The Olympics isn’t just the pinnacle of human athletic endeavor. It’s also high drama on the world stage. Whether it’s Jesse Owens whooping Hitler’s hide or the ’72 USA hoops team refusing gold medals, the emotions really draw us in. But we were tired of musty old lists of things skinny guys in jumpsuits did 80 years ago. So we thought about the moments we saw on TV as kids that stuck with us. The moments that, as men, sent chills down our spines. And on the eve of the 2012 Games, here are 12 Summer Olympics moments we’ll never forget. Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more Made Man Olympic coverage in the coming weeks, including a gallery of the hottest new Olympians and spicy interviews with stars like Ryan Lochte, LaShawn Merritt, Kellie Wells and more!
Los Angeles 1984: Carl Lewis soars to glory Carl Lewis has so many moments it’s hard to pick one, but if we had to: taking only two of his six long jump attempts. He didn’t win any friends, but he did win gold.
Los Angeles 1984: Mary Lou Retton smiles, kicks ass She’s 4’9”, was the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win gold in the all-around event, and you can’t picture a Wheaties box without her on it.
Seoul 1988: Greg Louganis whacks his head Louganis cracking his noggin open on the 3-meter springboard ranks among the top live television jaw droppers of all time. What did he do next? Oh, just win a couple more gold medals.
Barcelona 1992: Dream Team dominates In 1992, America took the gloves off, letting NBA pros compete in the Olympiad. The team won every game by double digits, including a first-round 79-point victory over Cuba. Now if only we could figure out who that white guy on the far left is.
Barcelona 1992: Derek Redmond gets a helping hand Just about the only thing that can take away the pain of an injury on the track at your biggest moment is Dad helping you cross the finish line.
Atlanta 1996: Michael Johnson burns rubber Living up to the hype, Johnson became the only man to win both the 200- and 400-meter dash events. Guess when you step on the track in gold Nikes, you’ve gotta back it up.
Atlanta 1996: Kerri Strug mans up After falling and injuring her ankle on her first vault, Strug limped to the runway for her second attempt. She stuck the landing—on one foot—to clinch gold for the USA in the team event. Talk about a team player: the injury prevented her from competing in later individual events.
Sydney 2000: Rulon Gardner breaks out Like a real-life Rocky, lumpy American Greco-Roman wrestler Gardner defeated ripped Russian Alexander Karelin, who hadn’t lost a match in 13 years. Gardner had not a single international title to his name at the time.
Sydney 2000: Eric Moussambani finds a way “Eric the Eel” had only been swimming for eight months when he set an Equatorial Guinea record in his heat of the 100-meter freestyle. But his time was more than twice that of his competition. But because the other swimmers false-started, he won the heat. Every eel has his day.
Athens 2004: Jennie Finch brings the heat Finch’s dominant pitching led the USA softball team all the way to gold. But perhaps more importantly, she taught us that, contrary to popular belief, softball players can be crazy hot.
Beijing 2008: Michael Phelps chows, churns On his ridiculous 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, Phelps takes home eight gold medals, setting a new record for golds in a single Olympics.
Beijing 2008: Usain Bolts into the books Someone wins the 100 and 200 meters at every Olympics, but rarely in as dominant a fashion as Jamaican Usain “The Lightning” Bolt did. He set world records in both events—and could have probably stopped to tie his shoes along the way.
We thought about the moments we saw on TV as kids that stuck with us. The moments that, as men, sent chills down our spines. Here are 12 Summer Olympics moments we’ll never forget.