Throughout the years, Americans watching the Olympics have witnessed countless moments of pure nail-biting tension and excitement. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as watching an athlete or team take go for the gold in those moments when the odds seem stacked against our American heroes. Some US wins are vital because of their historical significance, like Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin during the Hitler regime at a time when Germany was claiming racial superiority. Other simply thrill because of the sheer determination and athletic prowess on display.
There have been sure things in US Olympic history, of course. Remember the Dream Team, the improbably stacked 1992 Olympic basketball team made up of the who’s who of 90’s American all-stars, including Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird? The number of iconic players on that team would be considered laughable if it wasn’t so exciting to see just how truly great they were, a show of talent that will likely never be recreated.
The Miracle on Ice (1980)
Here’s a moment that many would rank high up in their favorite Olympic moments. Just watch that last minute above to see the US’s triumphant win against the Soviet Union. That Herb Brooks was able to coach a ragtag team of mostly college players to a win, in a rivalry still fueled by the cold-war, was a surprise to everyone. It’s not the gold medal moment—the US would still have to defeat Finland after—but it’s the decisive match that got them there, against the overwhelming favorite and winner of 6 of the 7 previous Olympic Games. There’s a reason why “Do you believe in miracles,” uttered incredulously by announcer Al Michaels while the clock counted down to zero, has become the go-to phrase synonymous with unexpected victory.
Dan Jansen Tries Once More for the Gold (1994)
In 1988, the unthinkable happened to Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen. First, he received the heartbreaking news of his sister’s passing after a harrowing battle with Leukemia. Then, with this horrible news hanging over his head, he fell during both the 500 and 1000-meter speed skating races he was competing in (it’s impressive that he was able to compete at all).
In 1994, however, he got one last chance at redemption. He won the gold, finally, in the 1000-meter race, dedicating the medal to his late sister.
Kerri Strug Sticks The Landing (1996)
A win for the 1996 woman’s gymnastics team was more or less a sure thing up until Dominique Dawes fell twice in competition. Getting the gold medal, then, was entirely down to Kerry Strug’s performance. With just two chances to perform a perfect vault, she fell on her first, injuring her ankle in the process. You can see Strug limping, trying to shake off her injury, as coach Bela Karolyi yells “you can do it!” from the sidelines. Then, for her second vault, something amazing happens. She lands on her injured ankle for as long as it counts before falling to her knees. It’s an incredible show of commitment and perseverance.