Your Cheat Sheet To U.S.A.’s Olympic MVPs

You win some, you lose some, and then sometimes, in the case of some blessed few, you win so much that you become an instant household name.
With Olympic fever kicking into high gear, what better way to jump-start your spirit than with a refresher course on our country’s greatest MVPs? From pioneers on the track and world-class gymnasts to an Olympian who's, well, a true Renaissance man, here's a look back at some of the record-shattering, history-making Olympians who've brought home the gold and excelled at representing the red, white, and blue.
1 of 10
Jim Thorpe

Event: Everything (no, seriously)
Hails From: Prague, Oklahoma
Medal Count: Two gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games
Most Memorable Moment: Though his name may not be as familiar, he's considered by many to be one of the most versatile athletes of all time. On top of snagging Olympic gold for the pentathlon and decathalon, he also played professional baseball, basketball and football.
Betchya Didn't Know That: Rumor has it that at the closing ceremonies, Sweden's King Gustav told him, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." To which he responded, "Thanks, King."

Photo: © Bettmann/Corbis
2 of 10
Michael Phelps

Event: Swimming
Hails From: Baltimore, Maryland
Medal Count: 16!
Most Memorable Moment: Winning eight gold medals and setting a multitude of records at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, including that for the most olympic gold medals, for which he has 14.
Where Are They Now?: Preparing for the seven events he recently qualified to swim at the London Games, where his most heated competition is none other than teammate (and Vogue cover model) Ryan Lochte.
Betchya Didn't Know That: While Phelps brought home the gold in 2004 and 2008 games, he also participated in the 2000 Olympics when he was just 15 years old, but came home empty-handed.

Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP/Corbis
3 of 10
Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Event: Heptathlon and Long Jump
Hails From: East St. Louis, Illinois
Medal Count: Six; three for Helptathlon and three for Long Jump
Most Memorable Moment: Overcoming a challenging childhood and even asthma to become one of the most beloved Olympians with her impressive track & field performances.
Where Are They Now?: Named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated, the living legend now runs the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, which provides sports lessons and support to youths and families.
Betchya Didn't Know That: She used to be known as a basketball star! While attending UCLA, Jackie was on the team and scored nearly 1,200 points during her collegiate career.

Photo: © Wally McNamee/Corbis
4 of 10
Hope Solo

Event: Soccer
Hails From: Richland, Washington
Medal Count: One
Most Memorable Moment: Too many to count! Hope's known for making near-impossible saves as a goal keeper, so whether it's at the women's World Cup or the Olympics themselves, she's constantly wowing crowds.
Where Are They Now?: Shutting out Canada with a deflected-shot save on the road to the London Olympics, where she'll play goalie for Team U.S.A.
Betchya Didn't Know That: Hope made it all the way to the semi-finals on Dancing With The Stars, but lost out to finalists Ricki Lake, Rob Kardashian, and winner J.R. Martinez.

Photo: Courtesy of Nike
5 of 10
Jesse Owens

Event: Track & Field
Hails From: Oakville, Alabama
Medal Count: Four
Most Memorable Moment: While the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 was seen as a platform for Adolf Hitler to spread his message of Aryan ideals within Nazi Germany, Jesse went on to win four gold medals in the face of adversity.
Betchya Didn't Know That: Adi Dassler, the German founder of Adidas, visited Jesse in the Olympic Village before his winning races and persuaded him to use Adidas shoes, thus having him become the first male African-American athlete to obtain sponsorship.

Photo: © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
6 of 10
Mary Lou Retton

Event: Gymnastics
Hails From: Fairmont, West Virginia
Medal Count: Five — one for Floor, Vault, Uneven Bars, All-Around and a Team U.S.A. win — all at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Most Memorable Moment: Nabbing two perfect 10s for her vault and floor routines and winning the All-Around Individual Gold medal by .05 points.
Where Are They Now?: Last year, the gymnast starred in a commercial for Dairy Queen inside of a piñata. Bet that's a fun party trick!
Betchya Didn't Know That: Mary Lou Retton was the first female to ever appear on a Wheaties Box.

Photo: Courtesy of Wheaties
7 of 10
Carl Lewis

Event: Track & Field
Hails From: Birmingham, Alabama
Medal Count: 10 — nine of which are gold!
Most Memorable Moment: As the Sports Illustrated-named "Olympian of The Century", the record-breaker remains the only man to defend an Olympic 100 Meter or Long Jump title successfully.
Where Are They Now?: Since his racing days, he's had a handful of television and movie roles and even an attempted a run for the New Jersey State Senate.
Betchya Didn't Know That: In 1984, he was drafted by both the Chicago Bulls and the Dallas Cowboys but didn't play for either.

Photo: Associated Newspapers/Rex USA
8 of 10
Nastia Liukin

Event: Gymnastics
Hails From: Parker, Texas; born in Moscow, Russia
Medal Count: Five, tying the record for most gymnastic medals won at a single Olympics by an American.
Most Memorable Moment: Nabbing the Individual All-Around Gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she received the highest score of the entire competition for her uneven bars routine.
Where Are They Now?: After coming out of retirement less than a year ago, Nastia most recently competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials but did not end up making the 2012 team. We'll miss those pink leotards!
Betchya Didn't Know That: Nastia was the first female athlete, along with teammates Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone, to sign to CoverGirl as spokesmodels.

Photo: © Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/Corbis
9 of 10
Mark Spitz

Event: Swimming
Hails From: Modesto, California; raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and Sacramento, California
Medal Count: 11
Most Memorable Moment: Setting the then-record for most gold medals won in a single Olympics by grabbing seven of them at the Munich Games in 1972.
Where Are They Now?: Being forever tied to Michael Phelps as two of the best swimmers in history, and — gulp — endorsing testosterone supplement Ageless Male.
Betchya Didn't Know That: Mark retired at 22 but didn't entirely call it quits then. In 1992, he took a stab at qualifying for the 1992 Barcelona Games but was two seconds too slow to make the team.

Photo: CSU Archives / Everett Collection/Rex USA
10 of 10
Serena Williams

Event: Tennis
Hails From: Saginaw, Michigan; raised in Compton, California and West Palm Beach, Florida
Medal Count: Two
Most Memorable Moment: Going undefeated and grabbing gold in 2000 and 2008 alongside her sister and doubles partner, Venus.
Where Are They Now?: Competing at Wimbledon and heading to London in a few weeks for the 2012 Olympics.
Betchya Didn't Know That: Serena has apparently won over $35 million in prize money from tennis matches! Looks like she won't have to rely on that nail-technician certificate any time soon.

Photo: Back Page Images/Rex USA

More from News


R29 Original Series