In just 28 days, the busiest and most enthralling 17 days of sports' quadrennial cycle will begin in London.
Yes, I know that the Winter Olympics often meet or exceed the Summer Games' drama, and there's often a higher level of danger involved in snow and ice sports that contributes to this, but there simply aren't as many medals handed out in the February version. Let's just say I'll likely have three or four screens going in my living room for the duration of the five-ringed circus that will be London 2012.
Once again, if you've followed me on Twitter for any length of time or (gasp) actually know me in real life, you'll know that the Olympics are a rather big deal for me. My first real Olympic memories come from the Calgary and Seoul games in 1988, and I started collecting Olympic memorabilia obsessively four years later, when the Albertville Organizing Committee responded to my postcard with a program, pins, and two posters. In 2010, I contributed a bit to SB Nation's coverage, at least until real life got in the way -- and frankly, such issues may prevent me from writing much this time around, particularly with the 5-hour difference between here and London. However, being a grown-up hasn't dampened my enthusiasm, even if I'm not quite as up on things as I would have been say, in high school or university.
In short, coming up with a single moment for this post was just a tad bit difficult for me. Follow me after the jump to see what I picked.The 1996 Centennial Games were the last Summer Olympics held on U.S. soil, and they're likely to remain that way, thanks to a International Olympic Committee/United States Olympic Committee dispute about revenue sharing (thanks to the IOC's huge TV deal with NBC). Atlanta 1996 was, like many recent Games, controversial in some respects, most notably because of what was seen as an over-commercialization of the event. Plus, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing illustrated that the Olympics were still a ripe target for terrorism.
But the Atlanta Games weren't all bad, not by a long shot, particularly at the building now known as Turner Field, where the United States dominated the athletics events. The hosts won more golds (13) than total medals earned by second-placed country on the (always unofficial) medal table, Russia (10, 3 gold). Two of those American titles were the result of one of the great feats in Olympic history, Michael Johnson's 200/400 double, a task he had just completed at the 1995 World Championships ... but one that had never been pulled off at a previous Olympics.
My focus is on the second of those finals, where the "Man With The Golden Shoes" figuratively -- and nearly literally -- set fire to the track.
The night was Thursday, August 1st, 1996. Three evenings earlier, Johnson obliterated the field, earning an Olympic record, in claiming gold in the 400 meters, moving himself ever closer to history. In the preliminary rounds of the 200, Johnson took things easy (relatively). His best preliminary time, the 20.27 seconds he ran in the semifinal, only placed him fourth-best among the finalists. Namibia's Frank Fredericks, Trinidad & Tobago's Ato Boldon, and the USA's Michael Marsh, who took the first three places in semifinal number one, all topped Johnson on time.
It looked like Johnson would need to beat the World Record he set in winning the Olympic Trials on that same Centennial Olympic Stadium track just a little more than a month earlier to claim the double. That would be quite a feat from a historical perspective, as Johnson's time of 19.66 bettered Pietro Mennea's famous mark of 19.72 -- set in the altitude of Mexico City, back at the 1979 Summer Universiade.
And that's exactly what happened.
Johnson's preliminary race strategy left him with enough energy to power past his rivals, in an incredible time of 19.32, a full 0.36 seconds ahead of silver medalist Fredericks, and 0.34 seconds ahead of his weeks-old World Record. Bolton finished third, nearly half a second behind.
Johnson only managed one more gold in his Olympic career, as he defended his 400 title in Sydney four years later, and his 200 meter World Record has since been eclipsed by Usain Bolt, with his first record-breaking run taking place on the Olympic stage in Beijing four years ago. However, Michael Johnson's place in the pantheon of track legends is secure and his reaction to his victory and World Record is one of the indelible moments in the Games' entire history.
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