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The greatest record-breaking performances in Olympic history including Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps

The 2024 Olympics is set to take place in Paris this summer and that provides a perfect opportunity to look back at some of the most iconic and record-breaking moments that have taken place at previous games.


Usain Bolt - 2008

Lightning strike in 9.69s

The highlight of Usain Bolt's incredible career came at the 100m final in Beijing, the Jamaican legend streaking away from a world-class field to deliver the 'lightning bolt' celebration as a world record time of 9.69 seconds flashed round the stadium. He was so far clear - despite having a shoelace untied - that he slowed to cross the line, something that cost him a time of around 9.55 seconds according to experts.

Bob Beamon - 1968

Long jump world record - 8.90m

Long jump world records get broken by millimetres - Bob Beamon didn't just break it in Mexico City in '68, he demolished it. The American only made the final thanks to a last-gasp jump in the heats after two fouls but needed only one leap in the final - an outrageous 8.90m - to secure gold. The magnitude of Beamon's jump - adding an incredible 55 centimetres to the previous world record - didn't register instantly but when his coach told him what he had done he collapsed.

Michael Phelps - 2008

Record eight golds

Ian Thorpe, a swimming great, insisted it couldn't be done - but Michael Phelps proved him and everyone else wrong. Mark Spitz had set the bar with a single Games record of seven golds in 1972 but at Beijing in 2008 Phelps went one better, claiming eight gold medals in the pool en route to a career haul of 23 Olympic swimming golds.

Carl Lewis - 1996

Fourth straight long jump gold

In a time before Usain Bolt there was Carl Lewis, an American sprinter who won 100m gold in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul four years later. But it was in the long jump where Lewis truly excelled, winning gold at four straight games, the last in Atlanta '96, making him one of just six athletes in Olympic history to win gold in the same event at four straight Games.

Nadia Comaneci - 1976

The perfect 10

Many Olympians have won more but few have broken hearts quite like Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Games in Montreal. In the team event, the 14-year-old Romanian scored a perfect 10 on the uneven bars, showing up as 1.0 in the arena, the legend going that the computer had not been programmed to allow for perfection.

Florence Griffith-Joyner - 1988

200m world record

Simply known as Flo-Jo and as famous for her iconic nails as her athletic prowess, Florence Griffith-Joyner ruled the world in 1988. She broke the 100m world record in July and the 200m at the Olympics in Seoul. Incredibly, both world records still stand.

Teofilo Stevenson - 1972

First heavyweight gold

Cuba's amateur boxing dynasty was established in 1972 with heavyweight legend Teofilo Stevenson at the heart of it. Three knockouts and a walkover saw Stevenson win the first of three consecutive golds which may well have been four had Cuba not boycotted LA in '84. Stevenson never turned pro, effectively turning down what would have been the ultimate showdown against Muhammad Ali.

Greg Louganis - 1984

Heads you win…

Greg Louganis will always and rightly be remembered for his springboard gold-winning performance in Seoul in 1988, when he hit his head on the board on one dive, was concussed, yet managed to go on to win. But it was four years earlier in LA when California's local hero really made waves, winning gold at high board and springboard, the latter by an obscene margin of 92 points, the most one-sided win ever.

Betty Cuthbert - 1962

The clean sweep gold

Few stories are quite as remarkable or uplifting as Betty Cuthbert's, the golden girl of Australian athletics who wowed Melbourne in 1956 by winning the 100m and 200m. She then retired after injury only to re-emerge eight years later in Tokyo to win the 400m, becoming the only runner in Olympic history - men or women - to have won individual gold at 100m, 200m and 400m.

Jesse Owens - 1936

The man who crushed an ideology

Any list of Olympic greats would have to include Jesse Owens, the African-American legend who won four gold medals - 100m, 200m, long jump and sprint relay - in Berlin in 1936 under the gaze of, and to the dismay of, German dictator Adolf Hitler.

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