Iconic Sports People of Previous Olympics Games

There have been many great Olympic champions and contributors over the 112 years of the Olympic Games. Some of these, however, became something more. Some became icons of their time, of their generation, and even of the entire Games itself. Below are a selection of some of these great athletes and why they became the legends that they are.

Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis

Daley Thompson
Daley Thompson

Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Chand

Emil Zatopek
Emil Zatopek

Fanny Blankers-Koen
Fanny Blankers-Koen

Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe

Yossef Gutfreund
Israeli Team 1972

Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens

Kathy Freeman
Kathy Freeman

Lasse Viren
Lasse Viren

Linford Christie
Linford Christie

Lis Hartel
Lis Hartel

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson

Olga Korbut
Olga korbut

Pierre du Coubertin
Pierre du Coubertin

Sebastian Coe
Sebastian Coe

Sohn Kee-Chung
Sohn Kee-Chung

Steve Redgrave
Steve Redgrave

Tommie Smith
Thommie Smith


Carl LewisCarl Lewis

If the men's Sprinting is the main event of the Olympics, then Carl Lewis is its greatest icon. He achieved what no one else has ever achieved at the discipline, and very few in any other sport can match it either.

When the inaugural world athletics championships were held in 1983, it was the biggest sporting event ever held, with more countries taking part even than the Olympics at the time due to various boycotts over recent years. It turned out to be the platform on which Carl Lewis announced himself as a potential great of the sport.

Blessed with incredible speed and athletic ability, he won the 100m, long jump and the 4x100m relay. This had not been seen since Jesse Owens, and suddenly all the talk was of whether Lewis could also achieve his amazing feats. In 1984, Lewis got his first Opportunity, and he did not disappoint. He won the 100m, long jump and 4x100m relay, just as he did a year earlier, but also added the 200m to claim the same four golds Owens had done nearly 50 years before. After pacing himself to win the 100m and long jump, lewis set an Olympic record in the 100m and a world record in the relay to further boost the legend of his achievement.

Only he and Owens have ever done this, but Carl was to go on and achieve truly unique feats.

In the build up to the Olympics of 1988, Lewis had created a great rivalry with Canadian Ben Johnson, who had started to overtake Lewis mid way between the two Games in the 100m battle, culminating in what was at the time an astonishing victory over Lewis at the 1987 world championships, setting a blistering 9.83 seconds. Lewis himself had set what would have been an equal world record of 9.93 seconds, but for Johnson's time. By this time, Lewis had begun to suspect where Johnson's sudden pace had come from, and publicly suggested he was taking drugs. As it turned out, it was more than just a suggestion.

The now bitter feud between the two men set up what would be the most talked about 100m race in the history of the Games. Lewis, Johnson, and Great Britain’s Linford Christie, his next great rival, lined up in the final. Lewis had regained his best form and was confident of doing something special. He did, setting a blistering time of 9.92 seconds, but Ben Johnson ran an incredible 9.79s to take gold, with Christie coming in third.

However, Lewis's suspicions were proved correct as Johnson tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was banned, with this gold given to Lewis and Christie taking the sliver. Johnson also had his world record of the previous year stripped as he admitted to having taken drugs for several years, meaning Lewis's time of 9.92 in the final became a new world record mark.

More significantly, this meant that Lewis became the only man ever to have defended the 100m title, while he also went on to defend his long jump title, was narrowly pipped to second in the 200m and could only watch as his team mates messed up in the relay as they were disqualified.

Lewis ended the 1988 Olympics reclaiming his status as the world's best sprinter, and moved onto his next great feat.

At the world championships the next year, Lewis competed in the most competitive 100m final ever, with six of the finalist running under 10s, however Lewis blitzed them, reclaiming the world record in a time of 9.86 seconds. As this was the first record he wasn't given posthumously in the event, he has always regarded it as his best ever 100m race.

What is ironic about this achievement is that it is only 0.03s slower than the time set by Ben Johnson in 1987 that Lewis thought must have been from drug use. Lewis had achieved his great time after a decade of working for it, and if Johnson had not been so keen to win so quickly and been prepared to work, he perhaps could have achieved what he did but without the drugs, as it was clear that these times were now firmly within the potential of male runners.

Lewis also won the 4x100m in a world record time, but in what would prove to be the best long jump final in history, lewis finally lost a long jump competition for the first time in more than a decade. Even so, this world championships was, he argues, he best athletics performance of his career.

This didn't mean, however, he was going to stop winning medals. In 1992, he did not qualify for the sprints, but won Gold again in the long jump and in the 4x100m relay in a world record time. In 1996, he went to his final Olympics to try and make history once again. In arguably his best event, he won the long jump for a fourth time, making him only the third ever Olympian to win the same event in four consecutive Olympics.

Overall, Lewis won 10 Olympic and 10 World Championship medals, with 9 and 8 of them gold respectively. He equalled the feats of the great Jesse Owen's, set multiple world records, and crowned it all of with his fourth consecutive long jump gold 12 years after his first. His great rivalries and the drugs scandals that created media frenzy around his events only added to his legend and status as the iconic sprinter in the history of the Games.

Daley Thompson

While the men's 100m might be the stellar event at the Olympics, it is the decathlon that is the ultimate athletic challenge. 10 different events over two consecutive days, Olympic decathlete champions command unequalled respect, and the greatest of all to date is Daley Thompson.

