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15 Favorite Comeback Moments In Olympic History To Celebrate National Get Up Day

By Lisa Costantini | Feb. 01, 2017, 1:24 p.m. (ET)

Feb. 1, 2017 marks the first annual National Get Up Day, declared by U.S. Figure Skating and The Registrar at National Day Calendar. The campaign was launched as a way to celebrate those who embody the Get Up spirit.

U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith explained that the Get Up campaign is “about being fearless in the face of falling, and inspiring those who join our movement to take on life’s challenges with renewed vigor. … We all fall, it’s how we get up that matters.”

Everyone – athlete or not – is encouraged to share their inspirational stories at WeGetUp.com and using the hashtag #GetUpDay on social media. And in the spirit, here are 15 Olympians’ stories that embody the Get Up campaign. Their tales of comeback and perseverance are sure to make you want to Get Up!

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1) Jesse Owens, Track and Field

At the Berlin 1936 Games, in a time when Adolf Hitler was in power and wanted to show the world that the Aryan race was the supreme one, Owens, as an African-American athlete, went on to international fame as the first American to win four track and field gold medals in a single Olympics – a record that stood unbroken for 48 years. And yet he was still not invited to the White House to shake hands with the then U.S. president. Before leaving office, President Barack Obama invited the families of the African-American athletes of the 1936 Games to the White House to offer them the praise that they did not receive at the time.

2) 1980 "Miracle On Ice" Hockey Team

Any moment that gets a movie made out of it and is named the best international ice hockey story of the past 100 years (by the International Ice Hockey Federation) definitely deserves a spot on this list. One of the biggest upsets in Olympic history is also known as the “Miracle on Ice.” The youngest team in the tournament — and in U.S. national team history — was a squad full of amateur hockey players. But that didn’t stop host country Team USA from beating the defending gold medalists from the Soviet Union (who had won gold in the previous six out of seven Winter Games) in the semifinal. The U.S. then won the final against Finland as well for a historic gold. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!

3) Greg Louganis, Diving

Louganis was already a two-time Olympic gold medalist when he competed in the Seoul Games in 1988, so it’s no surprise he knew how to get up. But after he hit his head on the 3-meter springboard in the preliminaries and suffered a concussion, it didn’t seem possible that he could replicate his past achievements. Undeterred by his injury, he went on to repeat the dive successfully in the final and won gold by a margin of 25 points. He then went on to win gold on 10-meter platform as well.

4) Dan Jansen, Speedskating

In 1988, Jansen was the world sprint champion and favored to win multiple gold medals at the Calgary Winter Games. But on the day of his first race, he got word that his sister was dying of leukemia. She passed away later that day. In both of his races that week, he fell, going home empty-handed. In 1992, he finished fourth in his best event, just missing the podium. At his last Olympics in 1994, he set a world record in the 1,000-meter and took home a gold medal in what would be his final race.

5) Kerri Strug, Gymnastics

If there was ever anyone who embodied the Get Up spirit, it was Strug. As member of Team USA’s 1996 Olympic women’s gymnastics team — also known as the Magnificent Seven — she had a memorable Games. But for more reasons than claiming country’s first-ever all-around team gold medal. It was also the Olympics where Strug famously injured her ankle on her first vault attempt during a close fight for gold with the Russians. Forced to land a second vault, she performed on an injured ankle and helped her team win that historic gold. The image of her coach Bela Karolyi carrying her to the podium is an iconic image that not many will forget.

6) Rulon Gardner, Wrestling

Growing up on a farm in Wyoming, Gardner could have never imaged he would one day pull off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. Going into the 2000 Olympic Games, Gardner (who had never placed higher than fifth) beat the greatest wrestler of all time, Aleksandr Karelin. The previously undefeated Russian hadn’t lost in 13 years, and hadn’t had a point scored against him in seven!

7) Apolo Anton Ohno, Short Track Speedskating

At his first Olympic Games in 2002, Ohno was set to be the star of the Games, favored to win multiple medals. He was a favorite among U.S. fans just by his appearance (hello, soul patch) and cool name alone. In his first final, the 1,000-meter, Ohno was caught up in a series of falls but managed to literally get up and skate cross the line in time to win silver. The speedskater, who went on to win a total of eight Olympic medals and become the most decorated U.S. winter athlete, then finished his first Games with a gold — winning the 1,500 and beating a favored South Korean skater who was disqualified.

