Blasts from the past

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 12:00am

A century of Olympic Games has left us with some golden memories - astonishing feats of athletic prowess and endurance, deeds of courage and moments of controversy. Here are just a few of the landmark events of past Olympiads.

Sheer perfection

Montreal 1976

Nadia Comaneci


A tiny 14-year-old captured the hearts of Montreal spectators with a stunning display of courage and agility. Romania's Nadia Comaneci made history when she achieved the first perfect scores ever awarded at the Olympics - not once, but an amazing seven times.

The first two came in the team competition, when her performances on the uneven bars and balance beam were deemed flawless. She added five more 10s in the individual competitions for those disciplines.

The Montreal organisers had clearly not been prepared for such perfection - the scoreboards were incapable of showing 10 and instead had to display 1.0.

The final twist

Munich 1972



The mother of all upsets, the father of all finishes. The United States had been champions in every Olympic basketball tournament, winning an unprecedented 62 consecutive games, and they thought they had won this one as well.

They were leading 50-49 when their opponents in the gold medal game, the Soviet Union, inbounded the ball with three seconds left. But two seconds later the Brazilian referee noticed a disturbance at the scorers' table and halted play.

The US players, thinking the game was over, started celebrating. But a British official ordered the clock to be reset to three seconds - enough time for the game to be turned on its head. This time Sasha Belov caught the long inbounds pass and scored to give the Soviets a 51-50 victory amid chaotic scenes. The furious Americans, who protested to no avail about the re-setting of the clock, refused to attend the medal ceremony.

Mother's pride

London 1948

Fanny Blankers-Koen


Dutch mother-of-two Fanny Blankers-Koen put women's athletics on the map by dominating the first post-World War II Games, winning four golds. She won the 100m with ease, edged out Britain's Maureen Gardner in the 80m hurdles, streaked away from the field in the 200m and lifted the Dutch team from fourth to first place on the anchor leg of the 4x100m relay.

It could have been worse for her rivals - Blankers-Koen also held the world records for the high jump and long jump, but she didn't compete in those in London

Golden hour

Paris 1924

Paavo Nurmi


Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi finished his career with nine Olympic golds - with the most memorable being the 5,000m title he captured by two strides from compatriot Ville Ritola. The reason? Nurmi had just won the 1,500m gold barely an hour before.

Nurmi was the star entrant in both events but was astonished to learn they were originally scheduled only 30 minutes apart. The Finnish delegation protested and French organisers extended the gap, but only to 55 minutes.

Fortunately for Nurmi, he was in a class of his own in the 1,500m and was able to ease up on the final lap to keep something in reserve for the longer race. He needed to, Ritola stayed on his shoulder all the way to a thrilling finish.

Pool queen

Tokyo 1964

Dawn Fraser


Alex Popov? Kieren Perkins? These two great Olympians are each attempting to become the first man to win gold medals in the same swimming event three Games in a row. In women's swimming, it's already been done - and a long time ago at that.

Australian icon Dawn Fraser claimed the 100m freestyle title in Melbourne in 1956 and again four years later in Rome. Her third

triumph was the most memorable - and it came in the most difficult of circumstances.

Seven months after a car crash which killed her mother and left the swimmer with her neck in plaster after chipping a vertebrae, Fraser (lane four) powered to glory in Tokyo

in an Olympic record time of 59.5 seconds

at the age of 27.

She also won notoriety with a high-spirited but ill-judged prank when she and two other athletes attempted to take a souvenir flag from the Japanese Emperor's Palace. Furious Australian Swimming Union officials banned her for 10 years, effectively bringing her

career to an end.

But her legend endured and Fraser's place in history as Australia's greatest Olympian is assured.

Show of courage

Seoul 1988

Greg Louganis


Greg Louganis emerged from a troubled childhood - which included three suicide attempts - to become the finest diver in history. In Seoul, he survived a brush with death on his way to completing a second golden double.

In a preliminary round of the springboard event, Louganis failed to leap out far enough and cracked the back of his head on the edge of the board on his descent.

But his courage shone through. After having five stitches inserted in the wound, he recovered his poise, shook off his headache and went back out to nail his last dive and qualify for the final. He went on to capture the springboard and highboard golds, repeating his double of four years earlier in Los Angeles.

Pit stop

Atlanta 1996

Carl Lewis


Carl Lewis was already an Olympic

legend - four gold medals had come Jesse Owens-style 12 years earlier in Los Angeles. But by the time Atlanta rolled around, it seemed his star was on the wane.

The thirtysomething Lewis was

entered for the long jump and was

aiming to emulate compatriot Al Oerter, the great discus thrower, by earning gold in the same field event four Games in a row. Yet he struggled in qualifying, only making the final with a dramatic last leap.

Then his extraordinary competitive instincts took over. He soared out to 27-feet-10 and none of his rivals could catch him. The triumph put Lewis in an elite club with swimmer Mark Spitz, distance runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina as a winner of nine gold medals.