Daley Thompson

In 1978 Daley Thompson won his first international decathlon at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. After his loss in a competition in 1979, Daley would go on and win every single decathlon competition he entered for the next eight years, a truly monumental feat.

During this time he was also competing against two athletes of the highest standard, initially against the then world record holder, Guido Kratschmer, before Daley broke his mark in 1980 with a score of 8622 points, and latterly against a man who set three world record marks, Jürgen Hingsen.

Daley's first gold medal came in 1980, where he won with 8522 points. Due to the soviet boycott that was joined by West Germany, Kratschmer didn't participate and Daley won easily by 153 points.

Over the next four years, Daley battled with Hingsen and such was Daley's dominance Hingsen had to push so hard tha he set three world records in this time. However, these were all on home soil in West Germany and never in a competition against Daley. Daley won every international encounter during this period, culminating in the 1984 Olympics.

This time, all the main players were present, with Kratschmer also taking part. Thompson immediately laid down a marker, running the fastest ever 100m decathlon time of 10.44s before also winning the long jump with a distance that would have placed him 5th in the main long jump competition. He followed that up with a personal best in the shot putt and winning the final days event, the 400m, to lead after the first day.

The second event of day two proved the turning point. With Thompson still in the lead, Hingsen threw his best ever distance twice, while Thompson was lagging well behind going into his final throw and set to lose his lead. However, like all great champions, when the pressure was on he delivered a personal best distance once again, and while Hingsen won that event, Thompson maintained a sizeable lead.

In the next event Hingsen faltered, with Daley dominating the pole vault to gain over 1,000 points and end any real challenge. Thompson now had the world record in his sights, and after a good performance in the javelin, was set to claim it in the final event. His required time of 4:34.8s was well within his abilities, but Thompson strolled to the finish line as the crowd crowned him champion again, and clocked a time of 4:35 dead. Thanks to a recalculation of an earlier event where his time was not awarded correctly, Daley later earned the extra point to equal the world record mark but really should have set a significant new one.

It was not just that Daley was one of the most talented decathletes, it was his ability to produce winning marks every time he needed to in order to win events, and while his main rival set world records at home when the pressure was off, Daley ended up strolling to the same mark when the competition was at its fiercest and the pressure at its greatest, leading from start to finish to dominate his rivals and confirm his status as the best there has ever been.

Dhyan Chand

Hockey has been at the Olympics since 1908, but its first, and perhaps most legendary icon is one Dhyan Chand.

Legend is an appropriate term to use for Chand, as it is difficult to know how much of his status is true and how much has been added over the years, but one thing that is without question is that he was a truly great hockey player.

Dhyan ChandChand was part of the great post First World War Indian hockey team. Having played for several years in the army, once hockey was reintroduced to the Olympics for 1928 Chand was selected by the Indian Hockey Federation as they put together the best side they could to take on the world. The team went on to thrash every team in 1928 without conceding a goal, with Chand the talisman, and were mobbed by fans on their return to India. In 1932, the team were again unstoppable, thrashing the host USA team 24-1 in the final. In 1936 Chand, now the captain and firmly the leading player, won gold to complete a remarkable hattrick, beating the German team 8-1 in the final of in front of a much annoyed German Chancellor, who wasn't having the Games he had anticipated. Chand was the talisman, the star of the team with an ability many thought must be down to fowl play, leading to teams checking his sticks, but he was just simply outstanding. His Olympic Goal tally stood at 33 in just 12 games across the three years.

At international level he scored over 400 goals, far more than anyone else ever has, but it wasn't just his astonishing ability that made him iconic. A legend grew around him, starting with his name as it was at some point changed from Dhyan Singh. Why Chand, meaning moon in Hindi, was chosen no one really knows, but perhaps that was the idea; to create an air of mystery about himself. He was adored in his home country, with Indian Olympic icons relatively scarce as much then as now, but it wasn't just by default, he was a crown pleaser and people flocked to see him.

To this day, he is revered around the word, and not just in hockey, as one of the great Olympians for his overall ability as a player and his medal record. In India, he remains a sporting icon, with his birthday marked by National Sports Day and India's highest sporting achievement award is named after him.

A true sporting great, his Olympic achievements in his sport are unsurpassed, is regarded as the best player of all time and commands an aura of mystery and intrigue few can match even to this day.

Emil Zatopek

The 1952 Helsinki Games saw one of the greatest achievements in Olympic history and the making of one of its greatest icons.

At the London Olympics in 1948, Emil Zatopek, the Czechoslovakian runner from Kopřivnice, had performed what by most standards would have been a great achievement. He won the 10,000m convincingly and took sliver in the 5,000m event a few days later. Not since 1912 has anyone won both these events at a single Games, so coming so close was no mean feat.

Emil ZatopekHowever, in 1952 Emil would not only equal this, but go far beyond it. On the opening day of the athletics program, against a highly competitive field, he won the 10,000m event by over 15 seconds from the man he had beaten four years earlier. Just a few days later once again, Zatopek lined up in the final of the 5,000m. Keeping pace with the leaders throughout, Zatopek timed his move to perfection, surging to the front at the final bend and pulling away to the line to take the elusive track long distance double.

A significant achievement at any Games, it turned out to be one of the great Olympic moments, as it was a Finnish man, Hannes Kolehmainen, who was that last man in 1912 to do it, and the man who had opened the Helsinki Olympics by lighting the Olympic cauldron. The crowd, thus hugely aware of the significance of his achievement, went wild cheering Zatopek's name as he became the figure of the Games.

