Olympic Archives

From gallantry in Spain through to the self-confessed Greatest Of All Time (Barcelona 1992 to Sydney 2000)

With less than one month to go, London is tingling with excitement. The Jubilee weekend demonstrated the feel-good factor amongst the British public. Whilst some Londoners bemoan that their daily commute is likely to be tougher than usual for a few weeks, others are embracing the fact that their capital city is hosting the greatest sporting show on Earth. The Olympics taking place in your own backyard is truly once in a life time experience.

Today Melosport continues its, Countdown to London 2012, historic look at the Olympics – commencing with the 1992 Barcelona Games through to their return Down Under to Sydney in 2000.


Barcelona 1992 Olympics

Significantly the 1992 Games were the first since 1972 to have no boycotts. Furthermore there were additional countries making their Olympic debuts. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had broken up meaning Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were individually represented for the first time since 1936. The remaining Soviet republics (15 of them) competed under the name – Unified Team. Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia made their Olympic debuts. South Africa, who had been suspended since the 1960 Games due to its apartheid policy, returned to the Games. In addition, East and West Germany sent a unified German team for the first time since the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Akin to countries making their Olympic bows, so did professional basketball players. It was at the 1992 Games that USA’s ‘Dream Team’ made its first appearance as NBA stars were permitted to play. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were just three of the many household names who starred for the USA. Needless to say, the Dream Team dominated every opposition side it faced, comfortably winning the gold medal. Members of that Olympic squad were inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Russian gymnast Vitali Scherbo won six out of a possible eight gold medals, tieing the all-time record of Eric Heiden and Michael Phelps as winning the highest number of golds by an individual at a single Olympic Games. Incredibly before the Olympics, the Unified Team coaches regarded Scherbo as lower medal prospect than some of his team mates due to his inconsistency and unreliability.

Kyoko Iwasaki became the youngest women’s swimming gold medallist as she won the 200m breaststroke, less than a week after her 14th birthday.

On the track, Gail Devers won the women’s 100m sprint, in one of the closest Olympic finals ever. Jamaican Merlene Ottey finished fifth, but was only 0.06 seconds behind Devers. Britain’s Linford Christie, silver medallist in Seoul after Ben Johnson’s stripped gold, became the first Briton to win an Olympic 100m title since Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Paris Olympics, against full strength opposition (Alan Wells won in 1980 but USA boycotted the Moscow Games), in a time of 9.96s. At 32, he was also the oldest Olympic 100m champion in history.

The Barcelona Games produced an iconic moment of Olympic gallantry. Jim Redmond, British athlete Derek Redman’s father, burst through security and onto the track to the aid of his son, who tore his hamstring after 250m of the 400m semi-final heat. Father and son completed the race together to a standing ovation of the 65,000 spectators in the stadium. In light of his heroics, Jim Redmond was selected as one of the Olympic torch bearers for the London Games.

In the medals table, the Unified team finished in top spot with 112 medals (45 golds) compared to USA’s 108 medals (37 golds).

Atlanta 1996 Olympics

Atlanta beat stiff opposition from Melbourne and Athens for the right to host the 1996 Games. Many felt awarding Atlanta the Olympics was a harsh decision considering Los Angeles hosted the Games just 12 years previously. Melbourne was bidding to take the Games back to Australia after an absence of 40 years, whilst Athens’ bid had sentimental value as they wished to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the modern-day Olympiad by taking them ‘home’.

USA’s second Olympics in 12 years were over 147% budget, with the total cost being $1.8bn. Over 25% was funded by the tax payer as Atlanta’s infrastructure was vastly improved in order to cater for the Olympic tourists. Despite being over-budget, the 1996 Games returned a profit of $10m.

Muhammad Ali got the Games under way as he lit the Olympic Flame and it was the first time in history that every IOC recognised National Olympic Committee were represented at the Olympics.

On 27th July, a bomb exploded during a music festival at Centennial Olympic Park which killed two people and injured another 110. Then president Bill Clinton reacted defiantly to the attacks, stating that the Olympic Games would carry on as planned and that the nation would not be cowed by acts of terrorism.

