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 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.
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.
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.
During the storied career of Muhammad Ali, the boxer won numerous fights in the ring at the height of his career and back in 1960 when he won the gold medal at the Rome Olympics as Cassius Clay, but it was his battle with Parkinson's syndrome that was the most brutal. Ali was diagnosed with the devastating disease in 1984 but made a valiant return to the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta when he was given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame to start the games.