Top 10 USA Summer Olympians
Poor Bob Mathias. For those who hadn't yet drawn a breath before the development of iPods, wi-fi and reality TV, a little instruction:
When he was just 17, Mathias won the Olympic decathlon at the 1948 London Games. He later played football at Stanford, including the 1952 Rose Bowl, before becoming the first man to successfully defend his Olympic decathlon title at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland. Because the Olympic decathlon champion traditionally is dubbed "the world's greatest athlete," perhaps Mathias could reasonably be called the best American Summer Olympian in history. And yet ...
Bob Beamon leaped an otherworldly 29 feet, 2 inches to shatter the world long jump record at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. Mary Lou Retton electrified the 1984 Games in Los Angeles with perfect 10s in the vault and floor exercise en route to becoming the first woman from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic gymnastics all-around. Carl Lewis won four consecutive long jump gold medals. Al Oerter took four straight golds in the discus.
Clearly, American exceptionalism in the Summer Games is no myth. We were reminded of that yet again last weekend when Michael Phelps picked up his 18th gold medal and 22nd overall to become the most decorated Olympian in world history. Edwin Moses won gold in 1976 and 1984 and tossed up a 122-race winning streak in the 400-meter hurdles that lasted nearly 10 years. Was there ever a better diver than Greg Louganis, the only male to sweep the platform and springboard events in consecutive Olympics?
As we stride down the homestretch of the London Games, it's a good time to size up the Top 10 U.S. Summer Olympians.