Inspiring Olympic Heroes from Little Countries

Here are five Olympians from the past that showed remarkable courage, strength and talent. Some came from countries ruled by communism. Some were women who broke the gender stereotype, while others never gave up hope. Regardless, these five heroes from the following countries made their homeland proud and landed into the Olympian record books.

BY: Corine Gatti

 

Here are five Olympians from the past that showed remarkable courage, strength and talent. Some came from countries ruled by communism. Some were women who broke the gender stereotype, while others never gave up hope. Regardless, these five heroes from the following countries made their homeland proud and landed into the Olympian record books. "For me, the 1948 Olympics was liberation of the spirit. After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out. I went into the Olympic Village in 1948 and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers,” Emil Zatopek said in 1948.

1. Francina Elsje Koen was born in 1918 in Finland and stunned fans during the 1948 London Olympics by winning four Gold medals. The track and field star was part of the Dutch team that participated in the Berlin Olympics. The “Flying Housewife”, a name she was dubbed as a mother of two, which was unheard of at the time, excelled in the high jump, long jump and hurdling contests. In 1999 Koen was awarded by the International Association of Athletics Federations, as “Female Athlete of the Century”.

2. Emil Zatopek was known as the “Locomotive” from Czechoslovakia and a hero to his people, who were communist, ruled. Zatopek won the gold in the 10,000 meter run and was the first to run the 10k in under 30 minutes. He catapulted to fame during the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki by winning three gold medals. He also took the gold in London four years prior in the 10,000 and the silver in the 5,000 meter race. "For me, the 1948 Olympics was liberation of the spirit. After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out. I went into the Olympic Village in 1948 and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers,” Zatopek said.

3. Nadia Elena Comaneci was the Perfect 10. Born in Onesti, Romania, the gymnast wowed judges during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. She did what no one has ever done as a gymnast—she scored a 10 on the bars, thus winning three Olympic gold medals. She also won two gold medals in 1980 in Moscow. She was elected to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1993.

4. Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian and woman to capture a medal (bronze) in weightlifting during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Born in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, India, this trailblazer also won the country’s highest award in 1994, the Arjuna Award.

5. Teófilo Stevenson was born in Puerto Padre, Cuba in 1952. He became the first boxer in his weight division to win the gold three times. He won as a heavyweight in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976), and in Moscow (1980). Stevenson refused big monetary offers from Don King to turn professional, and decided to remain an amateur boxer for the rest of his career.

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