dream. Unable to get in a stance for the 100, she earned a spot on the 4×100-meter relay team and ran the third leg as the United States claimed gold at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games, a performance that went unmatched for nearly 50 years.
Competing against a backdrop of racial discrimination in Nazi Germany, Jesse Owens won gold medals on consecutive days in the 100-meter dash, the long jump and the 200-meter dash. Four days later, Owens helped the U.S. win gold in the 4×100-meter relay, giving Owens an incredible four gold medals – an Olympic performance that went unmatched for nearly 50 years.
Wilma Rudolph was unable to run until she was 11 years old, but she developed into a star athlete and at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games became the first American women to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Wilma Rudolph had beaten the odds to qualify for the Melbourne 1956 Olympics Games, where as a 16-year-old she won a bronze medal in the 4×100-meter relay.
Rudolph was often sick as a child, suffering from double pneumonia and scarlet fever. She contracted polio. Her left leg was paralyzed. She was fitted for a metal brace that she wore for several years to help her get around. She wore a specially-made shoe to give her foot added support. It was not until age 11 that Rudolph could run.
While Rudolph developed into a star athlete in high school, she missed her senior year basketball season after becoming pregnant. That did not derail her Olympic dreams, though: Rudolph returned to the track and at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, she won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter races and the 4×100-meter relay, becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Bob Beamon’s gold medal-winning long jump at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games still stands as an Olympic record more than 50 years later.
They might be the most famous six seconds in Olympic Games history.
When Bob Beamon sprinted down the runway and planted his feet before jumping into the air at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games, there was no way to know that this would be such a memorable event.
But then Beamon soared further and further. When he came down in the sand, it was too far for the optical rail — installed to measure how far each competitor leaped in the long jump – to measure. It took a tape measure for officials to manually record Beamon’s jump: 29 feet 2 ½ inches, a world record that would stand for nearly 23 years and an Olympic record that remains today.
Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in eight days — setting a new world record in each event — at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games.
It is down in the record books as the most impressive eight-day stretch in Olympic Games history.
During that span, Mark Spitz competed in four individual races and three relay races at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Spitz not only left with seven gold medals – he established new world records in every event!
Spitz won gold in the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter freestyle, 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle, 4×100-meter freestyle relay, 4×100-meter medley relay and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
Bruce Jenner smashed the world record en route to winning a gold medal in the decathlon at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games.
Bruce Jenner arrived at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games as the world record holder, having won 12 of 13 previous competitions. While one of the favorites, Jenner somehow managed to smash expectations.
On the first day of the decathlon, Jenner set personal bests in each of the five events: the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400-meter run. The next day, Jenner set three more personal bests, in the pole vault, javelin and the concluding 1,500-meter run.
Having established a new world record in the decathlon, Jenner took a victory lap while waving an American flag and circling the track.
Gymnast Mary Lou Retton was perfect in the floor exercise and on the vault at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games to become the first American woman to win a gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.
When Retton landed, she had a second consecutive perfect 10, following up on her score on the floor exercise to become the first American woman to win the gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.
But even though she could not improve her score – a change in the scoring system allowed gymnasts to count their highest score out of two vaults – Retton took her second attempt. And she delivered another perfect 10.
Florence Griffith Joyner won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and added a relay gold and another silver at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, claiming the title of the fastest woman in the world.
What a week it was for Florence Griffith Joyner, as she won three gold medals at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games to claim the title of the fastest woman of all time.
Griffith Joyner started by winning gold in the 100-meter dash. She then set and reset the world record in winning the 200-meter dash. That was followed by gold in the 4×100-meter relay and silver in the 4×400-meter relay.
NBA players participated in the Olympic Games for the first time at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games and the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team did not disappoint. The Dream Team won all of its games by at least 30 points en route to winning the gold medal.
Basketball in the Olympic Games changed at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, as NBA players participated for the first time ever. Led by Michael Jordan and with a 12-player roster that included 11 future members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the United States won all of its games by at least 30 points.
Carl Lewis capped his incredible Olympic career by winning a fourth consecutive gold medal in the long jump at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Carl Lewis made his first mark at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, where he matched Jesse Owens’ remarkable performance by winning four gold medals. Lewis capped his remarkable Olympic career with one final gold medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in the long jump.
Swimmer Michael Phelps became to first person ever to win eight gold medals in a single Olympic Games at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Michael Phelps won six gold medals and two bronze medals at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, in itself an incredible performance. Four years later at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the record-setting swimmer took things further, becoming the first person ever to win eight gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
At Beijing, Phelps won gold in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly; 200-meter freestyle; 200- and 400-meter individual medleys; the 4×100- and 4×200-meter freestyle relays; and the 4×100-meter medley relay. As if that wasn’t enough, Phelps set eight Olympic records, eight American records and seven world records.
All told, following the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 23 gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals.