Sunday, April 26, 2009

Top 10 U.S. Summer Olympians by Dave

*Posted August 14, 2008*


Very very few names are household when it comes to women’s beach volleyball, but in a sport of anonymous athletes, you’d be a fool not to know of these two buy now. The combo of May and Walsh has scared opponents shitless for years now.They may have only one Olympic gold a piece (they’re first Olympic contention as a team came in Athens in ’04), but that won’t stop me from glorifying these two.People who know me know I have a soft spot for women’s volleyball, because there are just too few female sports where you can kick ass while looking tremendous (a feat women’s basketball will never be able to accomplish).Like I said, they may not have the medals to show for it yet, but this pair of sand titans has won (including they’re dominating performance on Wednesday night) 104 consecutive matches. One. Zero. Four.Another gold medal this year is a forgone conclusion for these two, so make sure you tune in to see it happen.Kerri Walsh is the power (her right arm might actually be a flesh colored hammer sewed into her shoulder), Misty May is the placement.The ultimate short-and-tall duo, these two are the Magic and Kareem of beach volleyball, and it will be a while before their consecutive wins streak comes to an end.


Greg Louganis is the only American male to win the diving double-double (a gold medal in both the 3m springboard and 10m platform events in back-to-back Olympic Games). But he is best remembered for his performance in the 1988 springboard event. Louganis hit his head on the board during the preliminary rounds, suffering a concussion in the process. Despite the injury, he recovered to win his fourth overall Olympic gold.Unbeknownst to everyone there, the blood he shed in the pool was HIV positive, something Louganis always kept to himself before revealing it to all at a press conference years later.It sparked a lot of controversy, and many of his sponsors dropped him (except for Speedo), but doctors quickly educated the masses by telling them that the slightly bloodied water posed no threat to the other divers.You might argue for his spot higher on this list, but no way will that happen.His made-for-TV movie called Breaking the Surface, starred career loser A.C. Slater, and you know that it’s as bad as it sounds.I’m sure a lot of “Top _ _” candidates across the internet suffer from the Mario Lopez deduction.The one immune?Mr. Belding.


The darling of the 1984 Olympics, Mary Lou Retton became the first American gymnast to win the all-around gold medal. Though the L.A. Games were boycotted by most of the Soviet bloc nations, Retton's performance has been immortalized nonetheless. Trailing in the all-around with two events to go, Retton scored perfect 10s on the floor and on the vault to win gold by the narrowest of margins.Sounds a little far-fetched right?Perfect scores to narrowly win the gold?Sounds like a little bit of judge intervention to me, but oh well.She’s been banking off of that success ever since, and in fact was apart of the Olympic coverage on NBC last night talking about the girl’s gymnastic team.Her looks may have only been a 4.2 in the 80’s, but her routines were a 10.0, so congrats I guess are in order.


Amanda Beard is an American Olympic swimmer, but you probably know her more from being a model lately.Her résumé may not be as shiny as Mary Lou’s, but her career outside of her sport vaults her passed the gnomish Retton.Beard has won eight US Nationals titles and she was first in a world ranking of 200m breaststrokers in 2003. That year, she also became the world champion and world record holder in the 200-meter breaststroke. In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, she won a gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley.After that, it seems swimming took a back seat to her looks.As a model she has appeared in FHM, the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and she hit the big leagues and posed for the July 2007 issue of Playboy.She has since appeared on the sports talk show, "The Best Damn Sports Show Period".And in another attempt to cash in something unrelated to swimming, she was photographed nude in front of an American Flag for an anti-fur campaign for PETA.Still, easily better than Mary Lou.


Considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in history, Jackie Joyner-Kersee boasts seven Olympic medals, including three golds. She won back-to-back heptathlons in 1988 and 1992, and won a medal in the long jump in four straight Olympic Games (1984-96). Joyner-Kersee still holds the world record in the heptathlon. Olympic prowess runs in her family, as Jackie's brother is Olympic champion triple jumperAl Joyner, who was married to another Olympic champion, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner. Her biggest accomplishment? Being associated with sports legend (and human legend) Super Mario Lemieux. She joined him and fellow athletes Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Warrick Dunn, Mia Hamm, Tony Hawk, Alonzo Mourning , Cal Ripken, Jr. and non-athlete Jeff Gordon to find Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization, which helps professional athletes get involved in charitable causes and inspires millions of non-athletes to volunteer and support the community.