8) Sarah Hughes, Figure Skating

Skating since the age of 3, Hughes was 16 when she made it to her first Olympics. At the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, Hughes was far from favored to win the event. She was the bronze medalist at worlds the previous year and her best finish at nationals wsa second in 2001. Hughes came back from fourth place after the short program to win gold — upsetting favorites like then-four-time world champion Michelle Kwan and four-time world medalist Irina Slutskaya of Russia.

9) Paul Hamm, Gymnastics

After a fall on the vault at the Athens Games in 2004, Hamm nearly landed on the judges’ table and the reigning world champion found himself in 12th place, instead of as the most successful American male gymnast. But after an outstanding performance on the parallel bars — and faults made by the other gymnasts — he moved up to fourth place with only high bar left. His last routine was scored a 9.837, winning him a gold medal by a margin of .012, the closest margin in Olympic gymnastics history. He became the first and so far only U.S. men’s gymnast to win all-around gold.

10) Jason Lezak, Swimming

Lezak knows all too well that you might be down, but that doesn’t mean you’re out. Despite dominating at the start of the 4x100-meter freestyle at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the U.S. men’s team — which included Lezak, along with Cullen Jones, Garrett Weber-Gale and Michael Phelps — fell behind in the third leg. When Lezak dove in at the final exchange, he had to chase down the world-record holder, Frances’s Alain Bernard. He ended up touching the wall first — with the fastest ever split in the event’s history — to capture the elusive freestyle relay title after 12 years, and setting a new world record in the process.

11) J.R. Celski, Short Track Speedskating

Five months before the Vancouver Olympics, Celski suffered a gruesome injury during an Olympic Trials race in 2009 where his skate sliced into his leg. Unsure if he would be able to skate again, the determined athlete underwent emergency surgery, 60 stitches and months of rehabilitation. His hard work paid off in the form of two bronze medals only months later at the Vancouver Games.

12) Steven Holcomb, Bobsled

Despite being diagnosed in 2002 with a degenerative eye condition that was causing him to slowly lose his eyesight, Holcomb competed in the Torino 2006 Olympics (coming in sixth place in the four-man event). Two years later, he underwent an experimental procedure to correct his vision and went on to win four-man gold in Vancouver, breaking a 62-year medal drought, and two bronzes in Sochi.

13) David Boudia, Diving

Four years after going home empty-handed at the Beijing Olympics, Boudia won bronze in 10-meter synchro at the London 2012 Games, earning the U.S. its first Olympic medal in men’s diving since the 1996 Games. But in the individual event he placed 18th in the preliminaries — barely advancing as only 18 divers could move on. In spite of his low placement he was able to finish third in the semifinals and then first in the finals, winning the first gold in the event by an American male diver since Louganis did it in 1988.

14) Anthony Ervin, Swimming

Ervin’s story starts with him getting up, and becoming the first African-American swimmer to win individual Olympic gold. It was in the 50-meter freestyle at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where he also won silver in the 4x100-meter freestyle. But three years later he decided to sit back down and retire at the age of 22. After being retired for eight years he made the decision to get up again and get back into swimming. It wasn’t long after that when he made the Olympic team in 2012 and again in 2016. At 35 years old at the Rio Olympics, he won the 50 free for the second time — becoming the oldest individual Olympic gold medalist in swimming, taking the record from Michael Phelps. He won his second gold of the 2016 Games in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

15) Claressa Shields, Boxing

Growing up poor in Flint, Michigan, as the daughter of a former boxer who spent much of Shields’ childhood in prison and a mother who battled a drug and alcohol problem, Shields knew about boxing but wasn’t allowed to pursue it until she was 11. Her father believed it was a man’s sport. By the time she was in junior high she had lived in almost a dozen homes. It was then when her coach took her in and taught her the basic skills. Those same skills earned her the gold medal when women’s boxers debuted at the 2012 Olympics. She repeated her feat in 2016, making her the first American boxer — male or female — to win back-to-back Olympic titles.

Related Athletes

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Apolo Ohno

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Paul Hamm

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Jason Lezak

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J.R. Celski

Short Track Speedskating
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Steven Holcomb

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David Boudia

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Anthony Ervin

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Claressa Shields