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Olympic Spirit: Stories of Inspiration That Made a Difference

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By: Martin Henderson

Olympic-Spirit-Stories-of-Inspiration-That-Made-A-Difference

Where were you? For most of us, we were on the couch when we saw some of the greatest, most memorable, most inspirational moments in Olympic history. Every four years, the Summer Games prove to us that we’re all patriots and athletes at heart, even if we aren’t coordinated enough to ride a bicycle.

The Joint Chiropractic’s writing and marketing team wants to celebrate the 2024 Paris Olympics with you by sharing some of our favorite or most inspirational moments that we witnessed on TV or YouTube or read about in some newspaper story archived from when newspapers were still a thing.

They are great conversation starters. So when you go to The Joint for your regular adjustment, feel free to let your chiropractors know your favorite Olympic memory. It’s bound to inspire you. And them.

Jesse Owens Beats Hitler (Berlin, 1936)

With Europe on the eve of war, the world gathered in Berlin for the last Olympics before World War II broke out. Adolf Hitler was propagating the myth of Aryan supremacy, and the German chancellor expected to prove it at the Summer Games. What Hitler didn’t know was that an amazing black track and field athlete from Ohio State University, nicknamed “The Buckeye Bullet,” was going to blow his myth out of the water. On May 25, 1935, Jesse Owens set four world records in the Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Mich. Owens arrived in Berlin determined to continue his winning ways. Did he ever! Owens won four gold medals at Hitler’s Games. He took the top prize in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the long jump, and the 4x100-meter relay. By far the most successful athlete at the 1936 Games, Owens single-handedly destroyed Hitler’s Aryan ideal. Back home, the conquering hero was treated to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway by New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Jesse Owens’ amazing Olympic performance went down in history as a blow against fascism as well as an incredible athletic performance.

-Paul Rothbart

Bob Beamon’s Miraculous Jump (Mexico City, 1968)

Bob Beamon's “miraculous” long jump world record at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was an incredible feat that has stood the test of time. Born into adversity after his mother died when he was just an infant, Beamon was raised by his grandmother and found himself getting into trouble as a youth and throughout his teen years. Despite this challenging upbringing, he persevered and turned toward sports. Beamon was a runner in track until the day came when his “long-jumping” teammate became ill, asked him to fill in, and handed Beamon his spikes. Thinking, “Why not? I’ll give it a try,” Beamon ran to the pit, jumped as far as he could, and set himself far above the others. From one podium to the next, Beamon catapulted himself to what many consider the biggest stage in the world. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, his jump was so long (29 feet, 2 1/2 inches) that the officials didn’t even have a manual tape to record it. But that’s not all. After the Olympics, he received a call from Webster’s Dictionary and was told they were going to coin a term in his honor, “Beamonesque,” which means “an athletic feat so superior to what has come before, it is overwhelming.” I’m sure on October 18, 1968, many people in the stands were left feeling completely overwhelmed by what they had just seen at the long jump pit: It was Bob Beamon literally jumping into history.

-Donna Stark

Black Power Salute for Civil Rights (Mexico City, 1968)

One of the bravest and most controversial Olympic moments of all time did not occur on the field of competition. In 1968, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing as Black Americans and their allies protested against 400 years of injustice and inequality. Although the Games are not supposed to be political, two gutsy Black American track stars took a stand on the international stage. During the medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze winner John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the national anthem. The two were heavily criticized, but their bold display helped bring attention to the plight of Black Americans as the fight for civil rights continued to progress.

-Paul Rothbart

The Perfect 10: Nadia Comeneci (Montreal, 1976)

For many people, perfection doesn’t exist, and until 1976, never in Olympic gymnastics. That is, it didn’t until a young Romanian girl showed up in Montreal for the Summer Games and stunned the world. Female gymnasts often reach their peak in their teens, but Nadia Comeneci was a tender 14 when she accomplished her incredible feat. On July 18, 1976, her flawless routine on the uneven bars was scored perfect by every judge. It was so unexpected that the scoreboard was not even designed to display 10.00 and showed 1.00. Since then, other gymnasts have scored 10s, but there is only one first. That honor belongs forever to little Nadia Comeneci.

