Every four years the Summer Olympic Games leave us with a new set of unforgettable moments. In the days leading up to the 2012 London Games, SI.com will be rolling out our 100 most memorable U.S. Summer Olympic moments -- one moment at a time, starting April 18. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one of the all-time greatest female track & field athletes, won her sixth and final Olympic medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. After pulling out of the heptathlon due to injury, Joyner-Kersee focused on the long jump; her final jump of 22-11 3/4 earned her the bronze medal, making her the most decorated female athlete at the time.
2 of 51John W. McDonough/SI
When the U.S. women's eight boat entered the water in Beijing in 2008, they had history on their minds. "We were just on a mission," Mary Whipple, the coxswain of the boat, said. At the end of that day it was mission accomplished. The women's eight led wire-to-wire, their victory over second-place Netherlands never in doubt, and captured the first U.S. women's eight Olympic gold in 24 years.
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After serving in the U.S. Marines during World War I, Charley Paddock competed in the 1920 Olympics as part of the track and field team. While there, the Gainesville, Texas, native turned heads with his unusual finishing style, leaping toward the finish line ahead of his competition. The style worked. Paddock took home gold in the 100 meters and the 4x100 relay and silver in the 200 meters.
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Helen Stephens (left), a strong sprinter in the 1930s, bested the world record holder Stanislawa Walasiewicz (Stella Walsh) to take gold in the women's 100 meters at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Later, after rumors swirled that both athletes were in fact men, officials performed tests to determine their gender. They found that Stephens was female, but Walasiewicz, by then-Olympic rules, was not biologically female. The IOC, however, declined to strip Walasiewicz of any of her medals.
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Diver Micki King, popular among fans for her good looks as well as diving ability, was favored in the three-meter competition at the 1968 Olympics.The Michigan native was leading the competition with three dives to go, but hit the board on her second-to-last dive, breaking her arm. Despite the pain, King completed her last dive, but ultimately finished fourth overall.
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Japanese-American weightlifter Tommy Kono was best known for his ability to fluctuate between weight classes without losing any strength. At the 1952 Olympics, Kono won the gold medal as a lightweight. He went on to win a light heavyweight gold in 1956 as well.
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Women's pole vaulting wasn't added to the IAAF track & field outdoor world championships program until 1999. A year later, the sport was also added to the Olympics. In both inaugural competitions the U.S.'s Stacy Dragila took gold. "I remember it didn't feel like it was about winning the medal right then and there," Dragila said of the 2000 Games. "It felt like it was the journey we all had taken in getting there in such a short time and ... we didn't know for sure if it was gonna be a medal event. To be able to stand on that podium and earn that right of having that medal placed around you was a dream come true for sure."
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Dan O'Brien was favored to win the decathlon gold in 1992, but when he no-heighted the pole vault at the trials, he surprisingly failed to qualify for the Games. Four years later, O'Brien ensured history didn't repeat itself. He not only made the trip to the Atlanta Games, he also finally took home decathlon gold.
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Basketball, formerly a demonstration sport, was first contested as a medal event at the 1936 Games in Germany. The Olympic tournament was contested on outdoor sand courts and weather made conditions a nightmare. In the gold-medal game heavy rain wreaked havoc on the courts, but the U.S. prevailed, outlasting the Canadians 19-8 to win the first basketball gold medal in Olympic history.
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Softball became an official medal sport at the 1996 Olympics, with the U.S. capturing the first gold medal with a 3-1 victory over China. Led by Dot Richardson, Team USA finished the Olympic tournament with an 8-1 record, its lone loss coming against Australia in round-robin play.
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Peter Desjardins, arguably one of the best springboard divers ever, won gold in both the three-meter springboard and 10-meter platform events at the 1928 Olympics. A forward 1 1/2 gainer on the springboard that earned a perfect 10 from the judges punctuated his gold-medal day. Desjardins is still one of only three men to win gold in both events at an Olympics.
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In 2004, Mariel Zagunis became the first American in 100 years to win Olympic fencing gold. Zagunis, the daughter of two former U.S. Olympians who didn't even originally qualify for the Games, defeated Chinese fencer Xue Tan in the finals 15-9 to capture gold.
