These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.
10. Steve Prefontaine Memorialized in two biographical movies and in a makeshift monument to his early death at age 25 on a hillside in his beloved Eugene, Ore., Prefontaine battled the best distance runners in the world with a brave, front-running style (while also battling track's entrenched bureaucracy). He made Eugene the center of the track world, and his every race was an event.
9. Jan Zelezny
The great Czech thrower made a javelin not just sail, but fly, as if borne on invisible wings. He created his own genre of crowd noise, the awestruck, collective gasp that rushed forth when the spear left his hand.
8. Marion JonesSorry. Before the erstwhile Mrs. Jones of Nike commercial fame admitted to steroid use and was stripped of her five medals from the 2000 Olympics, leaving the sport in shame, she was a wonder of speed and power whose presence dominated every meet. It was artificial power, as it turns out, but it was palpable at the time.
7. Usain BoltSprinting always finds a new energy. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it was Bolt, a 6-foot-5, 22-year-old Jamaican who laid waste to world records and danced on the track afterward. First he took down the 100-meter record while celebrating 15 meters early and then, as the athletic world demanded an encore, he broke Johnson's seemingly untouchable 200-meter record. The best part: There is more to come.
6. Emil ZatopekThe great Czech distance runner won an unprecedented triple at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki: the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathon. But the thrill in watching Zatopek was in observing his suffering. He would roll his head and grunt audibly during his races, like a common jogger running too many times around the block. It seemed like he would stop at any moment, but in fact he only stopped after winning.
5. Jesse OwensIt is impossible to imagine the tension that must have existed in the Berlin Olympic Stadium in August 1936 when Owens rolled down the straightaway and won the 100 meters in front of Adolf Hitler. He went on to win three more gold medals in the same Games, perhaps the greatest performance in Olympic history, and surely one of the most pressurized.
4. Sergey BubkaThirty-five times in his 19-year career he broke -- and still holds -- the world record in the pole vault. With a flair for the dramatic, he would control competitions by passing at heights, loading pressure onto his back as he stared down the runway, the crowd rhythmically clapping as he ran toward the pit. Seldom would he disappoint.
3. Bob Beamon His world record breaking long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was the most stunning advancement in the history of the sport, literally a flight into the future. He wept on the track afterward, and never came close to his mark again. The record stood for 23 years.
2. Florence Griffith JoynerShe was truly a comet, winning three Olympic gold medals and breaking world records in the 100- and 200-meter races in 1988 before disappearing. But for that one year, with her long fingernails and her non-Olympic outfits --"Negligees,'' she called them -- Flo-Jo was in a class by herself.
1. Carl LewisNever mind the nine Olympic gold medals. Never mind the four consecutive golds in the long jump. Where King Carl was unsurpassed was with a baton in his hand on the anchor leg of the 4x100-meter relay. There is no moment in track and field that ignites a crowd quite like when the stick is passed on the final turn and no sprinter was more incendiary than Lewis. His anchor at Barcelona in the 1992 Olympics may have been the most compelling ever, reducing a stadium to exhausted awe.
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