Zatopek was far from finished, however. He had his sights set firmly on winning the marathon race as well, spurred on by the victory in the women's javelin by his wife, Dana. Having never run a competitive marathon race before, he lined himself up alongside the then leading marathon runner, British man Jim Peters. Though Peters set a fast opening pace, Zatopek stayed with him, and when he asked Peters if the pace was good, Peter unwisely suggested the pace was slow, at which point Zatopek stepped up a gear and left the rest of the field behind, eventually winning in 2 hours 23 minutes and 3.2 seconds, a faster time than anyone in the field had ever run before, barring Peters. Unsurprisingly, the crowd in the stadium went into delirium, with Zatopek hoisted into the air by the Jamaican 400m relay team.

Zatopek's astonishing performance to gain his 5th Olympic medal and his 4th Gold, and the significance of the location and timing of the achievement secured the 'Czech Locomotive's' status as one of the truly great Olympic icons.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

Fanny Bankers-KoenThe road to Olympic Equality for women was largely due to the extraordinary feats of a handful of women athletes, and there have been none greater than Koen.

There have been several athletes that have set records and won golds in multiple events that are quite similar in nature. However, imagine doing so in the 100 yards, 100m, 200m, high hurdles, high jump, long jump, pentathlon and the 4x100m relay. Fanny set world record in them all, eight world records in eight events. The truly great athletes of track and field set two or three. Even the best in the pool have set only seven with the assistance of high-tech body suits. No one sets World Records in eight events, except Fanny.

However, it was the significance and timing of her achievements at the Olympics that made her into an icon. She first competed for the Netherlands in the 1936 games as a young girl, but by her peak performances the world was at war. None the less, her feats did not go unnoticed, and while many hoped she would be able to fulfil some of her potential at the Olympics in London in 1948, she was in her 30s and had not competed at her very best for some time.

However, the occasion truly needed a hero, an iconic symbol to unite the world after its troubles so very recently, something everyone could celebrate together, and Fanny surpassed. She won the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4 x 100m relay, a feat putting her on a par with the very greatest male athletics stars of any era. She returned home a hero, as an international super star and having significantly enhanced the Olympic movement and women's role within it.

It is likely that in any other time period she would have won many more medals, if not for the war, such were her abilities as an athlete. Imagine someone turning up at an Olympics or World Athletics Championships and winning all the sprint events, all the jumps, the hurdles, the heptathlon (what was then the pentathlon) and the relays in world record times, leaving golds only for the throwers and distance runners. This was the potential of Fanny, and although it is unrealistic to expect she could have done it in one Games, it is highly possible she could have won each won on several occasions if she had had the chance to compete at here best for three or four Olympics. Had she done so, she would have been the greatest Olympian of any time, of any sport, male of female.

Ian Thorpe

Swimming has always been Australia's main sport at the Olympics, but historically been largely in the shadow of American athletes. With Sydney set to host the Games in 2000, Australian swimming was determined to become the world leading force, and Ian Thorpe became their leading knight.

Ian ThorpeThorpe had dominated over several distances during the previous few years, and Gold medals and world records were expected of him. On the first day of competition, Australia had yet to win a gold in events preceding Thorpe's first final, the 400m. Having set a world record in the heats, he was expected to start the party, and he didn't disappoint, winning in another new record time.

However, it was in the evening that the real showdown was due, in the 4x100m freestyle relay. The USA had won every gold medal on offer in this event, and the rivalry and trash talk beforehand had made this the one Australia really wanted to win. Thorpe swum the last anchor leg, diving in first but overhauled at the turn. However, Thorpe's trademark kick in the final length brought him home for victory as the crowd went wild, before mocking the Americans for their pre-race derision of the Australian team.

The next day he set a word record in the 200m during the heats, however in the final was outdone by his great rival, who had subsequently beat his record, Pieter van den Hoogenband, to take sliver.

Thorpe would lead out the Australians for their 4x200m freestyle relay victory, while also picking up a silver in the 4x100m medley relay for his contribution in the heats.

Although the USA topped the medals tables, Australia had sent them home with wounded pride, and Thorpe was the leading medal winner of the Games with 3 golds and 5 medals, leading to him carrying the flag at the closing ceremony. Although Kathy Freeman was the darling of the Games, it was in the pool that it really mattered to the home nation and it was Thorpe who emerged the leading athlete of the best Games to date, smashing records, winning medals in the pool like no one before and truly earning his iconic nickname; the 'Thorpedo'.

Israeli Olympic Team, 1972

Not all Olympic icons have been world beaters, and in the case of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team of 1972, their iconic status a result of tragedy and deep running conflict.

The Israel-Palestine conflict may well prove the defining problem of the post World War era, and in 1972 it was brought to the worlds attention once again as members of the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, used the Olympics to highlight their agenda and make demands.

At 4:30am, the terrorists entered the Olympic Village and made their way to the Israeli rooms. Using stolen keys, they entered the first room. Yossef Gutfreund, the Israeli wrestling referee, heard a noise and investigated. As the door opened and he saw the masked men, he threw his large frame against the door and shouted to the others to get out. Two others, wresting coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano fought off the attackers and were both killed. However, the heroic actions of these three men allowed many of the Israeli team, including athletes, coaches and doctors, to escape.