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A year after their memorable World Cup victory over China, the U.S. women's soccer team fell to Norway 3-2 in a gold medal match for the ages at the 2000 Games. Despite an early lead, Team USA surrendered three goals to Norway, including the game-winner in overtime. The loss marked just the second time the U.S. women had lost in Olympic or Women's World Cup play, with both losses coming against Norway. Despite the loss, star Brandi Chastain said the team wouldn't hang their heads "We're very, very proud of what we accomplished," she said.
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The U.S. had never lost a 4x100 meter relay in international competition -- until the 2000 Olympics. Before the race, Gary Hall Jr. said the Americans would smash the Australian team like guitars in the 4x100 free relay, but to his dismay, Hall was out-touched by Australian anchor Ian Thorpe. After the race, the Australians mocked the Americans by playing air guitar during the post-race celebrations.
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The U.S. fielded one of the strongest boxing teams in history at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, accruing a record 11 medals, nine of which were gold, with boxing powerhouses Cuba and the Soviet Union boycotting the Games. Team USA seemed poised to capture 10 golds, but Evander Holyfield's controversial semifinal disqualification ended that hope.
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Coming into the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, Helene Madison held all 16 women's world freestyle records. The 19-year-old Madison, Wisc., native continued her dominance at the Games, winning gold in the 100-meter free, 400 free and 4x100 freestyle relay. "Queen Helene," as sportswriters called her after the Games, went pro following her 1932 performance, which prevented her from participating in future Olympics.
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A distance-running legend, Steve Prefontaine held the American record in the 5,000 meters entering the 1972 Olympics. Pre, as fans in Eugene, Ore., affectionately called him, loved to push the pace early and often, yet that style cost him at the Games. He boldly grabbed the lead with four laps to go in the 5,000 final but couldn't maintain it, losing out on a medal in the final few strides of the race. Three years later, Prefontaine was tragically killed in a car accident.
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Hayes is best remembered for his controversial victory in the marathon at the 1908 Games in London. Entering the final stretch of the 26-mile, 385-yard contest -- the first time the marathon was ever run at its now official distance -- Hayes trailed Italian Dorando Pietri. But the race had taken its toll on Pietri, who was staggering in the final few yards. Pietri fell five times in the final 600 yards, and each time was helped to his feet by officials. Though Pietri crossed the finish line first and Hayes second, officials later stripped Pietri of the title by virtue of the assistance he received and named Hayes the winner. Hayes is still one of only three male American athletes to win the Olympic marathon.
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The first, and to this day only track and field athlete to win four individual Olympic golds at a Games, Alvin Kraenzlein was also a track and field innovator. Kraenzlein was the first athlete to employ the now-common hurdling technique of leading with a straight front leg, a technique that allowed him to overcome hurdles without sacrificing any speed. The Wisconsin native took home gold in the 60 meters and the long jump at the 1900 Games in Paris, and his groundbreaking technique led him to a gold in the 110 hurdles and the 200 hurdles.
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Pablo Morales was considered the best butterfly swimmer in the world at the 1984 Games, but it was West Germany's Michael Gross who took home the gold in the 100 meters that year. Four years later, disappointment struck again when Morales failed to qualify for the Games. Many -- including Morales himself -- thought he was done after that. But he wasn't. Morales, 27, qualified for the 1992 Games and went to Barcelona where he finally captured the elusive 100 gold, becoming, at the time, the oldest swimmer to ever win an Olympic medal.
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Three months before the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials, Laura Wilkinson broke the middle three bones in her right foot. She eschewed surgery, which would have sidelined her for several weeks, and after practicing with the injury, she won the Olympic trials. At the Sydney Games, Wilkinson once again faced adversity. The Texas native found herself in eighth place after the first of five dives, but rallied back to upset the heavily favored Chinese duo of Li Na and Sang Xue and become the first American female to win platform diving gold since 1964. "The broken foot was a godsend," said Ken Armstrong, her coach. "I had never seen that sense of urgency in her."
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Prior to the 2000 Games, 21-year-old Misty Hyman, plagued by health ailments and rule changes, was ready to quit swimming. "It was a huge challenge," she said of the ruling that outlawed her unique racing style. "I had developed a technique for swimming that brought me to an elite level. I was not sure if I was an elite swimmer anymore." In Athens, Hyman proved she was. Swimming in the 200-meter butterfly, she upset heavy favorite Susie O'Neill for the gold. "I've played it over so many times in my head, but I never thought it would come true," an ecstatic Hyman said after the race.
