The most inspirational Olympic stories tell tales of athletes who overcame great obstacles, triumphed after heartbreaking losses and accomplished great things in the face of adversity. They didn't all go home with a gold medal but these brave, talented and relentless athletes defied the odds to provide inspiration to people around the globe.
It's easy to single out people who were the first to do something at the Olympics, like Mary Lou Retton, the first female gymnast from outside of Eastern Europe to win an all-around gymnastics title, or John Baxter Taylor, the first African-American athlete to win a gold medal, for example, but believe it or not there are many athletes with more inspirational stories than that.
One of the most famous is the Miracle on Ice story from 1980. No one expected the United States Olympic Ice Hockey Team to even challenge the Soviet team let alone beat them but in what was named top sports moment of the century by Sports Illustrated, the team pulled off a major upset and won the gold medal.
African-American sprinter Jesse Owens spoiled the plans of Adolf Hitler as he won big at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius lost both legs as an infant but still managed to compete against the best in the world at the 2012 London Olympics. The famous Jamaican National Bobsled Team competed at the 1988 Olympics despite not having proper training facilities in their tropical nation. All are just a few examples of those who didn't give up, instead using that static for motivation and eventually inspiration to others.
It's cliche to say that anything can be accomplished if someone puts their mind to it but these inspirational Olympians are the examples of just that. These athletes were never on the list of the most promising Olympic athletes and never seen as the favorite but they persevered and gave it their best. They never gave up, they finished what they started and they didn't let bumps in the road defer them from making their dreams come true.
The time was 1936 and the location was Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler saw the Berlin Olympics as a place to showcase his Aryan superiority and talented German athletes but sprinter Jesse Owens had other plans. The African American from Alabama stunned the world when he won four gold medals. Keep in mind that Owens accomplished all of this a good three decades before the civil rights movement in the United States.
As South African Oscar Pistorius proved in 2012, you don't necessarily need legs to compete against the best sprinters in the world at the Summer Olympics. Pistorius had his legs amputated below the knee at the age of 11 months and was initially going to compete solely at the 2012 Paralympic Games but a last-minute ruling added his name to South Africa's roster for the 2012 Olympics. Regardless of how he finishes in the 400-meter sprint, his favorite event, or the 4-400-meter relay, Pistorius has already made history as the first amputee to compete in the Olympics and the Paralympics in the same year. see more on Oscar Pistorius
As chronicled in the acclaimed film "Miracle," the US Men's Olympic Ice Hockey "Miracle on Ice" team completed the seemingly impossible when they won a gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Led by coach Herb Brooks, the team of amateur and college hockey players upset the heavily favored Soviet Union National Hockey team, the same team that had won each gold medal except for one since 1956, then went on to win the gold in the finals. The victory is remembered as one of the top sports moments of the century. see more on Miracle on Ice
For most at the Olympics, months, years possibly, of training leads up to sometimes just a few moments that decide the difference between a first-place finish and last place. Few in those precious seconds would give up their dreams to help a competitor but that's exactly what Lawrence Lemieux did. The Canadian rower was in second place at the 1988 Olympics when he saw the team from Singapore fall into the water. Lemieux abandoned his own success to rescue the two men before proceeding to the finish line. For his heroics, the Olympic Committee awarded Lemieux an honorary second-place medal. see more on Lawrence Lemieux