The terrorists were able to take 9 people hostage, including Gutfreund, before making their demands to the world. For the first time ever, the Olympics were suspended as the international crisis unfolded. After intense negotiation, the German authorities struck a deal with the terrorists to arrange helicopter transport out with the hostages, during which they planned to sniper the terrorists as they made their way to the choppers. However, the plan went wrong, largely because there were more terrorists than they had said, and not enough snipers. In the gun-battle that followed, all nine remaining hostages were killed. Even more tragically, in the confusion German media accidentally broadcast that all the hostages had been saved, causing an outpouring of relief amongst Israelis around the world, only for the heartbreak of hearing an hour later that they had all in fact been killed.

1972 Israeli Munich 9

After such a merciless act on innocent people, the Games were nearly called off, but in the end went ahead largely due to the insistence of the Israeli team that the terrorists not be allowed to achieve their goals.

Naturally, the media and political ramifications of the incidence were immense. While most nations condemned the attacks, many Arab nations celebrated the terrorists as heroes, with only Jordan condemning the attacks. During the funerals, all Olympic flags were lowered to half mast, only for many Arab nations to object and insist their flags were raised immediately, which they were amid further outrage.

The Israeli men killed will forever be remembered as heroes and Olympic icons, men who, through the choice of others, gave their lives while participating in the Olympic movement.

While celebrating the achievements of mankind through the Olympics, and striving to bring peace and further enhance the lives of people all over the world, the killings of those eleven men serve as a reminder that not all the world shares the same ambitions.

Since that day, the responsibility to protect the athletes, staff and spectators was reaffirmed as paramount, and the path the Olympics was taking reassessed. Though not medal winners, these eleven men had a profound effect on the Olympics and will always be icons of the games to millions of people around the world

Wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, age 40;

American-born weightlifter David Berger, 28;

Wrestler Mark Slavin, 18;

Weightlifter Ze'ev Friedman, 28;

Track coach Amitzur Shapira, 40;

Weightlifting judge Yacov Springer, 51.

Wrestler Eliezer Halfin, 24;

Shooting coach Kehat Shorr, 53

Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, 27.

Wresting coach Moshe Weinberg, 33

Weightlifter Joseph Romano, 31

'Jesse' Owens

Many Olympics have moments of great sporting achievements, political controversies or social significace. In 1936, at the Berlin Games, events conspired to bring together all three in perhaps the most defining and iconic moment of the Olympics in the 20th century.

Jesse OwensThe 1936 Games were awarded to Germany and Berlin for more than a few political and social reasons. The country had been shattered by defeat after WWI, savaged by depression and thrown into turmoil of political uncertainty. A large part of hosting the Games in Germany was to try and help resolve some of these issues by bring the people of Germany together, raise their national self esteem and create better links with the international community that were so badly needed. However, two years later Hitler became Chancellor and quickly set about dismantling the fledgling democracy. The Olympics now became part of a hope that Hitler could be eased into the international community, and as the Olympics became closer this desire grew stronger as his actions became more and more troublesome, though many by now believed he could not be tamed peacefully.

Hitler had his own agenda for the Games. He wanted to prove the superiority of the German race, and particularly over other 'lesser' people, such as blacks, Asians and others. He also wanted to showcase the new Germany to the world; strong powerful and confident. However, this didn't materialise; his hockey team were smashed by the Indians in the final, the British, French and USA athletes continued to win their traditional strengths, and although Germany topped the final medals table, the controversies and humiliation Hitler suffered throughout the Games made it hard to call it the dominant display he had hoped.

The main reason for this was the performance of Jesse Owens. A black American track and field athlete, Jesse dominated the 100m in front of a watching Hitler, took the 200m as well, before proceeding to the long jump to take his third gold and topping it off with an astonishing fourth win in the 4x100m relay. This feat was not matched for another half a century, and proved beyond doubt to all that were watching that Hitler's 'master race' were far from what he would have liked to believe, and the fact that they were dominated by a humble black man from the US, left Hitler red, angry and perhaps wishing he had not bothered with the Games at all.

Given the size of the athletic achievement, the significance of the occasion and the political cauldron Owens was competing in, he became internationally known and an icon of defiance against one of the worst periods in human history.

Kathy Freeman

In 2000, Sydney welcomed the Olympics into the new millennium with what many regard as the best games to date. There had been a lot of criticism of the Atlanta Games four years earlier, but Sydney welcomed the world to perhaps the most enjoyable, friendly and exciting games yet in this sporting mad nation. All that the Games needed to crown its achievements was an icon, and Kathy Freeman was the one to fill that role.

Kathy FreemanAs an Aboriginal woman, Freeman had already broken new sporting ground for an indigenous population that had so far played little part in Australia's significant sporting success. She was the first to win any international athletics gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, the first to represent Australia at any Olympics in 1992 and the first Athletics World Champion in 1997.

Keen to unite and present the nation as 'one Australia', and help to significantly address the social problems encountered by the indigenous Aborigines, Australia took the unique step of inviting Kathy Freeman to be the first competing athlete ever to light the Olympic Flame to mark the start of the Games. However, the fairytale to unfold was beyond even their imaginations.

As she carried the torch into the stadium, the atmosphere was electric and the worlds eyes were keenly focused on this unique moment. Suddenly, an athlete  little known outside of Australia became the leading light of the games, the one more than any other that the nation and the world was watching and hoping would succeed.

