The Olympics do something funny to us. For the Olympians themselves, the upshot of four years’ worth of hopes, dreams and fears rests on what they will do over the next two weeks, days, minutes or milliseconds. But, during that time, sports fans or not, we find ourselves living that experience with them. Here are 11 Olympic moments that had us all welling up…
1. Derartu Tulu’s Boundary Smashing Victory Lap (Barcelona 1992)
20-year-old Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu became the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she snatched victory from South Africa’s Elana Meyer in the 10,000m. But it was what happened next that really melted hearts. Meyer kissed her competitor on each cheek in congratulation, before Tulu reached for the silver medallist’s hand, raising it in an image of united victory as the runners took their lap of honour. “The Olympic Games have brought South Africa back into the rest of Africa,” declared the BBC’s commentator.
2. Derek Redmond’s Father Helps Him to the Finish Line (Barcelona 1992)
Having qualified for the 400m semifinal with the fastest time in his heat, British sprinter Derek Redmond suffered a crippling hamstring tear midway through the race. Gripped by physical and emotional anguish, Redmond continued to hobble along the track, joined by his father, who raced from the stands to hold his son’s hand as he crossed the finish line. Barack Obama has since described it as a moment in which the human spirit triumphed “over injury that should have been impossible to overcome.”
3. Muhammad Ali Lights Olympic Cauldron (Atlanta 1996)
36 years after claiming his own Olympic Gold, Muhammad Ali became the final torch bearer of the Atlanta Games. At 74 years old, he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 12 years. The image of the former boxer, his hand shaking slightly as he lit the cauldron, instantly became iconic.
4. Eric the Eel Wins Heat (Sydney 2000)
A year before competing in the 100m freestyle at Sydney, Equatorial Guinea’s Eric ‘the Eel’ Moussambani hadn’t been able to swim. Thanks to false starts from his competitors, though, the wild-card managed to win his first heat – in the slowest time in Olympic history. “The first 50 metres were OK, but in the second 50 metres I got a bit worried and thought I wasn’t going to make it,” the swimmer, who had never swum further than 50m in training, exclaimed.
5. Matthew Pinsent Breaks Down on Podium (Athens 2004)
The sight of Matthew Pinsent struggling (and failing) to control the emotionall fallout from winning his fourth gold medal pricked at the back of many an eyeball. With hindsight, it seems likely that the 34-year-old had already decided that this was to be his final Games as he accepted his medal for the men’s coxless four event alongside teammates Steve Williams, James Cracknell and Ed Coode.
6. Matthias Steiner Dedicates Gold to his Wife (Beijing 2008)
Having promised his wife that, one day, he would win a gold medal in the Olympics, German weightlifter Matthias Steiner smashed his personal record to honour his pact. Devastatingly, she had died in a car accident just months before the Games began. Her photograph accompanied him onto the winner’s podium.
7. The Bert le Clos Interview (London 2012)
Clare Balding’s interview with the garrulous father of Chad le Clos following the South African swimmer’s unexpected victory over Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly pulled on our heartstrings (as well as giving us a good giggle). An ecstatic Bert gushed, “He’s unbelievable! I love you. Look at him! I love him,” as his eyes filled with tears. He is now considered more famous than his son.
8. Mo Farah Becomes First Brit to Win 10,000m (London 2012)
The pundits were on their feet in the trackside TV studios and even the Duchess of Cambridge appeared to be roaring encouragement from the stands, but it was Farah’s face, goggle-eyed with thrilled disbelief, that said it all as he crossed the finish line. His seven-year-old stepdaughter ran onto the track to give him a congratulatory hug, followed by his pregnant wife, as every eye in the stadium misted over.
9. Jessica Ennis Wins Heptathlon (London 2012)
In another Super Saturday triumph for Team GB, Jessica Ennis won the 800m event in front of an 80,000 strong home crowd to be crowned heptathlon champion. Along with her audience, Jess was overcome with emotion.
10. Andy Murray Claims Gold From Roger Federer (London 2012)
Just three weeks after his devastating defeat at Wimbledon, Andy Murray stormed to victory over his rival to reclaim Centre Court and become the men’s singles Olympic champion. He had never before beaten Federer in a best-of-five-sets match.
11. Jack Laugher and Chris Mears take Britain’s first ever gold medal for diving (Rio 2016)
Did anyone else find themselves tearing up when the scored were announced for Jack Laugher and Chris Mears’s incredible three-metre synchronised dive? The pair, who
won Britain’s first ever gold medal for diving with an incredible score
of 454.32, ended China’s hopes of a clean sweep of golds, and
their ecstatic reaction to their win captured the hearts of the
nation. Speaking afterwards, Mears, who had to have life-saving surgery
in 2009, said: “I still can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I’ve
come from death’s door to here. I’m pretty proud.”