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There's little doubt that Roy Jones Jr. was the best boxer at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Jones, then 19, dominated South Korea's Park Si Hun in the final, landing 86 punches to Park's 32, but at the end of the match it was Park, not Jones, who was named the gold medalist in a 3-2 decision. Jones was stunned by the decision. Later, the three boxing judges were given two-year bans (two were later banned for life), and Jones was awarded the Val Barker Cup as the outstanding boxer of the Olympics, but it was all of little consolation to Jones. "That's the worst I've ever been dealt in my life," he said. "They put the silver medal around my neck, and I took it right off. I won't put it around my neck ever again."
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Carly Patterson made history at the 2004 Games in Athens when she became only the second American woman to ever win the individual all-around gold. Mary Lou Retton, of course, was the first to accomplish that feat back in 1984, but critics argue that Retton faced a watered-down field due to the Soviet boycott during those Games. Soon after the 2004 Olympics concluded, it was revealed Patterson was battling several bulging discs throughout the competition. The injury forced her to officially retire from gymnastics in 2006.
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One of the most illustrious track and field careers in history ended in Atlanta in 1996 when Carl Lewis took part in his last Games. Lewis, then 35, took gold in the long jump to become only the second track and field athlete to ever win four golds in a single event. The medal also brought him into a tie for the most all-time golds at nine. (Michael Phelps has since surpassed that record.) But the Games weren't without controversy. With the all-time gold record in sight, Lewis attempted to get himself added to the 4x100 team, but only if he could run the anchor leg ("I'm still the best 100 anchor in the world," Lewis said). The team opted not to add him and ultimately finished second behind the Canadians.
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Nastia Liukin captivated the nation with her performance at the Beijing Games, winning the third all-around individual gymnastics gold in U.S. history. A peculiar tiebreaker cost her second gold, but Liukin left Beijing with five medals, a tally that tied Shannon Miller for the most medals won in a non-boycotted Games.
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In a Games plagued by controversy, Debbie Meyer was a breath of fresh air. Meyer, a 16-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., won gold and set an Olympic record every time she jumped into the pool in Mexico City, starting with the 400-meter freestyle (4:31.8), then the 200 free (2:10.5) and finally the 800 free (9:24.0). She was the first swimmer to win three individual golds at an Olympic Games.
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On Aug. 9, the day after the Beijing opening ceremonies, a deranged man attacked and killed U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon's father-in-law in a random act of violence. In the face of tragedy, his squad, considered an underdog for gold, rallied around their coach. After defeating Serbia and surviving against Russia, the U.S. men dispatched the heavily favored Brazilians to win the U.S.'s first gold since 1988. For McCutcheon, who missed the team's first three games so he could spend time with his wife, the victory was an emotional one. "It was the best of times and the worst of times," he said.
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Before he went on to a memorable Hollywood career, Johnny Weissmuller was the star of the 1924 Games. The man the Associated Press deemed the greatest swimmer of the half century won three golds in Paris (100-meter free, 400 free, 4x200 free relay) and even picked up a bronze in water polo. It was later revealed Weissmuller was born in Europe, not the U.S., but his legacy remains. "He set those records, not any country," his wife Diane Weissmuller said. "They're his, regardless of who claims him as a citizen."
30 of 51Courtesy of Jim and Linda Ross
In 1924, Bill Havens, an Olympic rowing favorite, skipped the Paris Games to witness the birth of his son, Frank. Twenty-eight years later, Frank won the Olympic gold his father had sacrificed. Frank won the grueling 10,000-meter canoe event in 57:41 to break the world record previously set by Czechoslovakia's Frantisek Capek. Upon winning gold, Frank sent his father a telegram that ended, "I'm coming home with the gold medal you should've won."
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Shortly before she succumbed to breast cancer, Cecilia Gonzalez De La Hoya received a promise from her son, Oscar, that he would one day bring home an Olympic gold medal in boxing. Cecilia died in 1990, but in 1992, Oscar fulfilled his promise. De La Hoya defeated Germany's Marco Rudolph 7-2 to win the gold, the U.S.'s only boxing gold at the 1992 Games. "It was all over so fast. I feel like I waited for this moment all my life," he said after the victory.
