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Greatest Moments In Olympic Sprints and Relays

Highlights of men's and women's Olympic sprint and relay events.


Some of the greatest athletes in Olympic track and field history gained their primary success in sprint and relay races. Numerous multiple medal-winners have emerged from these short but exciting events in which fractions of seconds often separate the winners from the also-rans.

1. 1936 - Jesse Owens wins four golds in Berlin

Nazi Germany's claims of Aryan racial superiority were quashed by the performances of numerous athletes, including Jesse Owens, an African-American. First, Owens tied an Olympic record by winning the 100 meters in 10.3 seconds. After winning the long jump gold - and setting another Olympic record - Owens established an Olympic mark of 21.1 in his first 200-meter heat, then broke his record with a time of 20.7 in the final. Owens and Ralph Metcalfe were then added to the U.S. 4 x 100 relay team, displacing Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller (the only Jews on the U.S. track team and the only team members who didn't compete in Berlin). Owens, Metcalfe, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff won the race in a world record time of 39.8.

2. 1948 - Blankers-Koen takes four

Fanny Blankers-Koen was 30, old for a sprinter, when the Olympics began. But that didn't prevent the Netherlands native from winning four gold medals, beginning with the 100 meters, which she won in 11.9 seconds. After winning the 80-meter hurdles in an Olympic record time of 11.2, Blankers-Koen had an apparent anxiety attack prior to the 200-meter race. Her husband and coach, Jan Blankers, calmed her down and Blankers-Koen proceeded to win the event in 24.4 seconds on a muddy track. She completed her gold medal sweep in the 4 x 100 relay. Running the anchor leg, she took the baton in fourth place, dashed through the field and edged Australia's Joyce King by .1 second. Netherland's winning time was 47.5.

3. 1984 - Lewis matches Owens

American Carl Lewis won four times in 1984, duplicating Jesse Owens' performance from 1936. Lewis' attempt to match Owens almost ended in the 100, as American Sam Graddy and Canadian Ben Johnson were faster out of the blocks. Lewis was in second with 20 meters remaining, then pulled away to win by about eight feet, in a time of 9.99 seconds. Lewis started quickly in the 200, then held off fellow American Kirk Baptiste. Running against the wind, Lewis set an Olympic record of 19.80. Having already won the long jump - the first of four consecutive golds in that event - Lewis capped his performance by running an 8.94-second anchor leg as the U.S. captured the 4 x 100 relay gold in a world record time of 37.83.

4. 1988 - Flo Jo sets two marks

Florence Griffith-Joyner ran an Olympic record time of 10.88 seconds in her first 100-meter heat, lowered the mark to 10.62 in a subsequent heat then won her first gold medal in a wind-aided time of 10.54. In the 200, Griffith-Joyner set an Olympic record of 21.76 in the quarterfinal, broke the world record with a 21.56-second semifinal heat, then topped that mark with a victorious 21.34 run in the final. The U.S. then overcame a bad pass between Griffith-Joyner and anchor Evelyn Ashford in the 4 x 100 relay. Griffith-Joyner entered the passing area in first, but Ashford left the box in third before rallying to win in 41.98. Griffith-Joyner's bid for a fourth gold fell short as the U.S. took second in the 4 x 400 relay.

5. 1992 - Americans set relay records

In Barcelona, two pairs of U.S. teams set relay records that remain the Olympic marks today. The 4 x 100 team included Michael Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell plus a late addition - Carl Lewis, who replaced the injured Mark Witherspoon and ran the anchor leg. The U.S. quartet's time of 37.40 also set a world record, which was equaled by another U.S. squad the following year. The American 4 x 400 team broke the world mark set four years earlier by another U.S. gold medal-winning squad. The 1992 team included Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Michael Johnson and Steve Lewis, the only returner from the 1988 squad. The U.S., led by Watts' 43.1 leg, dominated the field, winning by almost four seconds with a time of 2:55.74.

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