Sitting in your living room watching these athletes cruise so gracefully down the tracks around the globe leaves us with a perception that we could do that. Of course reality tells us that this is not true. The greatest sprinters of the Olympics are indeed special specimens of the human race.
I must begin the list of famous sprinters with the one that faced a most daunting social experience as he tried to compete for Olympic glory. Jesse Cleveland Owens traveled to Berlin in the ominous shadow of Hitler's ascension to power to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games. Four gold medals later, he established himself as a sprinter to be remembered for the ages.
It would be nearly fifty years later when another American duplicated Jesse Owens' feat under much different political circumstances. Following the 1980 boycott of the Russian Olympic Games in Moscow, several of the Eastern bloc nations followed Mother Russia in reciprocating by snubbing Los Angeles. Even without those countries, the 140 that attended witnessed the "coming out party" of Carl Lewis.
Lewis accumulated five Olympic sprinting gold medals in 1984, 1988 and 1992. In that period he was referred to as the "fastest person alive". It was so amazing to watch him slice through the competition on his way to the pinnacle of the medal stand. He had a winning smile that endeared him to competitors and fans alike.
Looking at Carl Lewis you could see the quintessential look of a sprinter of the day. He was sleek, muscular and able to get the job done without being an imposing feature. This was blasted out the window with the emergence of the next great American sprinter by the name of Michael Johnson. Michael Johnson was the equivalent of the superhero name the Hulk as he stepped onto the track to begin his pursuit of the precious ovals. Just imagine watching that green monster pound his way down the track in world record time to seize 5 gold's over three Olympics of 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Now let us give the ladies their due. To begin I want to focus on the exploits of a truly amazing young woman who overcame such a phenomenal physical malady to be an Olympic champion. Of course, this is Wilma Rudolph who was born with polio in 1940, many years before this disease was eradicated from our world.
Two long decades later Ms. Rudolph exceeded everyone's greatest expectations by being the first woman to ever accumulate three gold medals in one Olympics in the 100 and 200 meter sprints as well as part of the 4X100 meter relay team. It would be an understatement to say this was not bad for someone unable to attend school because of her disability. Truly she should be an inspiration to all handicapped athletes around the world.
Next is Evelyn Ashford, who graced the American women's Track and Field Team in five consecutive Olympics from 1976 through 1992, an exceptional run for a sprinter. During this period she garnered four gold medals and a silver medal as she set two World Records in the 100 meters.
For flash you had to love Florence Griffin Joyner, also known as Flo Jo. Her incredibly long, multi-colored nails were almost as famous for her as her formidable speed. The 1988 Olympics could not contain this personality as she grabbed medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. Questions followed her about doping issues, but nothing was ever substantiated as of today.
Referring back to the ability to achieve longevity in sprinting, Wyomia Tyus was the first woman to successfully defend her 100 meter gold medal status in successive Olympics, which were the 1964 and 1968 games. It was two and a half decades before this feat was repeated by Gail Devers in 1992 and 1996, two of her three career gold's.
The latest celebrated American sprinter has fallen back among the mortal as her accomplishments are forever tarnished by an admission of doping. Marion Jones amazed us in 2000 as she powered to 4 sprinter gold's and has a warm winning smile and demeanor. This was radically different on the day she stepped to the podium to own up to her error in judgment regarding the use of steroids.
I wonder if all Olympic sprinters to come will be seen through the Marion Jones filter as they achieve greatness on the tracks at Beijing this summer. Unfortunately the broad shadow of those confirmed to be using in baseball is covering a large number of athletes that may not be guilty. I fear this will be repeated in Olympic Games to come.
I wish we could return to the days when there were only natural abilities on display. We have so many things affected by conspiratorial factors and I would like to see the Olympics not be in this list. Perhaps I have watched for too long.