Skip To Content
  • Go for Gold badge
  • Tokyo Olympics badge

26 Moments From Past Olympics That We'll Never Forget

Paging Michael Phelps.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are about to start! The opening ceremony is this Friday, and although the event may look a little different this year, there is certain to be plenty of magical sports moments.

NBC/Olympics / Via gph.is

And to get you in the spirit for the 2021 Games, here are 26 incredible moments from Olympics past, sure to get you fired up.

NBC/Olympics / Via giphy.com

1. Michael Phelps in the men's 4x100 meter relay (2008)

View this video on YouTube

NBC Sports / Via youtube.com

At the 2008 Beijing games, THE story was, "Can Michael Phelps beat Mark Spitz's record and take home eight gold medals?" Phelps, who had won six medals at the Athens Games in 2004, had qualified for eight events, which meant he'd need a perfect score. Hopes seemed to be dashed, however, as in his second event of the Games, his four-man team sat a full body-length behind the French team going into the final turn of the 4x100 relay. Veteran swimmer Jason Lezak fired up the afterburners, however, and snagged Phelps his second of eight golds in the Games by a fraction of a second.

2. Kerri Strug lands her vault (1996)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

In the women's gymnastics team all around at the 1996 Atlanta Games, everything was riding on Kerri Strug. Although the American team was ahead of their Russian rivals going into the final rotation, a series of poor vaults had put the two teams neck and neck. When Strug underrotated her first of two vaults, however, she injured her ankle. Realizing that the difference between the gold and silver lied with her, Strug limped back to the runway and performed her vault on an injured ankle, clinching the gold for Team USA and her spot in the history books.

3. Usain Bolt beats the 100m world record (2008)

View this video on YouTube

NBC / Via youtube.com

Before Jamaican runner Usain Bolt stepped up to the starting line at the 2008 Beijing games, we knew he was fast. But he proved himself to be even faster than we expected, breaking the world record and running 100m in 9.69 seconds. If you watch the clip, it looks like he's barely trying. He would go on to win seven more Olympic golds before retiring.

4. Michael Johnson wins gold medals in his golden shoes (1996)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

While running 200m and 400m doesn't seem like it should be that different (a half a lap of the track vs. a full lap), anyone who has run track can tell you they require different skill sets. That's the reason that prior to 1996, no one had ever won gold in both at the same Olympics. America's Michael Johnson, however, won both in Atlanta and did so wearing a custom pair of gold Nike shoes. Good luck finding a pair of sneakers more famous.

5. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's final Olympic performance (2018)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

After over a decade of dominance in ice dancing, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics as the last stop in their farewell tour. Having won a gold in 2010 and a silver in 2014, they were prepared for one last hunt for gold. The pair, who served as Canada's flagbearers at the opening ceremony, performed to a Moulin Rouge! medley in the free skate, executing it perfectly, snatching the gold, and becoming the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history.

6. Eric Moussambani wins his heat (2000)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

Prior to the Olympics, Eric Moussambani had never even seen an Olympic-sized swimming pool. He'd taken up the sport only eight months prior and had been practicing in a lake in Equatorial Guinea. In the first heat of the 100m free, however, his only two opponents both false started, meaning that as long as he could finish the race, he'd win the heat. In a time of 1:52:72, Moussambani finally finished to the cheers of the crowd and worldwide fame. He's now the national coach of the Equatorial Guinea's swim team.

7. Derek Redmond's dad helps him across the finish line (1992)

View this video on YouTube

NBC Sports / Via youtube.com

At the Barcelona Games, British sprinter Derek Redmond seemed to be in good shape, posting the fastest time in the first round of the 400m qualifiers. During the semi-finals, however, Redmond tore his hamstring on the back stretch of the race. Rather than giving up, Redmond preceded to hobble around the curve towards the finish, clearly in pain. His father Jim rushed from the sidelines, allowing his son, now in tears, to lean on him as he trekked to the finish with the crowd swelling with applause and admiration.

