Dramatic relay latest among fantastic Olympic, sports finishes   

Updated: August 12, 2008, 2:24 PM ET

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They are already calling it the greatest swimming relay of all time. If Michael Phelps goes on to win eight gold medals, Jason Lezak's final 15 meters to overtake world-record holder Alain Bernard only grows in its legendary status.

In true Page 2 fashion, it's a reminder of why we love sports: not the overcoming of obstacles, not the life lessons sports supposedly teach us and not the moral traits of courage and virtue so many like to pin on winners.

No, it's about the freakin' thrill of victory. Here are other fantastic finishes in Summer Games -- and sports -- history:

1948: Fanny Blankers-Koen wins fourth gold
The Dutch star had already won gold in the 100, 200 and 80-meter hurdles and the Netherlands team was the favorite in the final, having run the fastest time in the preliminary heats. However, in the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay, Blankers-Koen took the baton with the Netherlands in fourth place. She burst past her rivals and edged Australia's Joyce King at the tape, winning by one-tenth of a second.

1960: Rafer Johnson versus C.K. Yang
The 1960 decathlon had more drama than usual, seeing as Johnson and Yang were best friends and former UCLA teammates. In the years leading up to the Rome Olympics, the two, along with the Soviet Union's Vassily Kuznetsov, had traded the world record several times. Yang, competing for Taiwan, beat Johnson in six of the first nine events in Rome, but Johnson still led going into the grueling finale -- the 1,500 meters. Which happened to be Johnson's worst event.

He needed to finish within 10 seconds of Yang to win gold, but Yang's personal record was more than 18 seconds better than Johnson's best. Johnson trailed Yang's footsteps for the first three laps, and while Yang desperately tried to pull away on the final lap, Johnson hung in there; he finished in a personal best, just 1.2 seconds behind his friend.

1976: Take that, cheaters
The final event of the women's swim competition was a foregone conclusion; after all, the mighty East Germans had won all but one event. In fact, before the 4x100 freestyle relay, a Canadian coach even taunted the U.S. team that the Canadians would finish second, ahead of the Americans. Of course, as we know now, the East Germans were more lab rats than women, hopped up on steroids and other nutritional ingredients.

Rulon Gardner

Billy Strickland/Getty Images

Rulon Gardner, left, ended Alexander Karelin's 13-year winning streak in Greco-Roman.

But the U.S. team of Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel and Shirley Babashoff wasn't going to concede victory. Even though none had finished higher than fourth in the 100 meters, they sprinted to a world-record time of 3:44.82, beating the East Germans by 0.68 seconds.

1984: The Battle of Britain
British rivals Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett had ruled the middle distance races for years, with Ovett winning the 800 meters and Coe the 1,500 in Moscow in 1980. By 1983, they had been joined by Steve Cram, who edged American Steve Scott at the '83 World Championships. In the 1,500 final in Los Angeles, Scott set a fast pace, hoping to eliminate the strong kicks of the Britons, and led after 800 meters. Ovett, battling a respiratory ailment, dropped out. Spain's Jose Manuel Abascal surged past Scott as the final-lap bell rung, with Coe and Cram right behind. Coe took control in the backstretch, with Cram trying to keep pace with his long, high stride. But Coe accelerated again in the stretch and ran the final 200 meters in 26.1 seconds to beat out Cram and Abascal in an Olympic-record time. He remains the only two-time Olympic winner of the 1,500.

1984: The Grossbusters
In 1984, West Germany's Michael Gross was the world's fastest swimmer at 200 meters, easily winning gold in the event. With "The Albatross" -- Gross stood 6-foot-7 -- swimming the anchor leg, the Germans were the favorites in the 4x200 freestyle relay. But the U.S. threesome of Mike Heath, David Larson and Jeff Float handed Bruce Hayes a three-meter lead for the final leg. The Albatross quickly caught Hayes in the first 50 meters. Over the final 150 meters, Hayes and Gross battled stroke for stroke, with the Los Angeles crowd going crazy. Gross ended up swimming the fastest 200 relay split ever at the time, but at the final touch, it was Hayes inching out a U.S. victory -- by four-hundredths of a second.

1992: Carl Lewis' finishing leg
Lewis was 31 years old at the Barcelona Olympics and was no longer the fastest man on the planet. He was on the 4x100 relay team only because of an injury to another runner, but he was still given the anchor leg for the U.S. team. The man who had been booed at the 1984 Olympics after refusing to take all his long jumps (to save himself for his other events) had never achieved popularity that matched his dominance. When Dennis Mitchell handed Lewis the baton with a one-meter lead, the question was obvious: Could the old man hang on?

He did. Lewis pulled away from the field with a blistering split of 8.96 seconds. The U.S. beat Nigeria by seven meters. While Lewis would go on to a final gold medal -- his ninth -- in the long jump in 1996, this relay was perhaps the moment when fans finally appreciated his greatness.

1996: Kerri Strug goes for gold
It was the final event on the final day of the women's gymnastics team competition in Atlanta, and Kerri Strug was the last U.S. gymnast to perform on the vault. But on her first of two vaults, her left ankle gave out upon landing, tearing ligaments -- but Strug didn't know the degree of her injury at the time. Although it turned out the Americans didn't need her second vault to win gold, the U.S. coaches said they didn't have time to add up the scores. With a Russian gymnast still left to complete a routine, Bela Karolyi urged Strug to seal the gold for her team. She did, landing her second vault perfectly -- on one foot.

