Each time the Olympic Games are held, new stories and legends are born that will create wonder and inspiration for the entire world. The familiar Olympic logo consists of five rings. Those rings represent passion, faith, victory, work ethic, and sportsmanship. All of them being superior qualities that not only make champions in sports, but in life as well. The human spirit is capable of conquering each challenge on the road to triumph and glory when we allow ourselves to believe in something greater. The following list of past Olympic heroes did just that.
1. Jesse Owens
The 1936 Olympic Games were held in Berlin, Germany. They were designed by Hitler to be a showcase for the entire world to see Aryan superiority. Black American Jesse Owens would rain on the Nazi propaganda parade by winning four gold medals and become the top individual performer of the entire games. His performance agitated Adolph Hitler to the point that he wanted to pursue banning black athletes from any future games. Yet, Jesse Owens not only faced horrid racism at the Games, but in his own country as well. In regards to post-performance acknowledgements, he is quoted as saying, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The President didn’t even send me a telegram.” Jesse Owens’ legacy is enduring and important. http://www.jesse-owens.org/about1.html
2. Wilma Rudolph
Wilma Rudolph was known after the 1960 Olympics as “The Tornado,” winning three gold medals. She would later go on to become a major leader for civil rights in the 1960s. Before that, however, she faced a nearly impossible road to Olympic glory. She was born premature at 4.5 lbs. and the 20th of 22 children. She caught infantile paralysis from the polio virus, and was in a leg brace due to her twisted leg and foot. As if that wasn’t enough, she also survived scarlet fever, whooping cough, chicken pox, and measles. That sickly child would go on to break color and inspirational barriers on her way to becoming the fastest woman in the world. http://www.biography.com/people/wilma-rudolph-9466552
3. Jim Thorpe
Widely known as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe left his legacy all over the world of sports, including the Olympics. He won two gold medals in the 1912 games in the pentathlon and decathlon. Jim Thorpe was the most versatile athlete in modern history, able to succeed in many varied events, as well as star in American baseball, basketball, and football. Born half Native American and half Caucasian, he was another who faced racial barriers his entire athletic career. Awarded by kings and ticker tape parades, he was always humble of his achievements. Mr. Thorpe once remarked, “I heard people yelling my name and I couldn’t realize how one fellow could have so many friends.” His career ended at the time of the Great Depression, and he would fall into alcoholism and poverty not long after. Jim Thorpe’s passion and spirit, however, will never be forgotten in the long history of sports. http://www.biography.com/people/jim-thorpe-9507017
4. Nadia Comaneci
In the world of Olympic Gymnastics, her name is synonymous with perfection. The tiny 14 year old girl from behind the Iron Curtain stunned the world in the 1976 games with a perfect score of 10. Her life otherwise bleak and foreboding, living in the USSR- dominated Romania, she found immense personal triumph at that moment, and provided inspiration in countless ways for the entire world. She would later escape the totalitarian nightmare by a daring defection that took her through Hungary, Austria, and finally to the United States. She struggled with her new freedom for several years, but would later become as great a champion in life as she was in the Olympics. She remains a force to this day. http://www.nadiacomaneci.com/
Note: Of course, there are many inspirational Olympic athletes that could be on this list and are not. I tried to select those Olympians who also had to overcome a lot just to get to the Games, let alone win. Please note I do not necessarily endorse the athletes’ politics, philosophy, or personal life. I simply want to recognize what is possible for a human being to achieve even when confronted with tremendous obstacles. I also do not necessarily endorse the hyperlinks in this article going off-site.
Who is your favorite Olympic athlete and who have you enjoyed watching so far in London?