Sportstar's all-time classics: From Beamon's perfect jump to Bikila's back-to-back gold

With the coronavirus outbreak bringing a halt to sporting events across the globe, Sporstar revisits the top 10 Olympic performances in history.

American Bob Beamon breaks the world long jump record at the 1968 Mexico Olympics with first round leap of 8.90M ( 29 feet and two and a half inches)

The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations or postponements of events across the globe. If the lack of sporting action has left a void in your day, here's something to satiate that hunger - our pick of five classic sporting moments from the years gone by that you should revisit.

The world, following the outbreak of the novel corona virus or Covid-19 as classified by the World Health Organisation, has come to a grinding halt. With countries getting to lock down with each passing day, but for essential services, to arrest the spread of the menace, it is only natural that sporting events across the globe too, albeit temporarily, have been affected.

Perhaps, what is more unfortunate is that all this is happening when sports enthusiasts were fully primed up to revisit Tokyo between July 24 and August 9 – after a gap of 56 years – with much anticipation to celebrate the XXXII Games of the Summer Olympiad and savour the best of sport and individual excellence.

Read: Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021

It is only true that the International Olympic Committee has not made its mind clear on whether to postpone the event to a later date or to cancel it altogether. This should become clear in the coming days, but one thing is certain – that there could be a delay of at least a year before the Japanese capital gets to host its second Games after 1964.

As we keep waiting for the final word from the IOC and other stake holders, here is a look back to the top ten Olympic moments, though not in any pecking order, which has fuelled the minds of sports lovers, the world over, between 1896 Athens and 2016 Rio-de-Janeiro.

A soul-stirring start: One of the most followed events in the quadrennial extravaganza is the opening ceremony in which the host country gets to showcase its cultural values and its prowess across fields of human endeavour. And, here again, what is the much looked forward is the lighting of the sacred Olympic flame – a ritual which started in 1928 Amsterdam.

While top stars of the host country were given the honour of spreading the flame to the specially constructed cauldron through the years, 1992 Barcelona saw a difference as Paralympic archer, Antonio Rebello, signalled the start of the Games in a most spectacular fashion – firing a burning arrow from away -- as the world stood stupefied in awe.

A perfect-10: Gymnastics is one of the sporting disciplines which has been in the Olympic roster right from the start. Through the initial years only competitions for men were conducted and it was again 1928 Amsterdam which signalled the inclusion of women gymnastics in the fray for the medals.

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Her left hand bandaged because of an injury, Nadia Comaneci of Romania performs on the balance bar   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

But the one such moment which redefined the sport and the Olympic movement as such came only in 1976 Montreal when an unheralded pint-sized Nadia Comaneci from Romania, standing at 4ft. 11 inches and weighing only 39 kg, achieved what experts had always thought to be impossible – a perfect 10. Competing in the bars, the 14-year-old was just scintillating so as to achieve the first 10 in the sport and so unexpected was the result that the digital scoreboard was not actually set to display four digits. Instead, as the scores was fed, what it showed was 1.00.

A typical fight against racism: 1936 Berlin which was conducted under the direct supervision of Adolf Hilter, who believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race, stands out for the deeds of American Jesse Owens who came up with a winning streak of four gold medals - a feat unheard of in the Games until then and totally shattered the myth of the dictator.

The American athlete, familiarly known among his team-mates and supporters as the “ Buckeye Bullet’ was an easy winner of the 100m, 200m long jump and the 400m relay breaking two Olympic records along the way. After Owens won the blue riband 100m gold, it is said that a furious Hitler stormed out of the Olympic stadium, though some reports say to the contrary and that the German Chancellor did later congratulate the American for his success.

An impossible leap: Prior to 1968 Mexico, none in the world had jumped over a distance of 8.50m in men’s long jump. True, American Bob Beamon was the favourite to win the event in the high-altitude city, having won 22 out of the 23 finals leading up to the Games and with a world leading wind-aided distance of 8.33m.

Read: ‘Tokyo Olympics postponement the right thing to do’

On October 18, the seventh day of the Games, came the impossible leap as Beamon started off with that effort 8.90m which not only destroyed the rest of the field straight away but also shattered the existing World record by a staggering 55 cm – the best average for such a feat until then being 15 cm or slightly above. What more, Beamon landed at the far end of the pit and officials had to get it measured manually as the optic device installed to measure the jump distances was unable to measure this perfect jump.

