London 2012 Countdown: Great Olympic Moments

With the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games one year today, we kick off runnersworld.co.uk's London 2012 coverage with an awed look back at some of the most iconic running moments in Games history.

Dreams of Olympic gold have inspired some of the greatest sporting feats ever seen. And it's not just world records that have been toppled - the Olympics have heralded key moments, transforming society's attitude to race, gender and through the Paralympics, disability.

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Athens 1896: The winner of the first modern Olympic marathon was Greek water seller and shepherd Spyridon Louis. He was joined on his final stadium lap by Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George of Greece before crossing the finish line in 2:58:50. Rumour has it he even stopped halfway through the race for a quick tipple.

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Berlin 1936: Jesse Owens triumphed over fascism, taking home four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay and the long jump. Owens also became the first African-American athlete to gain sponsorship, following a timely visit from adidas founder Adi Dassler before the Games.

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London 1952: Emil Zatopek earned the nickname the 'Czech Locomotive', winning his debut marathon just days after triumphing in the 5,000m and 10,000m.

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Rome 1960: Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila, running barefoot, became the first African runner to win Olympic marathon gold and set a new world record in the process (2:15:16). 

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Tokyo 1964: The women's 800m had been banned since 1928, when several athletes collapsed taking part. After bagging silver in the 400m, Ann Packer stepped up to the newly-restored event and wowed the crowds with a new world record. She had only started running 800m earlier that year to increase her endurance, and in Tokyo filled the final slot on the GB team partly to avenge her fiancé Robbie Brightwell's disappointing fourth place in the 400m. She announced her retirement shortly after the Games, aged just 22.

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Mexico City 1968: 200m gold and bronze medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos used their podium positions to give the American civil rights movement international exposure. Just months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr, they stood on the podium shoeless (to symbolise poverty) before raising their gloved fists in the Black Power salute.

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Los Angeles 1984: The women’s marathon was finally added to the Games. American athlete Joan Benoit became the first winner, storming home in 2:24:52.

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Athens 2004: After a career plagued by injury, Kelly Holmes became a national hero when she took gold in the 800m and 1,500m. She set a new British 1,500m record and was the first British female track and field athlete to win double Olympic gold.

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Beijing 2008: The world sat up and took notice of disability sport when Oscar Pistorius took Paralympic double gold in the T44 200m and 400m. Just a week ago, Pistorius took a giant leap towards his dream of competing at the London 2012 Olympics, achieving the 400m 'A' qualification standard with a PB of 45.07 at a meet in Italy. London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe has welcomed Pistorius to take part in the Games.

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Beijing 2008: Jaws dropped worldwide when Usain Bolt smashed both the 100m and 200m world records in the Bird's Nest stadium. Even an undone lace and a famous pre-race meal of chicken nuggets couldn't stop the Lightning Bolt's blaze of glory.

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