8. The "Miracle on Ice" (1980)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, came at the height of the Cold War with tensions between the USSR and the US at boil. That was the backdrop for the men's hockey final, where the Soviets, who had won the past four golds, were expected to win. After a Soviet lead in the second period, however, the US came back to score two goals in the game's final stretch, leading to a massive upset and the famous line, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" shouted by commentator Al Michaels.

9. Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic Torch (1996)

View this video on YouTube

Team USA / Via youtube.com

Not all the best Olympic moments come during the hunt for gold. The Games' opening and closing ceremonies often create unforgettable moments as well. At the Atlanta Games' opening, retired boxing icon Muhammad Ali was asked to light the Olympic torch. Ali grasped the lit torch, raised it in the air, and set fire to the torch while the world watched.

10. Shaun White lands the Double McTwist 1260 (2010)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

With a gold in the halfpipe from Turin in his pocket, Shaun White, aka the Flying Tomato, set out to repeat in Vancouver. After recording the highest score in his first of two runs, White had secured the gold without the need for a second run. Nothing at stake, he took the opportunity to attempt the Double McTwist 1260. He landed, posting a record score of 48.4 (out of 50). He would go on to win a third gold in 2018, giving him three half-pipe golds.

11. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings win their second gold (2008)

View this video on YouTube

Team USA / Via youtube.com

There are few athletes with more Olympic dominance than the pair Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. The duo breezed through their matches at the 2004 Athens Games, never losing a single set in their seven matches. Returning to the sand in Beijing, they repeated, defeating the first-seeded Chinese team at home in straight sets before embracing in a sandy hug. They'd win a third gold in London, but they'd lose a set along the way (embarrassing, right?)

12. The Dream Team (1992)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

For a loooooooooooong time, the Olympics wouldn't allow professional basketball players from the NBA to compete at the games, meaning that the best US players weren't eligible to compete. At the 1992 Barcelona Games, however, that ban was lifted, meaning that the US sent a STACKED team of NBA all-stars to Spain, where they trounced the other teams, winning by an average of 44 points a game.

13. The Williams sisters win Olympic gold (2000)

View this video on YouTube

Team USA / Via youtube.com

Venus and Serena Williams were not only two of the best tennis players in the world, they also happened to be sisters, a fact which lent itself nicely to playing doubles tennis. After Venus went and won gold at the 2000 Sydney Games, she reunited on the court with her younger sister, and the pair claimed doubles gold together. They'd wind up winning the top prize in doubles twice more, including at London, where Serena got her matching singles gold.

14. Rulon Gardner defeats Aleksandr Karelin (2000)

View this video on YouTube

NBC Sports / Via youtube.com

Russian wrestler Aleksandr Karelin went into the 2000 Sydney Games as a massive favorite for the Greco-Roman wrestling crown. He was unbeaten in his previous 13!!!!!!!!!! years of international competition. That all changed when he went face to face with a boy from Wyoming in the men's final. Rulon Gardner not only defeated the Russian all-star, but he had enough strength to do a cartwheel after doing so.

15. Katie Ledecky in the 800-meter freestyle (2016)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

Eleven seconds may not seem like a long time in most circumstances, but in a swim race, it is an eternity. That's what makes Katie Ledecky's performance at the Rio Games so jaw-dropping. She finished an event 11 seconds faster than her second-place competitor, one of the best swimmers in the entire world. Watching the tape back, her fellow swimmers are nowhere in sight as she finishes, taking the gold medal and world record along with her.

16. Aly Raisman wins an individual all-around medal (2016)

View this video on YouTube

NBC / Via youtube.com

Aly Raisman was not supposed to be the star of the women's gymnastics team. Going into the 2012 Games, all eyes were on Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, but when Wieber stumbled in the qualifying rounds, Raisman ended up snagging a spot in the all-around. She put up a valiant effort but ended up losing the bronze in a tie-break. Four year later, returning with Douglas and Simone Biles, Raisman was again playing third fiddle. But a team player and consummate professional, she pressed on, turning in solid performance after solid performance until she clinched the silver with an emotional floor routine.

17. Simone Biles wins gold (2016)

View this video on YouTube

NBC / Via youtube.com

And who beat Aly Raisman in Rio? None other than her teammate Simone Biles. An Olympic legend already, Biles not only took home the all-around gold, but also gold medals for the vault, floor exercise, and team events as well. She snagged a bronze on balance beam. Her floor routine was particularly captivating, as the tiny powerhouse launched herself higher and in more directions than I've ever seen.