-Paul Rothbart

Sugar Ray’s Sweet Victory (Montreal, 1976)

American boxing fans eagerly anticipated the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Team USA boxing was, in the opinion of most, the greatest in history. As a young fight fan, I looked forward to watching our Olympic pugilists. The nation was not disappointed as five American boxers took home gold. The darling of the team was light welterweight Sugar Ray Leonard, who reached the final match by defeating all of his previous opponents by 5-0 decisions. In the bout for gold, he faced Cuba’s Andres Aldama, who won all his previous matches by knockout. Leonard’s superior boxing skills were too much for the Cuban. A knockdown in round two, and two standing eight counts in the final round powered Sugar Ray to another 5-0 decision and the gold medal. Leonard went on to an outstanding professional career, winning titles in five weight classes and becoming one of America’s—and my—favorite athletes.

-Paul Rothbart

Jim Redmond Carries His Son to the Finish Line (Barcelona, 1992)

The 100-meter dash may determine the world’s fastest human, but the 400 meters may determine the best all-around sprinter. And in 1992, the 400 was also the most emotional race ever. The semifinals featured Great Britain runner Derek Redmond. On the backstretch, about halfway through the race, Redmond pulled up with a torn hamstring. After pushing away the medics so that he could finish, he continued slowly, hobbling around the track in pain—physical as well as emotional. His Olympic dream was over. There would be no gold medal. But by the time he reached the final turn, his father had already made his way to the track. Somehow, he managed to get past security—something that is unlikely today—and reached his son after every other runner had long crossed the finish line. Jim Redmond grabbed Derek and helped him walk to the finish line in an act of empathy and parenthood we are unlikely to ever see again in an Olympics. Derek Redmond didn’t win the race, but the image of his anguish and tears on the shoulder of his father will live forever.

-Martin Henderson

Ali Lights the Torch (Atlanta, 1996)

While winning the light heavyweight gold medal in boxing at the 1960 Rome Olympics, then-Cassius Clay signaled an arrival and presence on the sports landscape that would last five decades. When the United States hosted the Games in 1996 in Atlanta, the person who was to light the torch was a secret until the most famous athlete in the world finally appeared to accept the handoff from swimmer Janet Evans at the top of the Olympic stadium. Once so brash and dashing and lightning quick, Muhammad Ali was battling Parkinson’s disease at the time. He appeared withered and feeble and shaky, and the wind and lighting mechanism did him no favors, but he finally got it lit -- and the world cheered once more. It was poignant and heroic and all the things that great sports moments can be in celebration of probably the most impactful athlete in history. When he was awarded a replacement gold medal from the Rome Games because the original had been lost, it took place in the basketball arena in front of an audience to watch The Dream Team -- and the greatest team of all time gushed like schoolgirls to get their picture next to the Greatest. I still get teary-eyed when I watch replays of Ali’s Olympics.

-Martin Henderson

The Golden Girl: Kerri Strug's Heroic Vault (Atlanta, 1996)

Kerri Strug's historical moment at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games couldn’t have delivered a more nail-biting, anxiety-ridden finish. With the team's gold medal on the line in the gymnastics final and with Russia waiting in the wings to grasp it away, all eyes were on this petite, young athlete who was preparing to vault. As she approached the runway, the cheering crowd stood on its feet, though Strug couldn’t stay on hers; on the first vault of her set, Strug failed to stick her landing, tumbled backward, and fell to the ground in a sitting position. It didn’t take long for the shock in the crowd to turn to concern as everyone quickly realized that Strug was seriously injured. However, the gold medal doesn’t wait for athletes to feel their best. Despite her significant ankle injury, Strug summoned incredible courage and persevered through excruciating pain to complete her second vault. As the crowd held its breath (some even covered their eyes), Strug barreled down the runway, launched herself into the air, and stuck the landing of her Yurchenko with a 1 1/2 twist before hopping onto one foot and collapsing to the mat. Her vault was incredible for many reasons, but it was particularly so for Team USA because her score secured the first-ever team gold for the U.S. on home soil.

-Donna Stark

The Dream Team Dominates Basketball (Barcelona, 1992)

The 1992 U.S. men's basketball team, famously known as the "Dream Team," was a groundbreaking and historic roster that took the Barcelona Olympics by storm. Including NBA legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, the Dream Team was the first Olympic team to feature active professional basketball players from the NBA. This move marked a significant shift from the traditional amateur status required by the International Olympic Committee, a rule that had been strictly enforced until the late 1980s.