Michael Johnson wore perhaps the most famous pair of shoes in Olympic history during one of the most electric moments in Olympic history. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, the centennial Olympiad, Johnson practically floated on his gold track cleats, demolishing the world record in the 200 meters with a time of 19.32 seconds. Johnson won five Olympic medals over three Games, all of them gold, and still holds the world record in both the 200- and 400-meter.He has since fallen off the map, proving that no matter how great you are at one Olympic games, no one cares about you afterwards if you don’t do something historic.He has also returned a 4x400 relay gold medal because one of his teammates came clean about some pretty intense doping during the BALCO investigation.In an unrelated matter, Barry Bonds rules.


While Jesse Owens would make this list based on what he accomplished in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he is equally remembered for how he did it. In ’36, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent and dominant Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would annihilate the games with victories (the German athletes did indeed achieve a top of the table medal haul). Meanwhile, Nazi promoted concepts of "propagandaAryan racial superiority" and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior. Participating in front of Adolf Hitler just three years before Germany would invade Poland, Owens, to the surprise and delight of Americans around the world, won four Olympic gold medals -- the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4x100-meter relay and long jump. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet each and every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations after greeting only the German medalists on the first day. When asked if Hitler snubbed him, Owens said, “Hitler didn't snub me—it was [ultra-liberal fan favorite] FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram.” Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by FDR or Scary Harry Truman during their terms. In 1955, Ike Eisenhower acknowledged Owens' accomplishments, naming him an "Ambassador of Sports."


Shark Spitz delivered the greatest performance in any single Olympic Games in history (though that might only stand for a few more days). In 1972, Spitz won seven gold medals, and set world records in the four individual events in which he was entered. Add in the two golds, one silver and the bronze he won in 1968, and Spitz's career Olympic resume shows 11 total medals, including nine golds. Phelps is currently well on his way to toppling that record, but the result is yet to be seen.Still only aged 22 after his historic performances, Spitz retired from swimming after the Munich Games. Then, at age 41, Spitz attempted a comeback for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics after film maker Bud Greenspan offered him a million dollars if he succeeded in qualifying. Filmed by Greenspan's cameras, Spitz did not beat the qualifying limit, despite his times being nearly as good as (and in some cases better than) his medal-winning times 20 years earlier. It became clear that the sport had moved on during the intervening years and Spitz was well out of it. In 1999, Spitz ranked #33 on ESPN SportsCentury’s 50 Greatest Athletes, the only aquatic athlete to make the list.


Arguably the greatest summer Olympian in U.S. history, Carl Lewis accomplished what no other athlete has ever done: Win four gold medals in the same Olympic Games (1984) AND four gold medals in the same event (long jump) in four consecutive Games. In all, Lewis won nine golds, seven of them individual. Only a silver in the 200-meter in 1988 prevented him from sweeping four events in back-to-back Games.His lifetime accomplishments have led to numerous accolades, including being voted "Sportsman of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee and being named "Olympian of the Century" by Sports Illustrated. He also helped transform track and field from its nominal amateur status to its current professional status, thus enabling athletes to have more lucrative and longer-lasting careers. In 2003 revelations of failed drug tests by Lewis before the 1988 Seoul Olympics put the validity of some of his achievements into question.Turns out, he’s just a big doper.But that won’t affect his ranking.Knowing my stance on the great Barry Bonds (even not-as-great Lance Armstrong), Lewis’ spot is secure no matter what horse steroid he pumped in his ass.


The most decorated Olympian ever.Sure, sports writers and sports watchers today have a profound love for hyperbole (include Urban Legend in that mix), but how can you argue against that claim? He’s attempting the most ambitious Olympic swimming program in history.Add three team events to FIVE individual races, and the law of averages suggests that there’s almost a 0% chance of medaling in them all, let alone winning them all.But he’s well on his way to achieving it.Five races down, gold medals in all of them. world records in all of them.Including those races, his total Gold medal count is e-l-e-v-e-n.Not even a leaky pair of goggles could stop the Phelps Crunch on Wednesday morning -- and a leaky pair of goggles is the height of irritation for a swimmer. It's like running a marathon with your shoes untied. It's worse than wearing no goggles -- and Phelps gladly would have ripped the goggles off and gone without, but they were kept in place by two swim caps.The next two races (the 200-meter individual medley and the 100 butterfly) will be his toughest, thanks to teammates Ryan Lochte and Ian Crocker. But there is no beating the man. His arrival at the wall first is as inevitable as Beijing smog.Long after we put Beijing on the backburners, people will be talking about Michael Phelps.Is he a better athlete than 100% juiced Lance Armstrong?Absolutely.The guy only cared about one race every year.Is he a better athlete than Tiger Woods?YES, because golfers AREN’T atheletes!Better than Lemieux?Eh, no (who is?).Still, we’re all watching history here folks, even if he falls short and only ties Shark Spitz.

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