Greatest Athletes of All Time

Greatest American Olympians

Obviously, as a mindset coach, I have an appreciation for athletes specifically Olympians. The Olympics is the true measure of athletic ability as each person must produce on that day in front of the world. Here's the rundown of the ten greatest Olympians to ever represent the United States.

1. Great American Olympian - Jim Thorpe/Jesse Owens – Won four Gold medals in front of none other than Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Germany in the 1936 Olympics. Jesse won the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team.

There's a great irony about his victories when you consider that Hitler’s sole focus of hosting this Olympics was to showcase his Aryan ideals and superiority over the rest of the world.  Every step of the way Owens faced obstacles. Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor were honors bestowed upon him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or his successor Harry S. Truman.  Mental toughness at its best.

I find it interesting that the Olympics were hosted in Nazi Germany, knowing how far in advance they plan the Olympic games. Greatest athletic achievement ever. Enough said. 

Jim Thorpe much like Jesse Owens faced similar racial hatred, but given that his parents were both half caucasian he also benefited from that. He won both the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon. Greatest? But Great for sure!

2. Great American Olympians - Tommie Smith & John Carlos - In a day and age where athletes are often purchased commodities and pre-paid corporate puppets, Tommie Smith & John Carlos stood for humanity and spent the better part of the last 40 years paying for it. They are the example for other athletes to follow.

In the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City, on October 16, he won the gold medal for the 200m in a world record time, 19.83 s.  On dirt. On dirt. On dirt. On dirt!  Do you understand how fast that was?  That was an amazing time.

Then the famous Black Power Salute, which was about standing up against tyranny.  Avery Brundage suspended Smith and Carlos for their non-violent salute. The exciting thing is in 1968 Avery Brundage was the IOC (International Olympic Committee) president, but in 1936 he was president of the United States Olympic Committee and made no protest against Hitler’s Nazi salute by Olympic participants.

A side note: At the 1968 Olympic Trials, John Carlos stunned the track world when he won the 200-meter dash in 19.92 seconds, beating world-record holder Tommie Smith and surpassing his record by 0.3 seconds. On the type of surface athletes run on now we may have seen 18-sec 200m times from Carlos and Smith.

3. Great American Olympian - Carl Lewis – Won a total of 10 Olympic medals, including nine gold, and 10 World Championships medals, including eight gold. His career spanned from 1979, when he first achieved a world ranking, to 1996, when he last won an Olympic title and subsequently retired. Lewis became an actor and had appeared in many films. In 1984, he duplicated Jesse Owens' feat of four gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m, long jump, and 4x100 events. Jim Thorpe

4. Great American Olympian - Bob Beamon – Winning a gold medal and world record in the long jump at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, which remained the world record for 22 years, 316 days until it was broken in 1991 by Mike Powell. This is the second longest standing of this record, as Jesse Owens held the record for 25 years, 1935–1960. Amazing feat.

5. Great American Olympian - Mark Spitz - This swimmer was the first athlete to win seven gold medals at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Spitz set new world records in all seven events in which he competed, a record that still stands. Between 1968 and 1972, he set 35 world records, but 2 were in trials and unofficial.  He was the most successful athlete at the 1972 Summer Olympics. He was the first Micheal Phelps.

6. Great American Olympians - 1992 Dream Team - This team changes the entire structure of the Olympics, forcing the Olympic committee to allow professionals to compete in what was previously only limited to amateurs. The Dream will always be remembered for its global impact.

7. Great American Olympian - Wilma Rudolph - In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. A track and field champion, she elevated women's track to a major presence in the United States. She is also regarded as a civil rights and women's rights pioneer.

8. Great American Olympian - Bruce Jenner - At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, he won the gold medal in the Decathlon, setting the world record of 8,618 points. One of the first true athletic superstars. 

9. Great American Olympian - Jackie Joyner Kersey - American athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women's heptathlon as well as in the women's long jump. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals, in those two events at four different Olympic Games.

10 Tie. Great American Olympian - Edwin Moses - Won gold medals in the 400m hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics. Between 1977 and 1987, Moses won 107 consecutive finals (122 consecutive races) and set the world record in his event four times.

10 Tie. Great American Olympian - Michael Phelps - Won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Won 4 Gold at the 2012 Olympics. Twenty-two total medals, which is the most ever by an Olympic athlete. The only issue I have with including Phelps in this list is that Mark Spitz and Biondi have both had 8 and seven medals in one Olympics before Phelps. The six events individual within the 100-200 meter range allows swimmers to rack up medals in a way that no other Olympic sport can. If track and field had 50m 75m 100m 150m and 200m sprinting events, we would see something similar to what Phelps is has done.

Honorable Mention: Cassius Clay, Micheal Johnson, Mary Lou Retton , Florence Griffith Joyner, Natalie Coughlin, Ryan Lochte, Mike Powell, Gail Devers, Evelyn Ashford, Valarie Brisco Hooks, Roy Jones, Teresa Edwards, Jenny Thompson, Wyomia Tyus, Dick Fosbury, Harrison Dillard, Karch Kiraly, Dara Torres, Mia Hamm, Rafer Johnson, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, Shannon Miller, Lisa Leslie, Janet Evans, Matt Biondi, Bob Mathias, Greg Louganis, 

Hopeful wishing: If Usain Bolt were American, he would fit somewhere in my top 10!


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