The Olympic Games opens our eyes and our hearts to the best of the best. Top U.S. athletes from all ages and walks of life compete against the strongest, fastest and most nimble men and women from all over the globe. Americans love competitive sports, real-life stories of athletes, parades and ceremonies. We'll be rooting for the red, white and blue during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Which athletes will be joining the list of the 10 greatest U.S. Olympians of all time?
She's been called the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. Jackie Joyner was the first heptathlon participant to score more than 7,000 points. The three-time gold medalist started early. She ran track and set a record in the long jump in high school. As an Olympian, she tied the world record. She played on her high school's basketball and volleyball teams. The now retired Joyner-Kersee also won one silver and two bronze medals in the Olympics.
Michael Phelps would not be able to swim so effortlessly if he had to wear all of his Olympic medals in the pool. Phelps has 14 gold medals and two bronze medals. The U.S. swimming sensation made waves in 2004 in Athens, Greece when he won six gold medals and two others.
Mary Lou Retton
A 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton proved herself a fierce competitor at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games. The spitfire earned a perfect 10 on her vault. This U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member also took home the most medals from the 1984 Olympics. But wait, there's more. She was the first ever American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics.
Similar to Joyner-Kersee, not only is Carl Lewis, one of top U.S. Olympians of all times, he's also considered one of the country's greatest athletes of all time. Winning was a breeze for Lewis, who won a total of nine gold medals in the four consecutive Olympics, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996.
He was only 16 when he won his first Olympic silver medal. The year was 1976. Louganis was the first Olympian to "win double Gold Medals for diving in two consecutive Olympics." The diver went on to win four gold medals for diving.
"People don't pay much attention to you when you are second best. I wanted to see what it felt like to be number one," Flo Jo once said. If you blinked, you may have missed Griffith-Joyner, called the fastest woman on earth. The record she set for the 100-meter dash (10.49 seconds) still stands.
Americans love team players. Jenny Thompson earned a total of 12 Olympic medals, with eight from relay competitions. No other female swimmer can claim that may medals. Swimmers Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin could easily accompany Thompson on this list.
Jesse Owens set the bar high for American Olympians. In 1936, Owens was the first American to win four gold medals at the Olympics. He dominated track and field events in Berlin, setting Olympic records in the long jump, 400-meter relay and the 200 meter dash.
The only thing Americans love more than a winning athlete is a winning athlete who has overcome physical obstacles. Wilma Rudolph overcame "measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and double pneumonia" and a diagnosis of polio according to Women in History. By the time she was 12 she could walk without using a leg brace or crutches. Rudolph decided to be an athlete. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympics, the 100-meter, 200-meter dash, and ran on the 400-meter relay team.
Mark Spitz sported a good luck mustache and it served him well. Most swimmers are clean-shaven. Spitz called it his good luck piece. This American Olympian won 11 Olympic medals, 9 of which were gold.
Carl Lewis, Encyclopedia of World Biography
Heptathlon, Encyclopedia Brittanica
Jackie Joyner-Kersee , Biography.com
Olympism in Action, International Olympic Committee
Wilma Rudolph , Women in History