In the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics, we retrace some memorable achievements in the history of the Games. In part eight of our Olympic recall, Michael Johnson turns superhuman, Kerri Strug shrugs off intense pain to win her team gold and Steven Redgrave achieves the stuff of dreams.
1996: It's a bird, it's a plane, its ... not human!
August 1, 1996 will remain synonymous with Michael Johnson. For it was on that starry night, four nights after he won the 400 meters in Olympic record time, that the blazing fast American sprinter clocked a 19.32 to capture the 200 meter gold medal in record time that, smashing his previous world record by three tenths of a second.
In doing so, The World's Fastest Man – golden-shoed, twinkled-toed and sheer poetry in motion – became the first athlete to claim Olympic titles at 200 and 400 meters. It defied logic and redefined the perceived limits to which human beings had previously aspired.
Johnson's achievements on that legendary day prompted the breathless Olympic commentator David Coleman to proclaim, "This man is surely not human!"
Truly, on that night Johnson was not human.
1996: Strug, US team win gold
Bringing further glory to the US was the women's gymnastics team – known as the 'Magnificent Seven' - with 17-year-old Kerri Strug in the middle of the limelight.
Strug's reputation for faltering on big stages preceded her into the Atlanta Olympics, and when she injured herself during the vaults it appeared the US women's slim lead over the Russians would vanish. The team's fortunes had already been hit when their other star, Dominique Moceanu, twice fell.
Strug's botched first attempt had seen her tear a ligament, but in an eye-watering performance of intense pain, the lithe gymnast sprinted down the runway, landing cleanly on one leg before collapsing onto the mat. Hers was the team's final chance to seal gold, and what a display it was. A score of 9.712 secured an American gold and propelled Strug to national icon status.
Till date, the 'Magnificent Seven' remain the only US women's gymnastics team to win Olympic gold.
2000: Steven Redgrave etches his name in history
On September 23, 2000, decorated British rower Steve Redgrave uttered the following words after winning his fifth gold medal in as many Olympics and entering the Games’ history: "This is the stuff of dreams."
Four years earlier, after winning his fourth gold in Atlanta, Redgrave had publicly stated that it was unlikely he would be participating at the Sydney Olympics when he was 38. Yet there he was, representing Great Britain despite suffering from colitis, diabetes and back pains.
In a nail-biting race, the British team comprising Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent, Tim Foster and James Cracknell won by less than half a second ahead of Italy in the coxless fours on day eight of the Olympics in Sydney. A largely British crowd of 22,000 let out a roar of relief as soon as victory was sealed, while Pinsent fell into the water as he rushed over to hug his fellow oarsmen. Redgrave simply slumped over his oars in exhaustion.
It was Pinsent's third successive Olympic gold and a first for Foster and Cracknell. Redgrave, however, became the greatest British Olympian ever with a fifth straight goal.