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Throughout the two Olympics in which baseball was an official medal sport, Cuba won all 18 of its games and outscored its opponents 213-75. And then came the 2000 Games in Sydney. After losing a preliminary-round game to the Dutch, the Cubans cruised to the finals where they faced an upstart U.S. team led by pitcher Ben Sheets. Sheets and the U.S. dispatched the Cubans 4-0 in the gold-medal game, ending one of the greatest Olympic dynasties in history. "This is bigger than the World Series," U.S. manager Tommy Lasorda said after the game. "I've managed for 20 years and four World Series, but this is the greatest moment of my life ..."
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At the 2004 Games in Athens, Paul Hamm (center) became the first American to ever win the gymnastics all-around title, but it wasn't that simple. After a blunder on the vault, Hamm fought his way back onto the medal podium in what Peter Vidmar -- the only other American male to ever win an all-around medal -- called, "[The] greatest comeback in the history of gymnastics." It was later revealed, however, that the FIG mis-scored fellow competitor Yang Tae Young's routine, bringing Hamm's gold into question. Two months and countless appeals later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the gold was rightfully Hamm's. He was relieved. "There's been a lot of fighting for this medal," he said. "I think it'll mean that much more, that I'll be able to keep it for the rest of my life."
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Sixty-four years ago, when London was last playing host to the Olympic Games, 28-year-old Sammy Lee became the first Asian-American to ever win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. Competing in the 10-meter platform, Lee scored two 9.5s and a 10 en route to his first gold. He also captured a bronze in the three-meter springboard. Four years later, Lee once again captured the 10-meter platform, making history as the first male diver to ever win back-to-back golds.
35 of 51Bob Rosato/SI
In late August 2008, the U.S. women's basketball team trounced Australia 92-65 to win the gold medal, their fourth in four Games. It was a dominating performance by one of the most dominant teams in Olympic history. One constant throughout the U.S.'s reign was the play of Lisa Leslie, and Beijing was no exception as Leslie averaged 10.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg. "She is a major reason why basketball in the U.S. is what it is today," said Sue Bird. "That's 16 years -- that's incredible to stay at that level and be the pillar of the team and to have four golds. I'm not sure anyone will beat that."
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Even before the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Karch Kiraly (right) was considered one of the greatest U.S. volleyball players of all time. He had won gold in '84 and '88, and a beach volleyball title was the only thing missing from his resume. That, of course, was because beach volleyball wasn't an Olympic event prior to 1996. In Atlanta, Kiraly cemented his legacy by bumping, digging and diving his way to the inaugural gold with the help of his partner, Kent Steffes. Kiraly retired as the only volleyball player in Olympic history with three golds.
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Prior to the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Reebok launched a campaign featuring two decathletes (Dan O'Brien, Dave Johnson) they believed would battle for the title of "World's Greatest Athlete." But the campaign, which debuted during Super Bowl XXVI, ended prematurely when O'Brien (right) failed to qualify for the Games at the U.S. Olympic Trials. "I was sad for Dan," recalls Johnson, who won bronze in Barcelona. "It's something that happens to every decathlete at some point. I was mad and upset that it happened to Dan at the trials."
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A self-taught diver, Pat McCormick made a splash at the Olympic Games with her extraordinary leaping abilities. McCormick captured gold in both the springboard and platform events at the 1952 and '56 Games, a rare feat matched by only one diver in history: Greg Louganis. Her career ended after those Games, but the McCormick name lived on: Daughter, Kelly, won a silver on the springboard in '84 and a bronze in the same event in '88.
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Shortly after he graduated from Penn, John Baxter Taylor traveled to the 1908 Games in London with a chance to win a medal in two events: the 400 and the 4x400 meters. The U.S. boycotted the final of the former race due to a dispute, but in the 4x400, Taylor captured gold as a member of the relay team to become the first African American to ever win gold. It would be his only Olympic gold, however, as he died of typhoid fever less than five months after the Games.
