Epic Olympic Moments

Ten of the fiercest Olympic moments in history

You might think you know what the Olympics look like, but these ten images will show you the games in a way you’ve never seen before. Take a deep breath and get ready to dive into the ten wildest moments in Olympic history.

1. A Cook Wins Big at the First Olympics

The first Olympics, held in 776 BCE, were won by a cook named Koroibos who left the competition in the dust in an approximately 200-meter race on foot. It was worth nothing and it was also the only event at the first Olympics. Koroibos did it all for the glory of Zeus, the Greek God honored by the Olympic games.

Gjon Mili 1962 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

2. The First Modern Champion Hops, Skips, and Jumps to Gold

The first games of the modern era took place in 1896 in Athens, and they looked pretty different from the games we know today.

Olympic Games, 1896; preparation for the 100-meter race, Meyer Albert 1896 (From the collection of Benaki Museum of Greek Civilization)

The big story of the 1896 games was James B. Connelly, who became known as the first Olympic champion of the modern era when he won the triple jump (back then it was called the “hop, skip, jump”).

James B. Connelly, Yale Joel 1949-06-06 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

3. A Countess Becomes First Female Olympian

Hélène de Pourtalès, a Swiss Countess, was not only the very first woman to participate in the games, she was also the first woman to take home a medal. In the 1900 Olympics, as part of a yacht crew, she competed in two regattas, winning the first race and taking second in the other.

Portrait of the Countess of Pourtalès, Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1877 (From the collection of MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand)

And if you want to know more about women in the Olympics, check out the video below.

4. The Ski Jump Gets Even Higher

In the 1964 winter games, LIFE Magazine featured an iconic cover photo. It was awe inspiring as it showed the new challenge that was added to the ski jump competition: there would now be two events, a “normal hill” and a “large hill.” Athletes would be propelled to new (super-scary) heights on the new hill (though some people thought it should have been even larger). Norwegian jumper Toralf Engan took home a gold for making a jump of 95.5 meters.

Olympics, Ralph Crane 1964 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

5. A Nail-biting Three-Way Finish

Women’s double sculls might not be the most talked about Olympic event, but in 2008, it was definitely the most exciting. New Zealand won the gold, beating Germany by just .01 seconds and Great Britain by .23 seconds. It doesn’t get any closer than that.

Summer Olympics 1972, Co Rentmeester 1972-09 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

6. A Brutal Battle on the Ice

In the 1994 gold medal game between the Canadian and Swedish men’s hockey teams, the two sides fought each other to a draw, forcing the game into overtime, and then into a sudden death shootout where Peter Forsberg of team Sweden scored an amazing, clutch, game-winning goal that was immortalized on film.

Ice hockey final - Lillehammer 1994 Simon Bruty / IOC1994 (From the collection of The Olympic Museum)

7. Bob Hayes

Before Usain Bolt, Bob Hayes was the most dominant runner in history. He won two gold medals in Tokyo in 1964, including, perhaps most notably, an unbelievable victory in the 100 meters. Hayes went on to play in the NFL and is the only person to have won both a Super Bowl and a gold medal from the Olympics.

8. The First Female Sports Star

Suzanne Lenglen, of France, was one of the greatest female tennis champions of her day. She was a pioneer whose unconventional playing style changed the way the game was played, and whose “daring fashion choices” and bold personality made her a star. From 1919 to 1926, Lenglen was only defeated once. She also won two gold medals and a bronze competing in the Olympics.

Suzanne Lenglen - Anvers 1920 Photographer unknown / Getty Images 1920 (From the collection of The Olympic Museum)

9. Rack Up Gold Medals With 10,000 Calories a Day

Michael Phelps has won more medals than any other Olympian in history, and took home eight gold medals in 2008, winning every single event he competed in. In order to do that, he consumed over anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day to give him the energy he needed to keep going. But, of course, it’s not his ability to chow down that made him a champion—it’s all down to dedication, hard work, and heart.

Michael Phelps - Rio 2016 Al Bello 2016 (From the collection of The Olympic Museum)

10. Jesse Owens Fights Fascism

In 1936, Jesse Owens won four gold medals and set a world record in the long jump. These Olympics were held in Berlin while Adolf Hitler was in power, so when Owens dominated the competition, it wasn’t just a victory for him, it was also a blow against Hitler’s racist ideology.

1936 Summer Olympics, 1936-08-02 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

If you want to get a sense of how it looked to Owens when he was competing, check out the Street View of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium—it’ll really make you appreciate all the pressure and excitement the competitors must feel when they’re getting ready to go for gold.

Written by Luke Burns
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