With immense pressure suddenly placed on her and growing day by day, Freeman rose to the occasion to complete the story the world was waiting to tell. In her specialist event, the 400m, she was the favourite but with the overwhelming pressure to perform ,the world tuned in to see if she would be able to complete her destiny. Running in what would become her famous green and gold all over body suit, she eased to victory in style to a roaring crowd, before contravening Olympic rules by carrying both the official Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag on her victory lap to seal her status as the icon of Sydney.

This rather quiet, unassuming and shy woman had taken on the mantel of the nations hero and surpassed all expectations of her, and would become a leading ambassador for an entire continent as she was selected as the flag barer for Oceania at the next Games in Salt Lake City two years later.

Lasse Viren

Winning Multiple medals in long distance running is always highly difficult due to the high physical demand it places on the body and the long recovery most people require afterwards.

To do it in consecutive Olympics has only been done once, by a man known as 'The Flying Fin'.

Lasse VirenIn 1972, Viren won the 10,000m in a world record time, despite falling over and dropping back by over 30m, in 27:38. He then went on and won the 5,000m race to complete the long distance track double so rarely achieved.

A big enough feat in itself, Viren only went and won both events again in 1976, becoming the only man in Olympic history to win both track long distance runs at consecutive Olympics. What's more, his time for the last 1,500m of the 5,000m would have been enough to be competitive in the main 1,500m final. Finally, not content with this, the next day he ran in the marathon, and although didn't win a medal his time of 2:13:00 would have been enough to smash the time set by Emil Zatopek, the only man to win all three events at a single Olympics 20 years previously, by 10 minutes.

Although his feats place him firmly amongst the great Olympic icons, his training, focus and dedication to winning the Olympics changed the way many would approach competition. He trained only to win Olympic titles, planning a four year cycle that is now the norm for Olympic athletes, using interim tournaments only as a means of progression to peak Olympic performance. He also placed large emphasis on training for competition, not just straight performance. He understood that the differences between running long distances in training and doing so in the cut and thrust of competition could be trained and prepared for. He included training that forced him to adapt to the circumstances, a key tool in coping with changing conditions during long distance running, such as falling over!

Linford Christie

There have been many Olympic icons that have come from the men's 100m event, such is its status as the flagship event of the games. Although Linford Christie never held the world record mark, he was a true sporting icon of his generation and arguably the main man of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

It was not just his achievements at the Olympics that made Linford's status. He was an astonishing competitor, winning more medals than any other British male athlete in history with 23 major championship medals. He also won gold medals in every major championship he could enter, spread over 8 years. He was also the first European man to break the 10s barrier and is still the British record holder.

Linford ChristieHe dominated European sprinting throughout his career, and brought the only real challenge to the American sprinters. His great rivalry with the sprint legend Carl Lewis at the top of men's sprinting brought the event back to where it belonged after the drugs scandals that had dogged the 1988 event following Ben Johnson's failed tests.

Many thought, though, that Christie may never achieve the ultimate goal of being the best sprinter in the world. He had lost out to Lewis in the 1988 final to take silver, and by the 1992 Olympics would be 32, far older than any previous Olympic 100m Champion by four years. It was thought his time had gone. However, Christie would not accept this, and produced his best performances in his twilight years.

As new, younger athletes took the event on, setting new world records, Christie was able to keep pace, often outdoing his rivals when it came to competition, and by the time Barcelona came around, Christie was right in the mix and the showman for the event, putting the younger stars to shame. He famously wore Puma-embossed contact lenses at a press conference, with the company paying tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship, causing a storm.

Come the main event, there was a nervousness about whether Christie could do it. He was the sentimental favourite, but wasn't the fasted man in the field. The best time in the semi-finals of 9.88 was significantly faster than Christie's best ever time, and not too many believed he would actually be able to beat the Americans.

Would he be blown apart by his younger rivals, or pull out one last great Olympic performance? In the end, Christie ran the perfect race. He stormed out of the blocks while the fasted man in the heats was left behind. Keeping pace with the other Americans, at half way Christie kicked, opening out his long stride and opened up a lead. Being the strongest finisher in the race Christie knew he had it and so did the crowd. He powered to the line for a comprehensive victory that may have only been in 9.96s, but was completely dominant from start to finish.

Christie had done it, become the oldest man ever to win the 100m and fulfil his Olympic dream. It was the iconic moment of the Games, and one that brought a smile to all those involved in sprinting and Athletics over the past 10 years, and many more around the world.

However, Christie was not happy to quit there. He still had unfinished business at the World Championships. He had not won gold there either, and the following year would aim to become the only man ever to hold the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth 100m sprint titles at the same time. He did not disappoint. He stormed to victory in his fastest ever time of 9.87s, completing his iconic status, now at 35 years old, and putting to bed rumblings about his relative poor best time with a truly world class mark for the period., just one hundredth of a second outside Carl Lewis's world record time and placing him equal in stature and ability with the great American sprinter.

Lis Hartel

Equestrian events have always been mixed sex competitions, although women didn't compete in eventing until 1964. However, no women had even won a medal, until Lis Hartel.