40 of 51Kasuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for Gail Devers at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. After overcoming Graves' disease in 1990, Devers traveled to Barcelona with a chance to win gold in both the 100 meters and the 100 hurdles. She fulfilled her promise in the 100, besting Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert in a spectacular photo finish, but the 100 hurdles proved to be a crushing defeat. After leading the majority of the race, Devers tripped on the final hurdle and fell to fifth place, her second gold vanishing in front of her eyes. But given the adversity she had already overcome in her life, Devers remained optimistic. "It just wasn't meant to be," she said of the hurdles later.
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Before Usain Bolt, there was Bob Hayes. "Bullet Bob," as he's nicknamed, won gold in the 100 meters and anchored the 4x100 relay at the 1964 Olympics. In the relay, Hayes came from behind and made up nearly eight meters to win the gold for the U.S. Hayes was also the first to run the 100 in under 10 seconds, running a (wind-assisted) 9.91 in the semifinals. His time was unrivaled until 1996.
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Bobby Morrow, with his relaxed and graceful stride, proved he was the best sprinter of the 1950's at the 1956 Melbourne Games. With his main competition (Dave Sime) sidelined due to injury, Morrow entered the Games as the favorite in both sprint events. And Morrow did not disappoint -- he won the 100 and 200 meters (tying the world record), and held off the Soviets while anchoring the U.S.'s gold medal-winning 4x100 relay.
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In 1972, Vincent Matthews (right) and Wayne Collett finished 1-2 in the 400 meters at the Munich Games, bringing the gold and silver back to the U.S. But during the medal ceremony, the two men slouched over, talked and fidgeted as the U.S. national anthem played. When the anthem ended, they left the medal podium to the sound of boos. Calling their actions a "disgusting display," the IOC barred the sprinters from the Games. "I couldn't stand there and sing the words because I don't believe they're true," Collett said. He later told the Los Angeles Times : "I love America. I just don't think it's lived up to its promise. I'm not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time."
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After overcoming polio as a child, Ray Ewry developed into one of the best standing jumpers ever. At the 1900 Olympics in Paris, Ewry won gold in the now-defunct standing long jump, standing high jump and standing triple jump. He successfully defended all three titles in 1904 and again won gold in the standing long jump and standing high jump in 1908. In all, Ewry finished his career with eight Olympic golds in eight opportunities.
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Babe Didrikson (later Babe Didrikson Zaharias) is commonly known as one of the best female athletes of the 20th century. From a young age she excelled in athletics and proved that girls could also be accomplished athletes. At the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, Didrikson won gold in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin throw, and took silver in the long jump.
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At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Betty Robinson won gold in the first-ever women's 100 meters. It was only the fourth time she had ever run the race. She also competed in the 4x100 relay and contributed to the U.S.'s silver-medal finish.
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The 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team is arguably the best boxing team the U.S. has ever fielded. After being favored to win only one gold, five American boxers -- Sugar Ray Leonard (left), Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Leo Randolph and Howard Davis Jr. -- won gold medals, and the team brought home seven medals overall. Some will argue that the '84 team was just as talented, but the '76 squad took down opponents from Cuba and the Eastern Bloc, both whom boycotted the '84 Games.
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Dan Gable (top) is one of the best-known names in wrestling, both nationally and internationally. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Gable won six straight matches and the gold medal without giving up a single point to an opponent.
49 of 51Courtesy of USGA Museum
In 1900, Margaret Abbott entered a golf tournament without even knowing it was part of the Olympics in Paris. Abbott won the nine-hole tournament, with a score of 47, and the first Olympic gold medal for an American woman.
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Despite having only competed in the sport for six months, Bob Mathias qualified for the U.S. Olympic decathlon team at the 1948 Games in London. It was obvious he knew little about the sport -- Mathias fouled out of the shot put and nearly missed the cut in the high jump. But his performances in the other events were so strong that he easily won the gold medal, becoming the youngest gold medalist ever in a track & field event. Four years later, Mathias won the decathlon by an astonishing 912 points to become the first to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the decathlon.â¨
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In 1948, after two Olympics were canceled due to World War II, Alice Coachman finally got her chance to compete at the highest level. On her first high jump attempt, she leapt to a record-breaking 5'6 1/8" inches, and later won the competition, becoming the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
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