As the Rio Olympics get off to a flying start, here is a look at some inspiring moments through time, that helped define, the spirit of the Olympics:
2016 (Rio) – the first ever Refugees Olympics Team: The story of the plight of refugees came center stage at the Rio Olympics when 10 athletes marched into the Opening Ceremony with the Olympics Flag instead of a National Flag. The 10 athletes escaped from countries like Syria, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Some fled war and kidnappings, while others fled being made child soldiers. And none of them were able to find a country to call ‘home’ in time for the Olympics
The refugee team members were chosen from a short list of 43 athletes who were identified at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Africa, as well as from shelters in Europe.
The IOC stressed: “There were no shortcuts. Each Refugee Olympic Team member earned the position, and got the qualifying times needed.”
2000 (Sydney) – Korean Unification Flag: The Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony will be remembered for the only show of unification ever between North and South Korea. Rather than carry their individual country flags, the North and South Korean teams walked together, wearing the same uniform and holding a blue flag of Korea
Park Chong Chul, a male judo coach from North Korea, and Chung Un Soon, a female basketball player from the South, led the joint delegation–together grasping a single blue-on-white flag depicting the Korean peninsula, the “flag of unification.”
1992 (Barcelona) – the most memorable 400m in Olympic history: Derek Redmond, the famed British runner was all set to win his semi-final heat to get a berth in the 400m final when he felt a pop in his right hamstring, just 175m from the finish line. Derek fell on the track in deep pain.
But he got back on his feet, waved off medical personnel and ambled towards the finish line
His father, Jim, watching from the stands, ran towards the track, evading security. Derek leaned on his father’s shoulder and finished the race with tears streaming down his face.
The moment was memorialized in a Visa commercial in 2008 narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. Freeman ended the commercial with, “He and his father finished dead last, but he and his father finished.”
1988 (Seoul) – Saving a fallen competitor: Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was sailing at the silver medal spot when he spotted the Singapore team’s capsized boat amidst dangerous winds.
The boat’s injured crew members, Shaw Her Siew and Joseph Chan, were in open water, Chan having been thrown nearly 20 meters from his craft and Siew clinging to the hull.
Lawrence immediately abandoned the race to save the two injured sailors. Lawrence rescued the two first and then handed them off to a rescue crew. He then resumed the race and finished 21st in a field of 32
At the award ceremony, the International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Saramanch awarded Lemieux the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for his heroic act, saying, “By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice, and courage you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal.”
1960 (Rome) – Barefoot to gold: Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner stole the show by running the marathon barefoot and winning the gold! By doing so, he also became the first East African to win a medal at the Olympics!
Abebe could not find a pair of shoes that fitted him since he was a last minute inclusion to the Ethiopian Olympics team. So he decided to run the way he had trained – barefoot.
After the race, when Abebe was asked why he had run barefoot, he replied, “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”
Abebe struck gold again in Tokyo four years later – this time in shoes!
1936 (Berlin) – the Jesse Owens –Luz Long camaraderie: Adolph Hitler planned to showcase Aryan superiority at the 1936 Berlin games. His plans were thoroughly debunked by African-American Jesse Owens who won 4 gold medals.
The Olympic spirit was reflected by the German crowd itself which cheered Owens’ accomplishments and sought his autograph in the streets.
However, most remarkable was the congratulatory hug Jesse Owens received from German competitor Luz Long after his gold medal effort in the Long Jump. Long had earlier advised Owens to take his start for the long jump a little early, so he could avoid disqualification. Owens was very overcome at the gesture and remarked later – “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
What moment in the list did you find most inspiring? Do share!