2000: A little air guitar
In Australia, swimmers are like rock stars. So even though the U.S. men had never lost a 4x100 freestyle relay, the Aussies believed they had a chance to win in their home pool at Sydney. Before the race, U.S. anchor Gary Hall had predicted the Americans would smash the Aussies "like guitars."

The Aussies entered the final leg leading by a few hundredths of a second. Hall quickly caught Ian Thorpe, known more as a 200- and 400-meter guy than a sprinter. The two raced stroke for stroke the final 50 meters, with Thorpe edging out Hall at the touch. Australia's Michael Klim broke out his air guitar in celebration.

2000: Laura Wilkinson's amazing comeback
Wilkinson entered the finals in 10-meter platform diving in eighth place. Surely, catching the heralded Chinese pair of Li Na and Sang Xue would be more difficult than eating soup with a fork. Especially considering Wilkinson was competing with a broken right foot suffered months earlier in practice.

Wilkinson moved up to fifth place after two dives and then jumped all the way to first after her third dive. She held off Na by two points over the final dives for the gold medal, the first for a U.S. woman in platform diving since 1964.

2000: Rulon Gardner stops invincible Karelin
Russian Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin truly was invincible. He was the three-time defending Olympic champion. Never lost? That was nothing; he reportedly hadn't allowed a point in six years. So in the second round of the gold-medal match, when Karelin lost his grip on a lock, thus giving Gardner a point, the Sydney crowd gasped in astonishment. The judges even had to confirm what they had just seen via videotape.

Since neither wrestler scored the requisite three points needed for victory by the end of the round, the match went to a three-minute overtime period. Before the match, Gardner's wife, Stacy, had admitted she feared for her husband. "I hear he's paralyzed people before," she said of Karelin. But Gardner withstood Karelin's ferocious assaults in the overtime period, and with the crowd chanting, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" held on for one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.

Doug Flutie

Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Doug Flutie's last-second pass led Boston College past Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

• Great finishes don't only happen at the Olympics, so here are 10 more moments in sports history to relive:

1951: Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World"
Thomson hit a walk-off homer off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca to give the Giants a 5-4 win to clinch their three-game playoff (2-1) and win the National League pennant.

1960: Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run
Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman hit the first home run to end a World Series when, leading off in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees, he hit one over the left-field wall to give the Pirates a 10-9 victory and the title.

1974: "The Rumble in the Jungle"
In Zaire, Muhammad Ali took a barrage of hits from George Foreman, using the "rope-a-dope" technique to tire his opponent out. As Foreman's energy expired, Ali went on to knock him out in the eighth round.

1983: NC State defeats Houston and the "Phi Slama Jama"
With the score tied at 52 and about two minutes to play, Houston freshman Alvin Franklin missed the first shot of a one-and-one. NC State rebounded off the miss and held the ball until time was nearly out. A pass to the Wolfpack's Dereck Whittenburg was slapped away, but Whittenburg scrambled for the ball and threw a desperation shot from beyond the arc. The ball fell short, but Lorenzo Charles caught it in the air and jammed it in for the NCAA championship with one second on the clock.

1984: Doug Flutie's Hail Mary
The Miami Hurricanes were up 45-41 with 28 seconds left in the Orange Bowl when Boston College got the ball on its own 20. Eagles quarterback Doug Flutie used 22 seconds and two passes to get his team just past midfield. Flutie's only option was a Hail Mary pass, so he dropped back, scrambled and let it fly. It was 3-on-3 in the end zone, but receiver Gerard Phelan managed to move away from the bunch to catch the pass as he fell into the end zone as time ran out. The Eagles won 47-45.

1987: The Drive
Down 20-13 with 5:32 left in the AFC championship against the Cleveland Browns, John Elway drove the Broncos down the field 98 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to Mark Jackson with 37 seconds left, and Rich Karlis added the game-tying extra point to send the game into OT. The Broncos eventually won 23-20 with a 33-yard field goal by Karlis.

1989: Michael Jordan's "The Shot"
It was Game 5 in the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs when Jordan hit a jumper over Craig Ehlo from the foul line with 3.2 seconds to go. The Bulls won, 101-100.

1991: Giants vs. Bills, Super Bowl XXV
Holding a 20-19 lead, the New York Giants punted the ball to put Buffalo on its own 10. Jim Kelly led the Bills down the field to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt. But with eight second left, Scott Norwood sent it just wide to the right. The clock ran out and the Giants won.

1992: Christian Laettner's game-winning shot
In overtime against Kentucky in the NCAA East Regional final, Duke's Christian Laettner took a Grant Hill inbound pass at the foul line. Guarded by two defenders, Laettner turned and shot the ball, sinking the buzzer-beater to give Duke a 104-103 OT win.

2008: Boston Marathon women's race
Heartbreak Hill is supposed to be the hard part, but the final few hundred yards of the Boston Marathon was a neck-and-neck sprint between Ethiopia's Dire Tune and Russia's Alevtina Biktimirova. Coming off the hill, Tune took the lead, but Biktimirova moved back in front before the two were side-by-side heading into Kenmore Square. As they rounded their way toward Boylston Street, Tune got tripped up, but recovered and made the final move, pulling ahead with 150 yards to go. She surged to the finish line in 2:25:25 for the closest women's finish in Boston Marathon history.

David Schoenfield is an editor for Page 2. Alisha Ricardi is an editor for ESPN.com.


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