The Dream Team was a perfect answer to the hypothetical question, “If you had to draft the best basketball team in the NBA, who would be on the team?” The team's unmatched talent, teamwork, and charisma captivated fans worldwide, and their dominance on the court was unparalleled. They won all their games with ease, often by an average margin of almost 44 points. The team's head coach, Chuck Daly, famously never had to call a single timeout throughout the entire tournament—a testament to their superiority.

For me, as a Chicago native and Bulls fan, the Dream Team holds a special place in my heart. Michael Jordan, an overwhelming presence in Chicagoland news, was at the peak of his career and an inspiration to many, including myself. Having attended numerous Bulls games, I was always in awe of MJ’s grace, strength, talent, and relentless drive. The 1992 Summer Games were the first Olympics I truly connected with and understood, and seeing Jordan lead this exceptional team to gold was incredibly exhilarating and inspiring.

The Dream Team didn't just secure the gold medal; they redefined the global landscape of basketball, significantly boosting its popularity and prestige. Their success played a crucial role in solidifying the acceptance of professional athletes in the Olympics, forever changing the nature of the Games and setting a new standard for excellence in international sports competition. Sports Illustrated later stated that the Dream Team was "arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport," a fitting tribute to their legacy.

-Heather Zielinski

The Gymnastics GOAT: Simone Biles Case of the Twisties (2020, Tokyo Olympics)

Simone Biles is widely regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. Her journey to greatness began at a young age, and by the time she competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she had already established herself as a dominant force in the sport. At Rio, Biles showcased her exceptional talent and versatility, winning four gold medals in the individual all-around, vault, floor exercise, and team events, along with a bronze on the balance beam. Her performance not only solidified her status as an elite athlete but also captivated audiences worldwide.

Biles' legacy extends beyond her medal count. At the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, she made headlines for a different reason. Amid immense pressure, she chose to withdraw from several events to prioritize her mental health, bringing global attention to the importance of mental well-being for athletes. Her decision was met with widespread support and admiration, highlighting her courage and resilience. Despite her limited participation in Tokyo, Biles still managed to earn a silver medal in the team competition and a bronze on the balance beam, bringing her total Olympic medal count to seven.

Biles' impact on gymnastics and sports, in general, is profound. She has four elements named after her in the sport's code of points, underscoring her innovative contributions. Beyond her athletic prowess, her advocacy for mental health has made her a powerful role model.

Gymnastics has long been my favorite Olympic sport. I was hooked with the Magnificent Seven in 1996, watching every event and practicing my "gymnastics" moves in the backyard. I cried along with America as Bela Karolyi scooped Kerri Strug off the mat, and I cheered on the Fierce Five in 2012. My Olympic dreams never became a reality—I wasn’t a gymnast. However, my daughter is. In the age of Simone Biles, there is no better inspiration. Simone is an elite athlete with multiple moves named after her, but her love for herself and her own power is truly remarkable. I am grateful my daughter, who has been in gymnastics since she was 18 months old, has Simone Biles as a role model.

-Heather Zielinski

The Olympic Games have always been a source of awe and inspiration, uniting the world through the shared experience of witnessing extraordinary athletic feats. From Jesse Owens' historic triumphs in Berlin to Simone Biles' courageous stand for mental health in Tokyo, these moments transcend the arena and leave lasting impressions on all who watch.

At The Joint Chiropractic, we are thrilled to celebrate the 2024 Paris Olympics with you by reminiscing about these unforgettable highlights. Whether you watched them live on TV, caught a replay on YouTube, or read about them in a newspaper, these stories are more than just memories—they're reminders of human potential and perseverance.

Next time you visit The Joint for your adjustment, share your favorite Olympic moment with your chiropractor. These conversations not only celebrate the spirit of the Games but also foster a sense of community and inspiration. After all, these extraordinary stories of determination and triumph can uplift and motivate us all, encouraging us to strive for our own personal bests in our everyday lives. So, let's keep the Olympic spirit alive and continue to be inspired by the incredible achievements of athletes from around the world.

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