With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off today for the USWNT, now is a good time to take a look back at some of the greatest moments in U.S. sports history. Here are the top ten.
10. US Men’s Basketball Refuses Silver
All the moments are American triumphs, and despite Team USA not officially bringing home gold in 1972, most likely agree that this counts as one, too. The US beat the USSR after holding them from scoring in the final seconds (there was even an on-court celebration), but officials basically ignored the international rule that states a timeout can not be called following a free throw, which allowed the Soviets to get another opportunity to win gold. Instead of accepting silver, the United States protested—and the protest stands to this day.
9. Team USA Wins First Curling Gold Medal
This wasn’t a huge event that had the entire country watching like basically everything else on the list, but I stayed up until the early-morning hours for the 2018 Winter Olympic Curling Final, which was close throughout until a knockout blow by John Schuster basically sealed things against Sweden. Considering the prior success for Team USA (their best ever finish was bronze in 2006), it was a monumental upset.
8. Underdog Rulon Gardner Wins Gold
Speaking of upsets, no one expected unknown wrestler Rulon Gardner to win it all in 2000 Summer Olympics, but he shocked the world by defeating Russian Aleksandr Karelin—who hadn’t lost an international match in 13 years or given up a point in six years—to win gold for the United States.
7. Kerri Strug Overcomes Injury
In the 1996 Summer Olympics (which took place in Atlanta), Kerri Strug courageously fought through a significant ankle injury from her first jump in the competition, jumping again—and sticking the landing on basically one leg—to seal gold on the final jump against the favored Russian team. Strug couldn’t compete in the individual events the rest of the way, so it makes her effort to bring home team gold all the more impressive.
6. Carli Lloyd Takes Over In 2015 WC Final
The United States was expected to get a very difficult game against Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final, but the now-legendary Carli Lloyd came out with one of the greatest performances in the history of sports—scoring a hat trick in just 16 minutes. Fans should certainly remember the final of her three goals coming from midfield, and it cemented Lloyd as one of the all-time USWNT greats.
5. The Dream Team
The United States men’s Olympic basketball team was represented by non-professionals in 1988, which led to them settling for bronze. But in 1992, things changed, as NBA superstars—headlined by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and others—made up the roster of the “Dream Team”, and they absolutely dominated in retribution for ’88. The closest game was a 38-point victory in the semifinal.
4. Michael Phelps Wins 8 Gold Medals
Michael Phelps is arguably the greatest Olympian of all-time, and his prime came during the 2008 Summer Olympics when he took home gold a whopping eight times (a world record). United States swimmer Mark Spitz had the previous record for seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics, and it was awesome to see Phelps top him with the final event being a team 4×100-meter medley relay.
3. USWNT Wins 1999 World Cup
It doesn’t get much more intense than a shootout for gold, and Brandi Chastain was able to come up clutch and create an everlasting legacy for herself and women’s soccer by scoring against China on the team’s final kick in the 1999 final. Chastain’s iconic celebration where she ripped off her jersey and went to the ground in joy remains one of the most memorable images in U.S. sports history.
2. Jesse Owens Dominates 1936 Olympics
You could say that Jesse Owens had the first ever victory over Hitler and Nazi Germany, as he took home four gold medals in 1936, ruining Hitler’s hopes to show German athletes dominating on the world stage. Owens won three track events and the long jump, causing the German leader to apparently leave before the award ceremonies.
1. “Miracle on Ice”
The Soviet Union had entered the 1980 Olympics winning five of the previous six gold medals in men’s ice hockey, and they were heavy favorites once again thanks to an experienced roster. At the same time, the U.S. was the youngest team in the field, but were able to advance to the medal round—where they were set to take on the USSR. The young Americans held their own entering the third period down 3-2, and they scored two goals to shock the world, leading to Al Michaels’ memorable call: “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” Team USA would eventually take home gold by beating Finland.