Lis HartelIn 1952 Hartel won silver in the Dressage for Denmark, repeating the feat four years later. What made this truly remarkable is that she was paralysed below the knees. After a promising early career, Hartel contracted polio while she was pregnant, losing significant muscle function. However, she was determined to recover and after extensive rehabilitation regained much of her muscular ability, accept in her lower legs.

With the use of the feet and heels meant to be highly important in controlling the horse in the dressage event, just reaching the Olympics was a tall order, let alone competing for a medal. Only a handful of disabled athletes have competed in the Olympics, but having won two medals at two consecutive Olympics places her as one of the all time great Olympic icons, particularly for disabled athletes, as she competed at a time when the paralympic movement was in its infancy and before the first Paralympic Games took place in 1960.

A truly inspirational figure of the Olympic movement, she did much to advance the status of both women and disabled athletes in the period after the war as the Olympics started to take its modern day shape.

Michael Johnson

When it comes to long distance sprinting, there is only one name that rises above all others, and that is Michael Johnson.

Johnson set new standards that were never thought possible over both 200m and 400m, dominating throughout the 1990s and practically untouchable. He set new world records in both that were truly astounding.

Michael JohnsonIn 1996 at Atlanta, Johnson sealed his position in the halls of fame, winning both the 200m and 400m, something not achieved by anyone else in the history of the games. He set a time of 19.32s for the 200m, less than double the world record time set for the 100m. This was such an astonishing achievement it led to him being named 'fasted man in the world' usually assigned to the 100m champion, even though he too had just set that new WR.

Four years later, Johnson was not selected for the 200m as he was injured for the US selection trials, but still stole the show in men's track and field by walking away with the 400m title, becoming the first man ever to defend that gold medal.

Johnson also won the 4x400m relay in Barcelona in 1992, taking his Olympic Gold tally to 4, and along with his 8 world championship golds drew alongside the great Carl Lewis in winning more golds than any runner in history.

Johnson's greatest achievement, however, was in setting the current 400m world record in 1999 in Seville. Johnson clocked a time of 43.18 seconds, smashing by over a tenth of a second the previous mark set by 'Butch' Reynolds in 1988. This may not seem much, but at the time it was thought that Reynolds' mark would never be beaten, until Johnson came along, as it was nearly six tenths of a second faster than the previous world record that had stood for twenty years. What's more, no one else since has come even close to Reynold's mark, never mind that set by Johnson.

Johnson was also arguably the first of the modern Olympic sporting stars. With is unique, laid back running style and personality, he looked as though he strolled to his victories, increasing his iconic status even further and enabling him to become a truly global, commercial superstar. He was almost as famous around the world for his golden boots as he was for his gold medals, and commanded sponsorship and other incomes not seen before by someone in athletics. He was not only an Olympic sporting great who dominated his era, but was a sports star of the highest status on a par with those in any other sport before and since.

Olga Korbut

You couldn't compile a list of Olympic icons without including one Olga Korbut of Belarus. A young, female athletes, she took her sport onto new levels and become its most iconic star, making it one of the most popular of all the Olympic Sports.

In 1972 she competed at the Munich games as a young, 16 year old girl but by the end, had become an international superstar.

Olga KorbutShe won 3 gold medals and a silver in 1972, followed by a further gold and sliver four years later, making her one of the most decorated gymnasts.

However, t was not just her medals that made her a star. Korbut invented two completely new gymnastic movements, and was the first woman to include a full back somersault on both the balance beam and the uneven parallel bars.

She also showed all her emotions to the crowd, much in contrast to other soviet athletes. Her highs and lows, from the tears of falling off the uneven bars in the all-rounder event to her elation of winning on the floor, balance beam and team events, won the hearts of the crowds. So much so, that in the uneven bars event, where she repeated the same routine she did in the all-rounder but this time nailed it, the crowd booed and stamped in protest as the scores came out, only good enough to win the silver medal.

At the time, the cold war tensions were at its highest, the Olympics were used as a political tool and the Gymnastics arena was one where the USSR were determined to dominate. However, such were Olga's performances and her outpouring of emotion, in the end everyone got behind her and united people from East and West in a way rarely seen at the time. It is important to remember that this was they Olympics at which the killing of Israeli athletes took place, and emotions and tensions were already heightened. If ever a unifying figure was needed it was then, and Olga filled that need more than anyone could have hoped for.

Her ground breaking movements and routines were the kick start to what would be a remarkably rapid development in women’s gymnastics. It was as a result of her new movements that the sport changed emphasis from artistic presentation to its technical skills required to perform. The stunning feats performed by today's gymnasts simply wouldn't have developed without her. She attracted media attention to the sport never seen before, and inspired thousands of girls around the world to take up gymnastics, receiving 20,000 fan mails after the 1972 Olympics alone.

This is why she is known as the 'Mother of Gymnastics'. It is one thing to be a great champion, but to unite people of all nations, revolutionise a sport, inspire generations of athletes and become an international superstar through shear personality is something truly special.

Pierre de Coubertin

Arguably there can be fewer greater icons of the Olympics than the man who founded the modern Games at the end of the 19th century.

Coubertin was from French aristocratic backgrounds, and took a keen interest in the development of sport, athletics and physical education advocated in Britain and also in the United States. Sport in France was mainly the realm of the wealthy as a leisure activity, while in Britain it had been developing for many decades as an important part of a boys education and as a physical development and social tool amongst the working class. The US too had started to develop the use of sport, and particularly athletics, within college education.