The Games continued with Lilia Podkopayeva becoming the first gymnast since Nadia Comaneci (Montreal 1976) to win an individual gold after winning the all-round title at the same Olympics. USA swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four gold medals at an Olympiad.

In track and field, Donovan Bailey broke the world record in winning the 100m by shaving 1/100th of a second off Leroy Burrell’s 9.85s record-time. He also anchored Canada to a gold medal in the 4 x 100m relay. Michael Johnson though disagreed in Bailey’s claim that the Canadian was the undisputed sprint king as Johnson became the first man in history to win both the 200m and 400m races at the same Olympics. In winning the 200m gold, he shattered his own world record of 19.66s which he set at the US trials only two months prior to the Olympics. Johnson, fittingly wearing gold spikes, exploded out of the blocks, ran a brilliant bend and powered home in 19.32s, leaving Frankie Fredericks (19.68s – third fastest time in history) a distant second place. Johnson’s record stood for over 12 years. Some commentators compared Johnson’s world record on a par with Bob Beamon’s long-jump world record at the 1968 Mexico Games. Compatriot Carl Lewis wrote a new chapter in his own Olympics history as he won his fourth long-jump Olympic title.

Unsurprisingly on home soil, the Americans dominated the medals table by winning 44 gold medals and 101 overall compared to second placed Russia who won 26 golds and 63 overall.

Sydney 2000 Olympics

In 2000, the Olympics returned to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in over four decades (Melbourne 1956). Sydney just beat Beijing to the finish line as the Chinese won every voting round other than the all-important last, with Sydney winning 45 votes compared to Beijing’s 43. $6.6bn ($AUD) was spent on the Sydney Olympics with tax payers funding approximately $2bn.

199 nations entered the 2000 Olympics (a record) and 80 of those took at least one medal home. In a show of harmony (at least for the sake of the Games), both North and South Korean athletes entered the stadium together during the opening ceremony under a unified flag designed specifically for the occasion.

USA’s Nancy Johnson won the first medal of the Games triumphing in the 10 metre air rifle competition. Women’s triathlon, making its Olympic debut, commenced soon after, with Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon taking the gold ahead of the much fancied Australian athletes.

17 year-old Ian Thorpe took centre stage for Australia with his record-breaking performances in the pool. ‘Thorpedo’ broke his own world record in the 400m freestyle on his way to winning Olympic gold. He also played a significant part in the relay team where the Aussies won in both 4x100m and 4x200m events, setting new world records along the way.

In basketball, USA’s Vince Carter scored what became known as, the dunk of death (“le dunk de la mort”) by to the French media, as he stole the ball from this own-end, charged up the field and slam-dunked, leaping over 2.18m tall Frederick Weis in the process.

Cathy Freeman lit up the Olympics (quite literally as she lit the Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremony) by winning the 400m hurdles. An indigenous Australian athlete, Freeman, sent the local crowd wild with her gold medal. She set a record by becoming the only competitor to light up the Olympic Torch and go on to win a gold medal.

Elsewhere on the track, Maurice Greene won the men’s Olympic 100m gold. After narrowly missing out on the 1996 Games, Greene went on to dominate the 100m scene soon after, winning World Championship golds in 1997, 1999 and 2001. One year before the Sydney Olympics he broke the 100m record by 5/100ths of a second (to 9.79s) which was the largest margin that a world record had been lowered by since electronic timing had been introduced. Like Donovan Bailey, four years earlier, Greene proclaimed that he was the undisputed sprint king resulting in a rivalry with Michael Johnson (Johnson won the 400m gold in Sydney), Greene so sure of himself he even has a tattoo of the letters GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) on his shoulder.

In the medals table, USA kept up their position at the top of the podium with 37 golds and 92 medals overall. Runners’ up Russia finished with 32 golds and 88 overall.

The Sydney Olympics were a great success. They were fondly remembered as they were brilliantly organised plus there was an abundance of sporting excellence on display. With the next Olympics returning home to Athens, the Greeks knew they had a lot to live up to.


Coming soon on Melosport: The Olympics return home and the emergence of lightning Usain Bolt (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008)

Categories: Olympic Archives

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