Before Michelle Kwan was forced to bid a sad adieu to her gold-medal dreams... before Ted Ligety came from nowhere to win the alpine combined... and before the world had ever heard of a Flying Tomato, these Winter Olympians gave TV-viewers much to talk about and forever remember.
1. Heiden's Fantastic Five Lake Placid 1980
In the speed-skating equivalent of running and winning a sprint, a mile, a marathon and nearly everything in between, Eric Heiden achieved what fellow Olympian Dan Jansen calls "the single greatest feat in the history of sports." Hard to disagree. Looking more superhero than mere mortal in his skin-tight uniform, the thunder-thighed skating machine collected five individual gold medals, setting four Olympic records and smashing a world record in his last event, the grueling 10,000-meter race, by more than six seconds. His incredible accomplishment has never been duplicated.
2. The Perfect Dance Sarajevo 1984
In four minutes and 28 seconds, British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean took their sport out of the ice age with an electrifyingly sensuous interpretation of Ravel's "Bolero." By bending all the rules, they elevated ice dancing from figure skating's poor relation to a star attraction in its own right. Torvill and Dean received perfect scores for artistic impression from every judge. Ironically, noted skating icon Dick Button, "so great was their impact that the International Skating Union, in its usual wisdom, made most of the things they did illegal."
3. The Miracle on Ice Lake Placid 1980
"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" That was Al Michaels' famous call when a youthful U.S. hockey team upset the formidable U.S.S.R. Do you believe this 4-3 victory was the gold-medal game? Most American viewers would also say yes, but it was a semifinal. And do you believe it was live? It was tape-delayed. That didn't lessen its impact on a nation with hostages in Iran, inflation at home and an upcoming boycott of the Summer Olympics. Two days after Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal to beat the Soviets, the young Americans defeated Finland 4-2 in the final game to clinch the gold. "It was timely," goalie Jim Craig said later. "The tremendous upset against the Russians and the gold medal against the Finns came when everybody needed the lift."
In Torino: The United States vs. Russia airs Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 2 pm/ET on USA Network.
4. Battle of the Brians Calgary 1988
One thing was clear: Someone named Brian was going to skate off with the gold. The rival Brians Orser and Boitano were separated by a sliver going into the highly anticipated final showdown for figure-skating supremacy. American Boitano, the first to take the ice, executed a near-flawless program. Canadian Orser carried the hopes of the host nation out to the rink but two-footed a landing, then downgraded a jump small but sufficient enough miscues to give Boitano the edge. "That's what really makes great skating competitions," Button said. "When you have two top skaters in good form giving superb performances."
5. Dan Jansen Finally Gets His Gold Lillehammer 1994
An overwhelming favorite six years earlier, he had competed and fallen only hours after learning his sister had succumbed to leukemia. He tried and failed again at the 1992 Games. Two years later, in his final shot, he set a world record in the 1,000 meters, then took his baby daughter Jane, named for his late sister, on a victory lap. "In 25 years in the business, I've never experienced anything more stirring than watching Dan Jansen win his gold medal," says NBC's Jimmy Roberts. "It's still the only time I've ever cried in a press box."
6. Killy's Triple Crown Grenoble 1968
The McDreamy of the 1968 Grenoble Games, sexy French skier Jean-Claude Killy so dominated his home country's Olympics that they came to be known as the Killympics. "Every girl fantasized about Jean-Claude," admits skating icon Peggy Fleming, herself a gold medalist at those Games. The debonair mountain man swept the three Alpine events contested at the time (downhill, slalom and giant slalom) but not without some very anxious moments during his final race, a slalom run in thick fog. To the relief of ecstatic partisan fans, two competitors with better times were disqualified for missing gates, and Killy notched his third gold medal.
7. Tonya and Nancy Lillehammer 1994
Seven weeks after Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a man later linked to Tonya Harding, the duo faced off in the Olympic ladies figure-skating short program in Norway. Kerrigan skated cleanly for first place, Harding made several mistakes to place 10th, and the CBS telecast attracted 78.8 million viewers the sixth-most-watched program in American history. "It was almost as if there was an anticipation of a physical confrontation of some sort," says Verne Lundquist, who covered the event for CBS. Two days later, Kerrigan won the silver (behind Ukraine's Oksana Baiul), and Harding, who was granted a reskate because of a bad bootlace, was eighth.
8. America's Golden Girl Innsbruck 1976
Dorothy Hamill, America's best hope for its first figure-skating gold medal in eight years was a 19-year-old with a wedge haircut, oversize glasses that she wore off the ice and a signature spin called the "Hamill Camel." The last woman to win an Olympic gold medal without performing a triple jump, she was the unanimous choice of the nine judges. "I felt I possessed endless strength and I knew instinctively that I was not going to fall," she wrote in her 1983 autobiography On and Off the Ice. "I was skating better than I had ever skated in my life."
9. The Herminator Goes Flying Nagano 1998
What was more remarkable than the horrifying sight of Hermann Maier soaring through the air and slamming down through two safety fences during the downhill? That the Austrian superstar got up, walked away and, three days later, won gold in the super G. And three days after that, he won the giant slalom gold.
10. Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers Win Salt Lake 2002
The inaugural Olympic women's bobsled competition was doubly historic. Vonetta Flowers and Jill Bakken largely overlooked as the USA's No. 2 sled ended America's 46-year medal drought in the sport, and Flowers became the first black athlete to win Winter Olympic gold. "A lot of people saw us as 'the other team,'" Flowers said. "We had to prove a lot of people wrong." Flowers is back for another shot in Torino, this time teaming with Jean Prahm.
In Torino: The women's bobsled airs on NBC Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 8 pm.