The Olympics are not only about games, they are about discovery and creation of spectacular moments. There are athletes who have graced the Olympic stage with their presence and left a mark that cannot be replaced.
Muhammad Ali, Atlanta 1996
The lighting of the Olympic flame is a special moment at every Olympic Games, but Muhammad Ali’s is one of the most touching.
It came nearly 40 years after he won gold in boxing. The world held their breath as he held the torch with shaking hands as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
It came as a reminder that not even illness can stop the world’s greatest athletes.
Adebe Bikila was placed on the Ethiopian Olympic team after another athlete was injured.
He made all the way to the men’s marathon to learn the shoes he was given didn’t fit. So he ran barefoot. That day, an unknown athlete and son of a shepherd became a gold medalist.
He won another gold medal in Tokyo, four years later … with shoes.
The Olympic games embrace the spirit of unity and time and time again, athletes have displayed this. We have seen athletes picking each other up and forgetting the gold ahead. We have seen then cry and laugh together. These are the moments the games were made for.
After pulling out of the 1988 games in Seoul for an achilles tendon injury, four years and five surgeries later Derek Redmond arrived at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics determined to win.
Devastatingly, the British runner who specialized in the 400-meter race tore his hamstring halfway through the semifinals. Collapsing from pain, Redmond got up and began to hobble to the finish line. His father, Jim Redmond, soon appeared by his side and together they made their way to the finish line. Steps from the end, Jim released his son and the athlete finished the race.
“I wasn’t doing it for the crowd. … I was doing it for me. Whether people thought I was an idiot or a hero, I wanted to finish the race,” Redmond said.
Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux sacrificed his chance at gold to save the lives of two fellow competitors at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. Sitting in second place during the fifth of his seven races, Lemieux rowed off course to rescue Singaporean sailors who had capsized in the dangerous and choppy waters. Lemieux hauled the men onto his sailboat until the rescue team came to retrieve them, and the Canadian waterman made his way back into the race.
Despite coming in 11th place after the incident, Lemieux was awarded an honorary second-place finish and a Pierre de Coubertin medal for his “sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage,” the former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch said.
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The Olympic games is a space where there is no bias. Every athlete no matter their gender, size or belief, comes here and shows the world what they’ve got. Hearts and hopes can be broken but bravery is what everyone displays.
- Olympians of all shapes and sizes
Simone Biles, at 4ft 8ins, is the shortest participating contestant, but Ragan Smith, 16, a reserve for the US gymnastic team, is just 4ft 6ins. The picture of Smith with US basketball player DeAndre Jordan, 6ft 11ins, is one of the best of the games. Neither is age any barrier: there are 48 years separating the youngest competitor, Gaurika Singh, 13, a swimmer from Nepal, and Australian equestrian Mary Hanna, 61.
- Olympic heartbreak
If any picture can sum up true Olympic heartbreak, surely that which Team GB judo star Ashley McKenzie posted immediately after his defeat in the second round of the men’s under-60kg succeeds. He is seen curled up in abject misery on the floor next to bins after being taken out by world champion Kazakh Yeldos Smetov. On his Instagram account McKenzie writes: “This explain a lot of things!! I don’t think I need to say much more about how I feel, thank you all for the support!”.
- Simon Biles defying gravity
Everyone has run out of superlatives to describe showstopper Simone Biles, whose status as star of the 2016 games seems assured. The pocket-rocket Texan gymnast, aged 19, who has won 10 world championship medals since 2013, dominated to win the all-around gold. The 4ft 8ins athlete has been described as perhaps the greatest ever gymnast, with gravity-defying moves on the vault, uneven bars, beam and floor.