Pierre du CoubertinCoubertin's interest was initially sparked by the loss by France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, believing that the French troops were simply not physically developed enough compared to the Prussian army. He looked at what was happening in Britain and America in physical education and saw it as a solution to this problem. He therefore spent a considerable amount of time in Britain and the USA learning all he could about how physical education and athletics was being used. During which time he saw the wider social impacts, particularly in Britain where the use of sport to instil good morals and social conscious in boys and improve the social cohesion of the working class.

Coubertin was also part of the Peace Movement that grew up in the 19th century, the idea that it was possible to end war and promote the common good principles of mankind throughout the world. After visiting England and seeing the work of Thomas Arnold at Rugby School, and the Much Wenlock Games in Shropshire, the idea of linking the potential shown in physical education with the ideals of the Peace Movement by resurrecting the Olympics of Ancient Greece developed.

After inviting representatives of 12 countries to discuss the idea, it was agreed to hold the first Modern Olympics in Athens, a symbolic opening, in 1896.

The roots of almost all modern sport can be found in the schools and colleges of Britain and the United States, developed with the idea of improving the general physical health of the population as well as a range of social issues. The Modern Olympic Movement is no different, but it took the vision of one man to take these initial ideas and practices and expand them on a global scale. Though he can't have imagined that it would grow into the success it is today, and has been over the past century, it was never the less his ambition.

Sebastian Coe

Not only has Sebastian Coe been one of the greatest athletes of his generation, but he has also gone on to contribute perhaps more than any other in the development of the modern Olympics.

Sebastian CoeThroughout the 1980s, middle distance running became almost solely the realm of British athletes who's rivalry made the discipline a focus of track and field.

Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Steve Ovett would compete throughout the decade over 800m and 1500m, dominating most international events throughout, but it was Seb Coe who was the leading figure of the trio.

Coe was also a strong sprinter while holding great endurance, winning the 4x400m relay with the British team at the European Cup in 1979 with the fastest time of the quartet and running a four mile race in Ireland in 1978 ahead of the later 5000m champion, Eamonn Coghlan.

In 1979 Coe set three world records in three events in 41 days, first in the 800m, then in the mile and finally in the 1500m. In 1980 he broke the 1,000m world record to hold all four middle distance leading times, although an hour later Ovett broke his mile record. He was therefore the favourite going into both the 800m and 1500m events at the Olympic Games in 1980. In the end, Coe won the 1500m, with Ovett taking the 800m and in Coe second. Four years later, Coe would become the only man to win back to back 1500m titles by winning in an Olympic record time, as well as picking up another silver medal.

It was not just the Gold medals he won at the Olympics, but that Sebastian Coe competed in the most severely competitive era of middle distance running, with world records across all the distances being set by Coe, Ovett, Cram and others, but it was Seb Coe who was the star. He set 12 world records in all, set sub 3:30 times in four different seasons for the 1500m and continued to set world standard middle distance times over a decade after his first international success.

The manner of his victories were also astounding, the last lap of his Olympic record in the 1,500m in 1984 coming in just 53.2 seconds, and the final 100m sprint in just 12.7s. He would continue to win gold medals at both 800m and 1500m against his main rivals throughout his career, trading victories with each of them in the most exciting rivalry the discipline has seen.

His status was such that at the end of his career, when he was not selected for the British team after some problems with illness in 1988, another country campaigned to change the rules so he could be selected, and when that failed even sought to select him themselves, such was the desire to see him compete again and defend his 1500m title.

After his career, Coe was appointed an MBE, and then an OBE, before being elected to parliament in 1992, made a Lord in 2000 and knighted in 2006. His continued work in sport and politics all lead towards his greatest achievement: becoming chairman of the winning London bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

Perhaps more than any person, Seb Coe has been the driving force behind bringing the Games to London once again, and has since been at the forefront of making sure it fulfils all expectations. His contribution has been immeasurable, while continuing to advance his contribution to sport by being elected chairman of the FIFA independent ethics commission and the vice-president of the IAAF.

An icon during his competitive career, Seb Coe has continue to be a leading figure head for the Olympic movement, becoming more influential each year and is largely responsible for producing what promises to be the greatest Games yet.

Sohn Kee-Chung

Ever since Seoul was awarded the 1988 Olympics, there was an air of uncertainty over what would happen. Tensions over the boycotts of previous years, continuing differences between East and West as a result of the Korean War and the bitterness that divided North and South Korea. The IOC was determined to avoid a boycott, and in the end secured participation of most Soviet countries, including the USSR and East Germany most importantly. However, North Korea was demanding joint hosting with the South, and in the end the IOC refused to give in, leaving South Korea to host on its own and North Korea boycotting, joined by a handful of other nations.

Sohn Kee-ChungThe games desperately needed an Icon, someone who would reaffirm what the Olympics is meant to be, and Sohn Kee-Chung answered the call.

At the time of the Berlin Games in 1936, Korea was occupied by Japan, and Sohn, along with other athletes, were made to represent Japan, even being given Japanese names. Sohn was chosen to represent Japan along with his fellow Korean, Nam Seung-Yong, in the marathon race in Berlin, something both athletes bitterly resented but understood the political situation of the time.

