In the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics, we retrace some memorable achievements in the history of the Games. Today, a look at Eric Liddell's epic race at the 1924 Games, Jesse Owens' four gold medals in 1936 and Fanny Blankers-Koen's record-establishing performance at the 1948 London Games.
1924: 'The Flying Scotsman' stuns Paris
Eric Liddell's win in the 400m in the 1924 Paris Olympics inspired the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire. A devout Christian drawn towards the work of the church, Liddell never intended to become an athlete for more than a few years but, during an epic race in Paris, etched his name in history.
Eric Liddell after winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is being paraded around Edinburgh University.
Having chosen not to participate in the 100 meters race because the preliminaries were to be held on a Sunday (the Christian Sabbath), Liddell focused his energies on qualifying for the 200 and 400 meter races. After wining a bronze medal in the 200 meters, he improved his personal best by more than one second in the semi-finals of the 400 meters. In a classic final on a hot and sweltering July 10, Liddell, drawn in the outside lane and unable to see his rivals, had no option but to set a devastating pace. He covered the first 200 meters in 22.2 second and then, incredibly, with arms and legs flailing, somehow managed to stick to the tape and crossed the finish line in 47.6 seconds for a new Olympic, European and British record.
After the Olympics, Eric Liddell began his life's work as a missionary to China, following in his parents footsteps. He served in North China from 1925 until his death in 1945.
1936: Jesse Owens blazes a trail
In the summer of 1936, Nazism was widespread throughout pre-World War II Eastern Europe and Adolf Hitler was eyeing the Berlin Olympics as a golden opportunity to prove that his Aryan race was superior. But Jesse Owens, a 22-year-old African-American athlete, had other ideas.
During one August week in front of Hitler at the Berlin Olympic Stadiums, Owens blazed a trail and fashioned the most significant individual performance ever in sports. In his first event, the 100 meters, Owens edged out team-mate Ralph Metcalfe in a time of 10.3 seconds. In his second, the long jump, Owens won gold after fouling on his first two attempts. The third gold came in the 200 meter dash, where Owens defeated Mack Robinson and broke the Olympic record with a time of 20.7 seconds.
His fourth gold came when an Owens-led US team won the 4x100 relay in a world record time of 39.8 seconds, bringing Owens' magical Olympics to a close. While German officials denounced Owens, a staggering majority of the local fans treated him like a hero. In 1984, a street in Berlin was named in his honor.
1948: Fanny Blankers-Koen emerges an icon
At the 1948 London Games, the Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 30-year-old mother of two, smashed prejudices about gender, age and motherhood. By winning four gold medals in sprint events including the 100 meters, 200 meters, 80-meter hurdles and 4x100 meter relay, Blanker-Koen emerged a pioneer who established the legitimacy of women’s sport. Her record stands till today as the only woman to ever win four track and field gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
What was remarkable about 'the Flying Housewife' was that she achieved her medals at an age that many considered to be advanced for an athlete, and especially a female athlete. In an era when women weren’t taken seriously in the world of athletic, Blanker-Koen returned home to Holland with the spoils of victory over sexism.
In 1999, five years before she died, Blankers-Koen was named "Female Athlete of the Century" by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1999.