There is truly nothing more American than the world of sports, where individual and team excellence is almost entirely meritocratic. No form of entertainment is better at uniting people from all different walks of life. So, on this Fourth of July, here is an opportunity to reflect on 10 of the greatest moments in the history of American sports. FILE – In this July 10, 1999, file photo, the United States’ Brandi Chastain celebrates by taking off her jersey after kicking in the game-winning goal in penalty shootout goal against China in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The last time the United States played China was at the World Cup final in 1999. The two countries play on Friday in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) Mark J. Terrill/AP
The greatest American sports moments of all time
Zachary Faria July 04, 01:46 PM July 04, 02:10 PM
There is truly nothing more American than the world of sports, where individual and team excellence is almost entirely meritocratic. No form of entertainment is better at uniting people from all different walks of life. So, on this Fourth of July, here is an opportunity to reflect on 10 of the greatest moments in the history of American sports.
The Miracle on Ice
It was one of the biggest upsets in sports history. The Soviet Union, the hockey powerhouse that had won five of the last six Winter Olympic golds, had a roster of mostly professional players. The Americans were mostly amateurs, the youngest team in both the tournament and in U.S. national team history.
In the heat of the Cold War, the United States pulled off the stunning 4-3 victory that will live on in history. ABC’s Al Michaels made the iconic call as time ran out: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Two days later, the U.S. won gold by beating Finland, putting an exclamation mark on its Cinderella run.
The 1999 Women’s World Cup
In soccer, a sport we don’t even play, the U.S. has created some great moments, especially on the women’s side. And none is more iconic than the 1999 World Cup.
Matched up against Communist China in the championship game in Pasadena, California, the USWNT was looking for its second World Cup victory. The end of regulation saw a 0-0 tie. The game went to extra time and then “golden goal” sudden death. It was still tied 0-0, so it went to penalty kicks.
China’s third kick was blocked by goalkeeper Briana Scurry, giving Brandi Chastain a chance to win it. In front of a crowd of over 90,000, she hit the shot. The image of Chastain celebrating after taking off her jersey remains one of the most iconic in the history of international sports.
Joe Louis knocks out Max Schmeling
When German Max Schmeling knocked out American Joe Louis in the 12th round of their 1936 bout, it became a major propaganda win for Nazi Germany. Louis was undefeated and on his way to becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.
The rematch couldn’t have gone more differently. Louis, who had become the heavyweight champion in the interim, destroyed Schmeling in a single round in a sold-out Yankee Stadium two years later. Two years of Nazi propaganda based on Schmeling’s prior victory came crashing down.
For his part, Schmeling was not a typical propaganda case. He resisted the Nazi Party as well as he could, even providing sanctuary for two Jewish boys during the Kristallnacht. The Nazis punished him by drafting him into paratrooper duty during World War II, but he survived the war and became lifelong friends with Louis until the American’s death in 1981.
Jesse Owens wins gold at the 1936 Olympics
The U.S. almost boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It probably should have. But the one silver lining to Team USA’s presence at the “Nazi Games” was the dominance of Jesse Owens.
Owens won four gold medals in track and field in those games, upstaging Adolf Hitler and the Aryan athletes whose supremacy he was convinced of. It was a black eye for the Nazis during an otherwise fruitful propaganda campaign, and Owens’s achievements serve as a metaphor for the victory of the U.S. and its allies that followed nine years later.
Bobby Jones’s golf Grand Slam
How American was golfer Bobby Jones? In 1930, he bet on himself to win the Grand Slam of all four major golf championships. And then, he delivered.
He is the only golfer to have ever won the pre-Masters Grand Slam in the same calendar year. He netted himself $60,000 on 50-1 odds (nearly $1 million in today’s money) and then went on to found Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the great U.S. golf tradition of the Masters Tournament.
The comeback that kept Michael Phelps’s hopes alive
Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. But you might not remember that it wasn’t supposed to happen.
The U.S. team was not supposed to win the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. France was the favorite, and the French knew it. World record-holder Alain Bernard summed up his team’s attitude: “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”
And it looked like he would be right. After the first three swimmers had gone, Bernard, the anchor, opened up a huge lead over American Jason Lezak. But the veteran Lezak chased Bernard down over the final 50 meters, pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history and sending Phelps on his way to the record books with the second of his eight gold medals.
Rulon Gardner shocks Russia and the world
Beating Russia in the Olympics is a classic American story. And while it didn’t have the gravitas of the Miracle on Ice, American wrestler Rulon Gardner pulled an upset that was just as shocking in the 2000 Sydney Games.
Gardner had never won a major title going into the games. His opponent, Aleksandr Karelin, was undefeated for the last 13 years. The Russian hadn’t even given up a point in the last six years. But the farm boy from Wyoming defeated the man who is still considered today to be the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time.
The 1992 Dream Team
When professional basketball players were finally given the ability to compete at the Olympics, the U.S. assembled the greatest team of all time. Eleven of the best players in NBA history (along with college star Christian Laettner) were sent to Barcelona. What followed was utter domination.
Led by Michael Jordan, Team USA’s closest game was the gold medal game against Croatia. The Americans won by 32 points. The “Dream Team,” as it was appropriately named, took the world by storm, ironically helping other countries field stronger teams in the future as their own young athletes were inspired to take up basketball and pursue careers in the NBA.
New York Mets versus Philadelphia Phillies, May 1, 2011
What significance does a random regular season baseball game have? The crowd of over 40,000 people at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia was the only major sporting event in the country when the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
The game ended in a 2-1 Mets victory in the 14th inning, but no one really cared about that. The news trickled throughout the crowd during the game. Chants of “U-S-A!” broke out, confusing the players on the field. The game was the largest gathering of people in the country that night, a perfect example of the cross between sports and patriotism.
At the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was trying to hold on to its lead over the Russians for its first-ever gold medal. Kerri Strug was the final American on the vault, and her first attempt resulted in her injuring her ankle. The U.S. needed her second attempt to clinch victory.
And so, Strug toughed it out, securing a score high enough to guarantee Olympic gold. The injury was bad enough that Strug couldn’t compete in her individual events, and a poor Russian performance after her vault meant that her score wasn’t even necessary. But her grit earned her, and the picture of her coach Bela Karolyi carrying her to the podium, a place in American history.
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