Both men ran the race representing Japan, with Sohn taking the Gold medal and Nam the bronze. Before, during and after the games media attention was on both the men, Sohn in particular as he was the world record holder with a time 7 minutes faster than any previous Olympic Marathon time. Sohn used this media attention, particular after his victory, to state categorically that he was Korean, and not Japanese, and highlight the situation in his birth country. Then, on the podium as two Japanese Rising Star flags went up to the Japanese national anthem, both men bowed their heads in protest and Sohn covered the Japanese badge on his uniform.

The events of the Berlin Games continued to cause controversy in Korea and Japan after the games, and Sohn refused to run again representing Japan.

At London in 1948, at which time Korea was no longer under Japanese rule, Sohn carried the Korean flag at the opening ceremony, such was his importance as an icon of the Korean nation.

When Seoul came around, Sohn, now 76, was made torch bearer for the opening ceremony. While this was perhaps an unsurprising move, the outpouring of emotion as he lit the torch could not have been anticipated. Sohn was always a proud Korean and never shied from stating his national identity, inspiring many in his country throughout their oppression. As he entered the ring and proceeded to light the torch, the whole nation shed tears as this single moment represented more than any other where they had come from and what they had go to through in living memory to get to this point, where a proud nation could stand on their own and as equals amongst others.

The Olympics symbolises and aims to promote many ambitions of humanity, but this one event above almost any other in Olympic history represented what the Olympics strives to achieve, and what it means to many nations and peoples around the world.

Steve Redgrave

While only three Olympians have ever won 4 consecutive Golds in the same event, what about 5? Although the events were not all the same, British rower Steve Redgrave could not realistically race in mulitiple events at each games due to the nature of the sport, and just as well for everyone else.

Steve RedgraveAmazingly, we have to go all the way back to 1984 for Steve's first gold, the games where Carl Lewis stole the show. Steve was perhaps a mere footnote for his single gold but 16 years later would surpass even Lewis's achievements.

He won gold in the coxless pair and bronze in the coxed pair in 1988, Gold in the coxless pair again in 1992 and 1996, and finally in the coxless four in Sydney in 2000.

In his final race, the Great Britain boat lead from the off, but right towayrds the end the Italians came storming back, Britain just holding on by one of the closets margins to seal Redgraves legend

16 years, 5 Olympics and 5 gold medals. This is something never achieved by anyone else, and probably never will be. What is even more impressive is that his rowing events are some of the most physically challenging in any Olympic sport. To maintain himself at the highest performane for so long would have been astonishing in any event, but to have the drive and determination to put the body through the severe punishment required to compete in rowing for 16 years is something no one has ever come close to doing.

There was more to Steve, though, than just his wins. His partnership for his last 3 golds, with Matthew Pinsent (both part of the fours in 2000) made them also one of the greatest ever Olympic pairings in any sport, with Pinsent bowing out four years later with himself having won an amazing fourth consecutive gold. They were both hugely popular and created something special that will likely never be seen again.

What's more, Redgrave suffered many illnesses in his career. Asthma, ulcerative colitis and later diabetes type I would all have a big impact on him, but while others may have given up for easier times, Redgrave loved what he did and though it involved a very large amount of pain to get there, he was determined to make his mark.

His iconic status can perhaps be best summed up by his own words in 1996. “If anyone ever sees me go anywhere near a boat again, you have my permision to shoot me,” he proclaimed after his fourth Gold triumph, looking physically shattered and ready to call it a day. However, he soon changed his mind, and hit another long, hard, four year cycle to claim his place as the ultimate Olympic athlete of all time.

Tommie Smith

Tommie SmithOlympians often become icons more for their actions away from the competition than their sporting achievement, and this is certainly the case with Tommie Smith. Although he was an Olympic Gold medal winner and world record breaker in the 200m final at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, it was his performance on the medal roster that made him an icon of his time and of a generation.

An African American from humble backgrounds, he excelled at sports after moving to California and while at San Jose State College, he met Harry Edwards and other black rights campaigners, co-founding the Olympic Project for Human Rights. A campaign was launched to use the 1968 Olympics to place international focus on the racism in the United States, which at the time had reached its pinnacle of tensions with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King only a few months prior to the Games. Many athletes wore black socks as a symbolic stance against racism, but it was Tommie Smith who made it an international storm.

After receiving his Gold medal and while watching the Stars and Strips flag of the USA, standing on the podium he and his fellow countryman John Carlos, who won bronze, raised their fists while wearing black gloves, Smith his right hand to symbolise Black Power, Carlos his left to symbolise Black Unity.

The Black Power movement was highly controversial in the US at the time, many criticising it for having a racist agenda of its own, and others as a threat to the American way of life. However, Smith wanted to bring attention to the hypocrisy of those who would celebrate him as an American while he won, while before hand he and those he represents were treated as second class human beings at best.

It also highlighted how far the Olympic movement itself still had to go on this issue, as it was far from the beacon of equality is should have been. Smith and Carlos were suspended from the US team by the IOC president Avery Brundage and thrown out of the Olympic Village.

Both Tommie Smith and John Carlos received death threats on their return, and sliver medallist Peter Norman also faced calls for him to be punished for his visual show of support on the podium by wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, the organisation co-founded by Smith. Being a white athlete, his show of support made those few minutes even more evocative and politically controversial.

However, Smith's actions became one of the iconic symbols of the Black Rights movement in the USA and other parts of the world, helping to inspire a generation and prove to supporters and detractors alike that even with the assassination of King, they would not be silenced. It has become one of the most political incidents in the history of the Olympics.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder