The Olympic Games Barcelona 1992 opened 25 years ago against the sun-kissed backdrop of Montjuic, Las Ramblas and La Sagrada Familia. Who could forget archer Antonio Rebollo shooting an arrow to ignite the cauldron on July 25, 1992?
By the time the Olympics closed on Aug. 9, the world witnessed the greatest basketball team ever assembled – the Dream Team – in action, Carl Lewis winning two more gold medals as part of Team USA’s 30-medal haul on the track, Summer Sanders and Janet Evans gracing the pool en route to 27 American medals, and Shannon Miller claiming five medals as the women’s gymnastics team laid the groundwork for the Magnificent Seven four years later.
In honor of the Games of the XXVth Olympiad, let’s relive 25 memorable performances featuring Team USA. Of course, with the United States bringing home 108 medals (37 golds, 34 silvers, 37 bronzes) it’s hard to choose just 25, but here we go. Add your suggestions in the comments.
1) Men’s Basketball, Gold
With a star-studded roster that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, it was no wonder the Dream Team won its eight games by an average of nearly 44 points. Thanks to Olympic officials allowing NBA players to participate in the Games for the first time, the sport’s profile got a boost around the world. The Dream Team defeated Croatia 117-85 for the gold medal, putting Team USA back atop the podium after its bronze medal in 1988 – and Olympic men’s basketball would never be the same. The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air eight straight nights of Dream Team games in their entirety starting Aug. 28.
2) Men’s 4x100-Meter, Gold
Carl Lewis’ sixth-place finish at the Olympic trials was a shocker, but it was good enough to put him on the relay team as an alternate. Lewis blamed a sinus infection for his poor performance. In Barcelona, his third straight Olympic long jump gold medal proved that he was fit. When teammate Mark Witherspoon went down with an injury in the 100-meter semifinals, Lewis was the obvious choice to replace him. He was also the natural anchor leg, running a sub-9-second split as Team USA set a world record of 37.40 seconds that lasted 16 years until Usain Bolt and his Jamaican teammates broke it in 2008.
3) Summer Sanders, Gold, 200-Meter Butterfly
The personable Sanders came into the Games as the first U.S. female swimmer to qualify for four individual events since Shirley Babashoff in 1976. Sanders won the bronze in the 400-meter individual medley, with champion Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary and Lin Li of China needing the fastest times in 10 years to beat her. Four days later, Sanders was sixth in the 100-meter butterfly and lost a close contest to Li in the 200-meter individual medley. In both IM races, Sanders lost the lead on the final leg. She had one more individual race: the 200 butterfly in which she was defending world champ. This time, Sanders surged to victory on the last lap.
4) Oscar De La Hoya, Gold, Lightweight Boxing
Nicknamed “The Golden Boy,” De La Hoya won this one for his mother, Cecelia. Before her death in 1990 from breast cancer, De La Hoya promised that he would fulfill her dream by winning the gold medal. In the Olympic final, De La Hoya faced Marco Rudolph, the German who had eliminated him in the first round of the world championships the year before. De La Hoya won on points, 7-2. He subsequently turned professional and won the first of his many world titles (in several weight classes) at age 20.
5) Gail Devers, Gold, 100-Meter
Devers was favored to win the gold in Barcelona, but no one expected her to win this race. She won the 100-meter hurdles at the Olympic trials and was second in the 100-meter behind Gwen Torrence (the eventual 200-meter Olympic champ). In the Olympic 100 final, .06 separated first place from fifth. Devers found out she won by watching the replay. Five days later, she was leading the 100 hurdles when she hit the last hurdle, fell to the track and scrabbled across the finish line in fifth place. In 1996, Devers still yearned for that 100-meter hurdles gold, but placed fourth. She had a golden lining, though: her second straight 100-meter crown.
6) Mark Lenzi, Gold, 3-Meter Diving
A former wrestler, Lenzi watched Greg Louganis at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 and realized that he had a talent for flipping and twisting, too. Lenzi was the first diver to score more than 100 points in competition (on a reverse 3.5 somersault tuck). In perhaps the most spectacular setting for diving at any Olympic Games – overlooking the city of Barcelona – Lenzi had the three highest-scoring dives to win the gold medal. He added a bronze medal in 1996. Sadly, Lenzi passed away in 2012, missing the resurgence in U.S. diving that began at the London Games.
7) Jennifer Capriati, Gold, Singles Tennis
This 16-year-old phenom had already been a professional player for two years when she arrived in Barcelona. Capriati ran into two buzz saws: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain and defending champion Steffi Graf of Germany. Capriati beat Sanchez Vicario, the local favorite, in three sets in the semifinals. In the final, Capriati lost the first set to Graf, the world’s No. 1 player whom she had never beaten in four previous tries. Capriati captured the second set and trailed 3-4 in the third before closing out the match by winning three straight games.
8) Trent Dimas, Gold, High Bar
Vitaly Scherbo won six gold medals for the Unified Team in men’s gymnastics in Barcelona, but Dimas’ one gold for Team USA was just as important to his country. And it was entirely unexpected. Dimas was sixth in the qualifying round, but uncorked the performance of his life in the final, capped by a triple-back-somersault dismount. In his first apparatus final on the international stage, Dimas scored 9.875 to win the gold. He became the first American gymnast to win an individual gold medal at a non-boycotted Olympic Games since 1932.
9) Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gold, Heptathlon
It was “hep-hep hooray” for the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder. She took the lead after the first event, the 100-meter hurdles, and no one came close to catching her. Joyner-Kersee tallied 7,044 points for the sixth-highest total ever, defeating her closest competitor by almost 200 points. The top five scores of all time? Those were hers, too. Five days later, Joyner-Kersee added a bronze medal in the long jump, the other event in which she was defending champion. She closed out her Olympic career in Atlanta four years later with another bronze in the long jump, giving her six medals, including three golds.
10) Mike Barrowman, Gold, 200-Meter Breaststroke
There is perhaps no greater motivator than a fourth-place finish. Barrowman was fourth in 1988 by .24 of a second. He then dominated the event, using the new “wave-action” technique. Barrowman went into the Barcelona Olympics with the five fastest times in history and was the only Team USA swimmer to set a world record in the pool. His winning time was 2 minutes, 10.16 seconds, which stood more than 10 years.
11) Bruce Baumgartner, Gold, Super Heavyweight Freestyle Wrestling
Baumgartner won Olympic gold in 1984 and silver in 1988. He dropped to seventh at the 1991 world championships, but regained his form in time for the 1992 Olympic Games. Baumgartner faced long-time rival David Gobezhishvili of the Unified Team in the third round, and Baumgartner took him down with only seconds to spare. He defeated Jeffrey Thue of Canada for his second gold, then went on to Atlanta in 1996 to win the bronze, completing his medal collection.
12) Launi Meili, Gold, 50-meter Rifle, 3 Positions
Going into the Olympic Games Seoul 1988, Meili was national champion and world-record holder in 10-meter air rifle. She shot an Olympic record in the qualification round, tying two others for first place. However, the new fast-paced final round was Meili’s undoing, and she wound up sixth. She was also seventh in 50-meter rifle, 3 positions. Frustration prompted Meili to continue competing. In Barcelona, she scored a perfect 200 in the prone position, 194 standing and 193 kneeling. She held on in the final to finish with a score of 684.3, defeating Nonka Matova of Bulgaria by 1.6 points.
13) Scott Strausbaugh and Joe Jacobi, Gold, Slalom Doubles Canoe
Whitewater slalom was first held at the Olympic Games Munich 1972, then was not offered again until Barcelona 20 years later. Strausbaugh and Jacobi were the only pair to paddle penalty-free through both runs and won the first gold medal for Team USA in whitewater slalom. Jacobi later named his daughter Seu after the course at Seu d’Urgell. At age 34, Jacobi and partner Matt Taylor placed eighth in the same event at the Olympic Games Athens 2004.
14) Karen and Sarah Josephson, Gold, Synchronized Swimming Duet
The main competition for the Josephsons, who are identical twins, was another set of identical twins: Penny and Victoria Vilagos of Canada. The Josephsons came in as the reigning Olympic silver medalists and were undefeated since the Seoul 1988 Games, winning more than a dozen meets. They beat their rival twins 192.175 to 189.394, scoring 99.60 points in their free routine.
15) Janet Evans, Gold, 800-Meter Freestyle
Evans won three gold medals in Seoul at age 17 and was one of the most dominant swimmers in the world leading up to Barcelona. She had a six-year winning streak in the 400 freestyle and owned the world record in the 400 and the 800. But Evans was upset in the 400 by Dagmar Hase of Germany, a backstroke specialist swimming the event in her first major international meet. Two days later, Evans led wire-to-wire in the 800 free, beating Hayley Lewis of Australia by almost 5 seconds. Evans held the 800 world record for more than 20 years and the 400 world record for more than 18 years.
16) John Smith, Gold, Featherweight Freestyle Wrestling
Smith was the defending Olympic champion and won all three world championships between Seoul and Barcelona. He was upset by John Fisher in the first round of the Olympic trials, snapping a 56-match winning streak, but regrouped to make the Olympic team. At the Games, he uncharacteristically lost another early match. But Smith still won his pool, advancing to the final where he defeated Asgari Mohammadian of Iran 6-0.
17) Mark Reynolds and Hal Haenel, Gold, Star
A broken mast in the final race shattered the sailors’ hopes of winning gold in 1988, so Reynolds and Haenel settled for the silver. In Barcelona, they made sure that wouldn’t happen again. They forged such an overwhelming lead that they didn’t even have to compete in the final race. Reynolds won another gold medal with Magnus Liljedahl at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000.
18) Nelson Diebel, Gold, 100-Meter Breaststroke
Who made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Spanish Gold” after the first week of Olympic competition in Barcelona? That would be Nelson Diebel, the surprise winner of the 100 breast in Olympic-record time. He defeated world-record holder Norbert Rozsa of Hungary. Diebel had what he called a “challenged childhood” and was kicked out of two schools as a troublemaker. “I’m the example for people who screwed up and never thought they could change,” said Diebel, who added another gold medal in the medley relay. “There are always possibilities.”
19) Shannon Miller, Silver, All-Around
Miller won more medals than any other member of Team USA at the Barcelona Games, taking five gymnastics medals home to Oklahoma. Besides her silver in the all-around, she won silver on balance beam and bronze medals for team (see No. 22), uneven bars and floor exercise. Although teammate Kim Zmeskal came in as world champion, Miller became the first American female gymnast to win an all-around medal at a non-boycotted Games. She posted a score of 9.975 on the vault. In Atlanta four years later, Miller added two gold medals in team and balance beam and is still the most decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast, followed by Aly Raisman with six medals.
20) Sandra Farmer-Patrick, Silver, 400-Meter Hurdles
Born in Jamaica, but raised in Brooklyn, Farmer-Patrick could have competed for either country. She chose the U.S. after marrying David Patrick in 1988. “I live, think, eat and drink American," she told Track & Field News. "I feel like an American, so it makes more sense for me to try to represent the U.S." Farmer-Patrick, who wore a tutu as part of her trials uniform, was all business in Barcelona. She had a slight lead, then was even with Sally Gunnell at the eighth hurdle. However, the Brit pulled away for the win. "I don't think I went out too fast,” Farmer-Patrick said. “If I hadn't, I don't think I would have even won the silver."
21) Jason Morris, Silver, Half Middleweight Judo
The Barcelona Games marked one of the happiest times for Morris as well as one of the saddest. Thrown in the final by his Japanese opponent, Morris quipped to the press, “I flew Air Japan.” Still, he was the only member of Team USA to medal in judo in 1992 and the first to reach the podium in his weight class. Ten days later, his father Bernard, who was still in Barcelona for the Closing Ceremony, died of a heart attack. Jason, who had already left to attend a White House barbecue, said years later, "Imagine taking away an arm and a leg and trying to do it. That's what it was like for me without my father.” Morris was head coach for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Judo Team.
22) Women’s Gymnastics Team, Bronze
This team didn’t have a fancy name like the Mag Seven or the Fierce Five or Final Five. But they got the job done. Team USA was composed of Shannon Miller, Betty Okino, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes and Wendy Bruce. After a petty rules infraction cost the U.S. the bronze medal in 1988, the 1992 squad captured the bronze for the first U.S. team medal in a non-boycotted Games since 1948. The U.S. women have won a team medal at every Games since, including golds in 1996, 2012 and 2016.
23) Dave Johnson, Bronze, Decathlon
Johnson was half of one of the most famous sports advertising campaigns of the 1990s: “Who is the World’s Greatest Athlete? Dan or Dave?” The other half was Dan O’Brien. When O’Brien failed to clear a height in the pole vault at the U.S. Olympic trials, Dave and two less experienced teammates carried U.S. hopes into Barcelona. Johnson had a scare in the shot put when he was nearly charged with a third foul and stood in ninth place after Day 1. However, Johnson held the world record for highest second-day score. He rallied to finish third despite a stress fracture in his ankle, becoming the first decathlon medalist for Team USA since Bruce Jenner won the gold in 1976.
24) Rebecca Twigg, Bronze, 3,000-Meter Individual Pursuit
Twigg won the Olympic silver medal in road race in 1984 and four world track cycling championships in individual pursuit (1982, 1984, 1985 and 1987). She was retired when she found out pursuit would make its Olympic debut in Barcelona. Her arch rival, Jeannie Longo of France, also came out of retirement. Twigg edged Longo in the quarterfinals by .041, then came away with the bronze as the faster semifinal loser. Twigg went on to win two more world titles and placed fifth at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996.
25) Men’s and Women’s Volleyball Teams, Bronze
The defending champion Team USA men lost their opening match to Japan in controversial fashion involving middle blocker Bob Samuelson. In a show of solidarity with Samuelson, who was bald due to alopecia, the entire team shaved their heads. They went on to beat Cuba in the bronze-medal match. The U.S. women, with full heads of hair, defeated Brazil to reach the podium for the first time in a non-boycotted Games.