Speed machine

Atlanta 1996

Donovan Bailey


A world record in the blue riband event of the Olympics - who could ask for more? Donovan Bailey achieved the feat with a jaw-dropping effort in the 100m, restoring pride to Canadian sprinting after Ben Johnson's drug shame in Seoul eight years earlier.

Bailey certainly hadn't thought about the world record - his only concern was finishing first. The look of wide-eyed triumph when he crossed the line and glanced at the clock - showing his time at 9.84 seconds - provided one of the enduring images of the Atlanta showpiece. But even with an Olympic gold and world record, Bailey couldn't help thinking, 'What if?' He had trailed badly out of the blocks before demolishing the field in the latter half of the race. A good start and he might have put the world record out of reach for decades.

Seven heaven

Munich 1972

Mark Spitz


Mark Spitz's seven golds remain the greatest gold medal tally amassed by one individual at a single Olympics. The American was unstoppable in Munich, setting world records in all four individual events he entered - the 100m and 200m freestyle and 100m and 200m butterfly - and adding golds in three relays.

And all this after a disappointing Olympics four years earlier in Mexico City, when he had predicted six golds but brought home only two.

So long, Bob

Mexico City 1968

Bob Beamon


In 33 years, the world long jump record had crept up by eight-and-a-quarter inches - in one astonishing leap through the rarefied air of Mexico City, Bob Beamon extended it by 21 inches. The American's effort of 29-feet-2 was literally off the scale - the sophisticated optical measuring device fell off its rail before reaching Beamon's landing point and bemused officials had to use an old-fashioned tape measure to record the most extraordinary advance in athletics history.

When the record distance was announced Beamon nearly fainted, suffering a cataplectic fit that made his legs give way. It was the first clean jump of the final and effectively ended the contest for gold.

The record stood for an amazing 23 years until American Mike Powell extended it by two inches at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo.

Fists of fury

Mexico City 1968

Tommie Smith and John Carlos


Tommie Smith ensured his world record-breaking run of 19.83 seconds in the 200m would be all but forgotten by what happened at the medal ceremony.

Smith and fellow-American John Carlos, the bronze medallist, were members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a group of athletes protesting about the treatment of blacks in the United States.

Mounting the dais with no shoes and wearing civil rights buttons, they bowed their heads during the 'Star Spangled Banner' and each raised a gloved fist in black power salutes. Australian silver medallist Peter Norman co-operated by wearing a civil rights button.

Smith and Carlos' gesture created a storm back home and the pair were banned from the Olympic Village by furious US officials.

Streets ahead

Helsinki 1952

Emil Zatopek


Czech army officer Emil Zatopek treated Finnish fans to the most astonishing display of distance running in the history of the Games. In a feat which will almost certainly never be repeated, he captured the 10,000m gold - crossing the line while his closest rival had yet to reach the finishing straight - and edged out Frenchman Alain Mimoun in the 5,000m final, before going on to win the marathon.

What made Zatopek's triumph in the 26-mile race all the more astonishing was that it was his first attempt at the distance. And yet he turned it into a training run around the streets of Helsinki, breaking away from the field after 20 miles and spending the rest of the race chatting amiably with policemen, spectators and cyclists along the route.

Over in a flash

Atlanta 1996

Michael Johnson


Michael Johnson produced a run for the ages in the 200m final. TV cameras perched at the top of the stadium captured the thousands of flashbulbs popping off as the American sprinter smashed the 200m world record, crossing the line in a staggering 19.32 seconds.

It sealed a unique double for Johnson as he had already landed gold in the 400m - with a little help from his friends. Only weeks before the Games, the International Olympic Committee had agreed to alter the athletics schedule so Johnson could attempt both distances.

It was a sweet moment for the athlete who had seen his bids for 200m gold derailed by injury and food poisoning in 1988 and 1992.

Fast and fearless

Berlin 1936

Jesse Owens


Adolph Hitler used the Games to propagandise the Nazi cause - yet gifted black American athlete James 'Jesse' Owens spat in the eye of the Fuhrer's despicable theories of racial superiority.

Owens won all four events he entered - the 100m and 200m, the long jump and 4x100m relay. His athletic ability and refusal to be intimidated were matched by the sportsmanship of German rival Luz Long, who gave the American helpful advice during the long jump final and who ran to congratulate the victorious Owens in full view of Hitler.

Berliners never forgot Owens' achievements or his dignity in victory - four years after his death, in 1980, they named a street after him.

Road runner

Mexico City 1968

Kip Keino


Kip Keino was forced to run the race of his life - just to make it to the start line for the 1,500m. The Kenyan found himself stuck in one of Mexico City's notorious traffic jams on his way to the stadium and was forced to jog the last mile to get there on time.

To add to his troubles, Keino, an uncoached Nandi tribesman, had been suffering from a severe gall bladder infection before the Games - but all of this was forgotten as he put on a devastating display of front-running.

American favourite and world record holder Jim Ryun produced his famed kick on the final lap but could still get no closer than 20 metres as Keino crossed the line for the biggest winning margin in Olympic 1,500m history. At the next Games he added gold in the 3,000m steeplechase.