Eric Moussambani hailed from the small country of Equatorial Guinea, and when a radio announcement asked for residents to try out for the country's Olympic swim team for the 2000 games, Moussambani answered the call. He was the only one to do so and, through luck and failing upwards, Moussambani found himself competing alone in his 100m freestyle heat when his two competitors were disqualified for false starts.
Having little swimming experience, he splashed and struggled his way through the event for one minute and 52 seconds, practically out of breath by the time he crawled out of the pool. "Iremember that when I was swimming, I could hear the crowd, and that gave me strength to continue and complete the 100 metres, but I was already tired. It was my first time in an Olympic swimming pool," Moussambani told The Telegraph. Moussambani is proof that if you have a dream, you can achieve it.
German lifter Matthias Steiner told his wife that someday he would win gold at the Summer Olympics. Tragically, in 2007, Steiner lost his wife in a car crash. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, on his very last lift of the event, Steiner raised 569 pounds over his head, nearly 45 pounds more than he had ever lifted before, to secure the gold that he promised his wife years before.
The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were held during a tumultuous time. With Hitler's rise in power, he aimed to use these games to prove the supremacy of the Aryan race. Though Germany captured the most medals at the games, Hitler and the Nazis received a huge blow to their egos and propaganda when American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals during the games (100 meter relay, 200 meter relay, long jump and 4x100-meter relay).
At the 1996 games, American gymnast Kerri Strug injured her ankle after landing awkwardly after her first vault. She could have forfeited and handed Russia the gold, but instead she opted to perform through her injury, sticking the landing on her second vault and securing the top prize for the American team.
At the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia, North and South Korea marched together as one under a unified flag. Though they would go on to compete as separate countries, they came together for one night as a sign of peace during what has been a perpetual time of war for North and South Korea since the 1950s.
Lawrence Lemieux was set to take silver during the sailing competition at the 1988 Seoul games when he noticed a capsized boat just off of the course. Rather than cross the finish line, Lemieux changed course and sailed to the overturned boat to rescue Shaw Her Siew and Joseph Chan from the Singapore team. With winds at extremely high levels, Siew and Chan were in grave danger, with the waves drawing Chan farther and farther from the shore. Lemieux managed to traverse the rough waters to save both sailors and, though he missed his chance at winning the gold, silver or bronze, he was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal by the IOC for his heroics.
Derek Redmond was running the in the semifinal 400 heat at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain when he heard a pop. He had to pull out of the 1988 Olympics 10 minutes before his event because of a tendon injury and it seemed like he did it again...or something worse. Paramedics tried to put him on a stretcher, but Redmond refused. He was going to finish what he started. As Redmond painfully hobbled toward the finish line, his father, Jim, ran onto the track to help him finish the last 120 meters of the race. Within just a few meters of the finish line, Jim let his son go so he could finish on his own. "I'm the proudest father alive," he told the press at the time, according to ESPN. "I'm prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did."
For 15 years, Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin was undefeated in international competition. In 10 years, Karelin hadn't even relinquished a point to an opponent. In the gold medal heavyweight match at the 2000 games, the heavy favorite Karelin went up against American Rulon Gardner, who, in the first round, earned a point off of Karelin in an intense grappling tug-of-war. The match went into overtime (you have to earn three points in regulation time in order to win) and with five seconds left in the match, Karelin conceded the match, unable to gain any ground on Gardner and thus cementing the greatest upset in Olympics wrestling history.