This post is not about that, however. This post is about Olympians and Olympic performances that boggle the mind. Here are my top 10, in no particular order. If you don't agree, say so. You have a right to your opinion, even if I think it's wrong.
And, as an aside, I write this from memory, so if I am forgetting your well-deserved favorite, I attribute it to my brain having aged.
- Felix Carbajal (Cuba) -- In 1904, Felix Carbajal, a Cuban postman begged in the streets of Havana to raise money to take a boat to the United States so that he could participate in the Olympic Marathon. The problem was that the boat took him to south Florida from where he ran, walked and hitchhiked to St. Louis to arrive just in time for the Olympic marathon. Out of money, he had not eaten for about two days when the marathon started. About halfway through the race, in the lead and starving, he came across an apple tree. He stopped to grab a few apples, ate them and developed a terrible stomach ache which caused him to stop running. After regaining his composure, he began to run again and nearly made it into the medal grouping finishing fourth, less than a minute behind third place.
- Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) -- Another marathoner, Bikila was the first African to win an Olympic distance race. And, he didn't just win one, he won the Olympic marathon twice, once in 1960 in Rome and again in 1964 in Tokyo. Each win was in a world record time and each win had its own remarkable side story to it. In the 1960 Olympics, Bikila vowed to show the strength and determination of the Ethiopian people and ran the 26.2 miles of the Olympic course barefoot to win easily. In 1964, Bikila wore shoes. However, just a few weeks before the Olympics, Bikila had undergone an appendectomy and had stopped training. Again, he won in world record time.
- Shun Fujimoto (Gymnastics) -- We hear lots about Kerri Strug and her amazing vault. And, this is not to take away from what she did. That she landed the vault that she did given the pressure she was under and the ankle injury she had suffered was truly incredible. Consider Fujimoto, however. In the team competition, during his floor exercise routine, Fujimoto fractured his kneecap. Think about that, a fractured kneecap. I couldn't walk with that, could you? He competed in not one, but two more apparatuses, the second of which was the rings. In the rings, when a gymnast dismounts, he falls from about 8 feet. In Fujimoto's case, fractured kneecap and all, he dismounted with a twisting somersault and stuck the landing. It was only after hopping off the platform that he informed his coaches and teammates of his injury. His score of 9.7 (out of 10) was enough to give Japan the gold medal.
- Eddie Eagan (Boxing and Bobsled) -- Eddie Eagan was an American boxer, a very good one. He was good enough, in fact, that he won the gold medal in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp in the light-heavyweight division. But, that's not particularly amazing. That gold medal has been won by two dozen or so athletes. What made Eagan amazing is that in 1932, in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic, Eagan got a gold medal in the 4-man bobsled (then called bobsleigh). He is the only person to have won gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
- Hubert Van Innis (Archery) -- Hubert Van Innis competed in what many consider to be an obscure sport of archery. He won gold medals in two separate Summer Olympics, those held in Paris and in Antwerp. What makes his gold medals so amazing is when they were won. You see, the Olympics were held in Paris in 1900 and in Antwerp in 1920. That's 20 years apart, and that's a long time to be at the top of your sport.
- Dara Torres (Swimming) -- Swimming, especially women's swimming, is viewed as a young person's sport. And, it was for Dara Torres. She medaled for the first time in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics winning the gold in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. Torres also swam in the 1988, and 1992 Olympics, skipped 1996, and then swam in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics. In 2008, she won no golds, but barely missed (by 0.01 seconds) winning the 50 meter freestyle. 24 years is a long time span. To medal 24 years apart in women's swimming is completely without precedent.
- Eric Heiden (Speed Skating) -- Imagine winning the 100 meter dash in the Olympic Games. Then, imagine winning the 200 meter dash. Then, imagine winning the 400 meter run, and then winning the 800 meter run, and then then the 1500 meter run. If you prefer swimming, think of it as the 50 meter freestyle as well as the 100, 200, 400, and 1500. Nobody has ever come close. Well, in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, Eric Heiden pulled off the winter equivalent. He won gold in the men's 500 meter, 1000 meter, 1500 meter, 5000 meter, and 10000 meter speed skating events. All at once, that made him the finest sprinter, middle distance-skater and long-distance skater in the world.
- Al Oerter (Discus) -- Al Oerter was a very good discus thrower. He was not so good, as any Olympics were coming up that he was ever a favorite to win. In 1956, in Melbourne, he threw a personal best to win the gold medal. In 1957, he was in a horrible auto accident. At first, doctors thought he wouldn't live. Then, they were sure that he would never walk again. By 1960, he made the US Olympic team competing in Rome as the second best discus thrower in the country. Rink Babka, the world record holder was the heavy favorite in the event. After 4 (of 6) throws, Babka held a sizable lead with Oerter well back in the pack. But, Babka had noticed a flaw in Oerter's throwing technique during his fourth throw. On throw number five using Babka's advice, Oerter unleashed the winning throw. By 1964 (Tokyo), Oerter held the world record in the discus. But due to torn cartilage around his ribcage, Oerter considered dropping off the Olympic team. He decided to go, competed and won. In 1968 (Mexico City), Oerter won a fourth consecutive gold beating world record holder and fellow American Jay Silvester. At this point, Oerter retired, but in 1980, at the age of 43, he decided to make another try for the Olympic team. He finished fourth in the US trials (3rd would have made the Olympic team) and finally retired.
- Birgit Fischer (Canoeing) -- Canoeing is a strenuous sport. I'm not talking about going out for a leisurely paddle on your favorite lake. I'm talking about competitive canoeing. It's a remarkable exercise in overall (especially upper body) strength and cardiovascular fitness. Most don't have either at the level necessary to compete in the Olympics much past the age of 30. In 1980, at the age of 18, Fischer took home the gold medal in the 500 meter kayak singles (K1 500 if you are a hardcore enthusiast). She didn't compete in 1984 because of the eastern bloc boycott. In 1988, she again medaled in the K1 taking second place, but won the K2 (pairs) for her second gold medal. She followed this in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996) with a silver and a gold in each, and then won gold in both the K1 and K2 in Sydney (2000) at which point she retired. She was 38 years old and had completed her career as probably the best female kayaker ever. Oops, I spoke too soon. She returned for Athens in 2004 at the ripe old age (for competitive canoeing) of 42, she led the German K4 team to the gold medal. At the end of the race after her team had overtaken Hungary, only she of the four Germans had enough energy to raise her oar in celebration.
- Bob Beamon (Long Jump) -- 44 years later, this is still perhaps my favorite Olympic visual. The place was Mexico City. The weather was surprisingly cool and damp. The world record was 27 feet 4-3/4 inches. The Olympic record was slightly less. Nobody had ever broken the world record by more than 6 inches. He fouled on his first two qualifying jumps, so he needed a fair jump on his third and got it. He only needed one more jump. Beamon took off from near the end of the (foul) board and created a problem. For the first time, optical measuring devices had been installed in the long jumps at the Olympics. They were ready to measure a world record. But, they weren't ready to measure what happened. You see, Beamon outjumped the range of the optical device. Officials scurried to the pit with hand-held measures to analyze his jump. The result -- 29 feet, 2-1/2 inches. He had broken the previous record by nearly 2 feet. He set a record that stood for 23 years. Second place was 26 feet, 10-3/8 inches. When Beamon saw the results of his jump, he fell to his knees, hands over his face. He never again jumped 27 feet, but on that day, Bob Beamon made a jump so amazing that a new term was added to the sports lexicon; from then on, feats that were so amazing that they might never be repeated became known as Beamonesque.
So, there you have it. If it were a different day, I might have a different 10. What are yours? What do you think of mine?