18. Greg Louganis hits his head (1988)

View this video on YouTube

NBC Sports / Via youtube.com

There are comebacks, and then there are COMEBACKS. In the preliminary round of the 1988 Seoul Games, American diver Greg Louganis biffed his dive, striking his head on the springboard on the way down. Despite a concussion, however, Louganis continued to compete, performing the highest single scoring dive in the preliminaries before moving to the finals where he won gold. And then a few days later, just to prove a point, he took home the gold on the 10m platform as well.

19. Tanya Harding's faulty boot (1994)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com / Via youtube.com

Wherever you stand on Tonya Harding, her performance at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer will go down in history. After coming in fourth at the 1992 Olympics and subsequently becoming embroiled in the Nancy Kerrigan knee-clubbing controversy, Harding arrived in Norway desperate for a win. After a disastrous long program, however, Harding begged the judges for a re-skate, citing a broken skate lace as part of her problem. The second attempt wasn't much better than the first, and she finished in a disappointing eighth.

20. Team USA wins the women's soccer gold (2012)

View this video on YouTube

The Olympics / Via youtube.com

The United States has been a force in women's soccer since it made its Olympic debut back in 1996, winning four of the six gold medals awarded and a silver to boot. That doesn't make their 2012 win any less special, however. The team, helmed by Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, beat Japan 2–1 in the gold medal match, and a spirited on-field celebration followed.

21. Gisele Bundchen walks the catwalk (2016)

View this video on YouTube

The Olympics / Via youtube.com

At the opening ceremonies for the 2016 Games in Rio, Brazil put one of their most famous celebrities, fashion model Gisele Bündchen, on full display. Bündchen, who had announced her retirement from the runway, took her final strut down the catwalk at the Rio Games, walking in a shimmery silver dress across the entire stadium as a salute to her home country and career.

22. Bob Costas has pink eye (2014)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

When it comes to the Olympics, there are few institutions so lauded as longtime NBC host and commentator Bob Costas. In 2014 at the Sochi Games, however, the stalwart guide came down with a nasty dose of pink eye, leading to his wearing glasses for much of the two weeks and relinquishing his post to heal.

23. Beijing Drummers (2008)

View this video on YouTube

The Olympic Channel / Via youtube.com

While every opening ceremony is resplendent with its nation's charms on full display, the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony was otherworldly. The "Bird's Nest" was packed with talent performing numbers to honor China's rich history. To begin the ceremony, 2,008 drummers in matching traditional Chinese garb played bronze fou drums in synchronization. The scope of the Beijing opening ceremony launched itself at an epic level and remained a feat of size throughout the evening.

24. Apolo Ohno wins the men's 500m (2006)

View this video on YouTube

NBC / Via youtube.com

After Apolo Ohno won a rare short track speed skating gold for the US at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, he arrived in Turin hoping to bolster his medal count. And boy oh boy did he, after a stumble in the 1,500m and a bronze in the 1,000, Ohno took to the ice in the explosively short 500m. A perfect start catapulted him into the lead, and he held off his competitors for the gold, celebrating exuberantly.

25. Mirai Nagasu lands a triple Axel (2018)

View this video on YouTube

NBC / Via youtube.com

During the newly created team portion of the figure skating competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Mirai Nagasu's teammates were relying on her powerhouse jumping ability to keep them in the medal hunt. During her free skate, she became the first American and third woman ever to land a triple Axel at the Olympics. She also became the first person ever to land eight clean triple jumps at the Olympics. Her pride at the end of the performance is palpable, and the team would go on to take bronze.

26. Mary Carillo's badminton rant (2004)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

This video lives rent free in my head. I watch it every time the Olympics roll around, and its never not funny. For some reason, Mary Carillo, a tennis player, decides to fill air time with a rambling rant about badminton, and I'm here for it. Please enjoy.

What's your favorite Olympic moment? Let us know in the comments!

BuzzFeed Daily

Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

Newsletter signup form