Natalie Du Toit: This 24 year old South African swimmer became the first female amputee swimmer ever to qualify for the Olympics, and placed a very commendable 16th in a field of 24 in the 10,000m swim. Du Toit first started competing internationally at the age of 14, but in 2001, her left leg was amputated at the knee after a car accident. The traumatic experience not only did not stop her from competitive swimming, but made her all the more resolved to be part of the Olympics — a dream she fulfilled this year, without the aid of her prosthetic limb! Read all about her inspiring story here.
Oksana Chusovitina: A mother’s love knows no bounds and this is fully exemplified in the life story of Oksana Chusovitina, only one of a handful of women to stay in competitive gymnastics after motherhood. She formerly represented the Soviet Union and her native Uzbekistan and has competed for Germany since 2006. When her son Alisher was diagnosed in 2002 with leukemia and doctors in Moscow could not guarantee quality care, Chusovitina accepted an offer of help from the head coaches of the Toyota Cologne club and moved to Germany. With her competition prize money and funds raised by members of the international gymnastics community, she was able to secure treatment for her son at the University of Cologne’s hospital while training with the German team. Chusovitina is the only female gymnast ever to compete in five Olympic Games, and won a silver in the vault final at the Beijing Games.
Dara Torres: This 41 year old Olympian has defied logic and stereotype to become the first woman in history to swim in the Olympics past the age of 40. At the Beijing Olympics, Torres took part in the 50 meter freestyle, 4×100 medley relay, and 4×100 freestyle relay and won the silver medal in all three events — beating competitors less than half her age. Last year, she twice broke her own American record in the 50m freestyle, 26 years after she first wrote the US record at 15 years of age.
Sheila Taormina: First person to compete in 4 Olympics in 3 different sports. ESPN suggests she could very well be the best athlete in the world. Taormina won a gold medal in swimming as a member of the 4×200 relay team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, transitioned to triathlon in 2000 and was a part of the pentathlon team in Beijing at the age of 39 years.
Eric Shanteau: Just a week before the US Olympic trials, this 24 year old swimmer learnt from his doctor that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Instead of abandoning his Olympic dream, Shanteau chose to delay surgery, swam in the trials, and won himself a spot in the US team with an upset second-place finish. More here.
Matthias Steiner: This hulk of a weightlifter stole the hearts of Germans all week for crying like a baby holding a picture of his late wife as he was presented with his gold medal. Their bitter sweet love story goes somewhat like this — one day, Susann was channel-flicking on TV and happened to chance upon Steiner in a weightlifting contest. Instantly smitten, she e-mailed him and after establishing contact took the train to Austria to meet him. The two fell madly in love and it was not long before Steiner applied for German citizenship. They were looking forward to come to Beijing together for the Olympics but a car crash before Susann’s 23rd birthday ended her life. At her deathbed, Steiner pledged he would make their Olympic dream come true.
Matthew Mitcham: This 20 year old Aussie diver had the balls to step out as the only openly gay male athlete at the Beijing Olympics. After mixed success in the first few rounds of the 10m platform final, Mitcham entered the final round of dives 34 points behind the Chinese favourite Zhou Luxin. Opportunity came when Zhou performed his worst dive of the final and scored 74.80, but even then, Mitcham still needed to score 107.30, a very high score on the platform, to secure the gold. However, his near-perfect final dive drew four perfect 10 scores from the panel and gave him a score of 112.10 — the highest single-dive score in Olympic history. Mitcham’s win prevented China from claiming a clean sweep of all diving medals and made him the first Australian male to win an Olympic diving gold since 1924.
Usain Bolt: Olympic chief Jacques Rogge does not think Usain Bolt is a hero and has even reprimanded him for his signature lightning bolt guesture, and not showing “more respect for his fellow athletes” nor shaking their hands. But we definitely think Bolt deserves a place in this list. After all, the Jamaican sprinter is the first man in history to set records for the 100m, 200m and 4x100m sprint at a single Olympics. And he has certainly charmed the world with his antics.
Michael Phelps: With eight golds won at the Beijing Games, US swimmer Michael Phelps brings his total number of Olympic golds to 14, making him the greatest Olympian ever. As a child, Phelps was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and started swimming at age seven as an outlet for his energy. He excelled in it and was soon breaking one national age-group record after another. Today he holds holds seven world records and still manages to charm journalists and fans with his perceived humility, sincerity and killer smile.
Hugh McCutcheon: This coach of the US men’s volleyball overcame news of the shocking on attack on the parents of his wife, former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman, which left his father-in-law dead and his mother-in-law seriously injured to lead his team to the gold medal.
Angel Valodia Matos: This Cuban taekwondo competitor was banned for life together with his coach after kicking the Swedish judge in the men’s +80kg bronze medal match. Enough said.
Ara Abrahamian: This Armenian-born Swedish Greco-Roman wrestler threw his bronze medal down on the wrestling mat after the medal ceremony and stormed from the podium, saying: “I don’t care about this medal. I wanted gold.” His behaviour won him loud boos from Swedish fans who were present at the ceremony and the IOC subsequently slapped him with an Olympic ban for “violating the spirit of fair play”.
CAUGHT FOR DOPING: North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su was stripped of his silver and bronze medals taken away for doping. Also expelled for doping violations were Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno and Vietnamese gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do.
Matt Emmons: At the final rifle shooting event in the Athens Games four years ago, this New Jersey shooter threw away his gold medal that he was favoured to win by cross-firing. At an event afterwards, Czech shooter Kate?ina K?rková came to console him afterwards for his blunder, telling him he was the real winner. They ended up falling in love and coming back to this year’s Olympics as man and wife. While Kate Emmons won the first gold medal awarded at the Beijing Olympics, Matt threw away another gold by scoring 4.4 in his 10-shot final round, the lowest by anybody in the competition. A 6.7 was all he needed to win gold, and nobody in the finals scored worse than 7.7 for any shot.