A barefooted wonder: In the two prior marathons leading to 1960 Rome and held in home country of Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila had won both, the second one with a time of 2:21.23, faster than the existing Olympic record of Emil Zatopek. Getting to Rome, Bikila had purchased a new pair of running shoes but these did not fit well and as he developed blisters, the member of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard chose the run the race on barefoot.

Considering the blistering heat then prevailing in the host city, the gruelling event was conducted in late afternoon so as the finish was to take place in early night. The first sub-Saharan African athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, Bikila kept himself with the lead group right from start before storming ahead when 500m was left to the finish through the Appian way – where Roman soldiers stood with lighted torches – and nailed the gold with a time of 2:15.16, eight-tenths of a second faster than the existing World record. The Ethiopian, in 1964 Tokyo and this time in running shores, successfully defended his Rome title, to become the first marathon runner to bag two back-to-back Olympic gold medals.

The most controversial ever: Even to this day, years after the final of the men’s basketball between the Soviet Union and the United States which was won by the former by the narrowest of margins (51-50), the world of basketball is yet to come to terms of what happened in 1972 Munich.

The sport, included for first time in 1936 Berlin, had seen the Americans triumph – often with a lot to spare – in all the seven Games since then and were the fancied to win an eighth title in Munich. However, it was not to be so as controversy erupted with three seconds remaining for the final whistle, with the U.S. in the lead (50-49) and the Russians eventually came through with a basket in the last second to stop the Americans on their tracks. The match as such was laced with flagrant fouls from both the sides and refereeing errors not to leave out the manipulations of the rules that governed the game at that time.

A forgettable race: Seoul was the second Asian city to host the Olympics, getting its chance to do so in 1988. But more than anything else, the South Korean capital as it were was to turn out to be a venue where everyone finally liked to forget one race which quite ironically had taken the world by storm initially.

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Canadian Ben Johnson (6) powered his way to the 100m gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics   -  REUTERS

Canadian Ben Johnson, with his bloodshot eyes, had powered his way to the men’s 100m gold medal with a new World record to book. But two days later, his urine sample returned with traces of the banned substance, Stanzolol, that led to the IOC stepping quickly to strip Johnson of his medal and world record. In fact, six of the eight finalists of the race were tainted by positive tests or rumours of doping that the race as such was one which everyone liked to black out from their memories.

Five in a row: It is only true that some athletes have won more gold medals than British rower, Steve Redgrave. But what makes the feat of the Redgrave unique or arguably qualifies him as the greatest Olympian of all-time is his haul of five gold medals through successive Games and spanning a period of 16 years. In Sydney 2000, the Briton, aged 38, culminated his career by winning the coxless 4s with a narrow victory. The feat putting to shade the four in a row by American discus thrower Al Oerter through campaigns between 1956 Melbourne and 1968 Mexico.

Read: Is NADA failing dope testing?

The greatest of all-time: There is no denying the fact that this American swimmer from Baltimore, Michael Phelps, is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time – his haul of 28 medals including 23 of the yellow hue outclassing the deeds of Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina (18) by quite a distance.

The pinnacle of Pehlps’ journey through the four successive Games that he took part came in 2008 Beijing where he finally out swam compatriot Mark Sptiz’ effort of seven gold medals in 1972 Munich with an unbelievable haul of eight gold medals. He was an easy winner, notching up the gold medals through his initial six events with world record timings, but not the seventh as Phelps almost finished in a dead heat alongside American-born Serbian swimmer Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly final. The final time which separated the two was just 0.01s in favour of the American and that too after replays of the required frames were analysed at an astonishing 1/10,000th of a second.

A bolt from the blue: Though always considered as the blue riband event of any Games, the 100m for sometime had lost its sheen through incidents of positives in doping at almost every level in the world before it was resurrected as a marquee event once more in 2008 Beijing by the popular and charismatic Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt.

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Usain Bolt poses with the gold medal from the 200m event at the 2016 Rio Olympics   -  REUTERS

The Jamaican was a class apart in the Chinese capital as he smashed the world record not only in the 100m but also the 200m and the 4x100m relay as he emerged as the best known face of the sport within a span of few days. In both the 100m and 200m, he was far ahead of the field so much so Bolt even had the liberty to slow down through to his approach towards the winning tape.

Bolt as it were was to repeat the same feat in both 2012 London and 2016 Rio-de-Janeiro and to finish off his Olympic campaign with a ‘triple triple’ -- the first athlete in the history of sport to do so.

(This is a part of a daily series where Sportstar's correspondents will pick their five favourite sporting moments worth revisiting. Reader contributions are welcome. Send in your picks to sportstar@thehindu.co.in)