10 Olympic Athletes Your Kids Can Look up to

Growing up, like many little girls, I was fascinated by gymnasts and figure skaters. Possessing zero coordination and almost as little athletic ability, I watched with longing, nose practically pressed to the glass of our family television, the graceful moves of the Olympic athletes each time the games arrived. While I knew I would never perform the perfect triple axel while an adoring crowd looked on or receive a perfect 10 for my  well-executed performance on the balance beam, I greatly admired those who would.

The level of dedication, discipline, and determination required to become an Olympian is attained by few. The qualities they exhibit are as valuable in sport as they are in life, and that is why Olympic athletes are such ideal role models for our children.

Here are a few whose achievements have stood out over the course of Olympic history:

  • Jamaican Bob Sled Team 1 of 10
    Jamaican Bob Sled Team
    The 1988 Winter Olympics became the setting for one of the world's greatest underdog stories when four men from sunny Jamaica — Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White, and Samuel Clayton — competed as the country's first bobsleigh team. Prior to their Olympic debut, having lived their lives in a tropical locale, the men had spent very little time on a bobsled track and did not officially finish, crashing during their fourth run and opting instead to walk across the finish line to the applause of the crowd. Not to be discouraged, the team returned to the Olympics in 1992 and 1994, where they eventually placed 14th ahead of the United States, Russia, Australia, and France, a true inspiration to those who seek to defy the odds.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • Wilma Rudolph 2 of 10
    Wilma Rudolph
    Wilma Rudolph was born two months premature and spent most of her childhood bedridden. Suffering from a multitude of illnesses including infantile paralysis caused by the polio virus, Rudolph wore braces on her legs and feet until the age of nine. Determined to beat her handicap, she sought treatment for her twisted leg and went on to join her school's basketball team, a sport at which she excelled and where she was eventually discovered by a college track and field coach. Fourteen years after a doctor told Rudolph's mother that her daughter would never be able to walk, she became the first American woman to receive three gold medals for the 100, 200, and 400 meter races. Rudolph's story is a testament to the power of courage and determination.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Billy Mills 3 of 10
    Billy Mills
    By the age of 12 Billy Mills had lost both of his parents to illness. Mills, who is half-Native American, found solace in running. Raised by his grandmother on a reservation in South Dakota, he was known by the locals as the boy who ran behind the trash truck instead of riding in the cab at his job as a garbage man, an act he later said he did to help him prepare for the Olympic games. All that training paid off. Mills made his Olympic debut in Tokyo in 1964 where his unforgettable sprint in the final stretch of the 10,000 meter race from third to first place won him a gold medal. The victory is still hailed as one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. Mills' story serves as an example of what one can achieve when they channel their hardships into a positive outlet.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Nadia Comaneci 4 of 10
    Nadia Comaneci
    At the age of 14, gymnast Nadia Comaneci made history when she became the world's youngest Olympic medalist. Even more impressive, Comaneci was the first Olympic athlete ever to score a perfect 10, which she was awarded for her performance on the uneven bars. While striving for perfection is a lofty goal, Comaneci certainly proved to the world that with hard work, it is attainable.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Vera Caslavska 5 of 10
    Vera Caslavska
    Vera Caslavska has won more individual gold medals than anyone else in Olympic history, 19 to be exact, and did so during a time of unrest in her native country of Czechoslovakia. Caslavska won the hearts of her people by unabashedly opposing the invasion of her homeland by the Soviet regime, even publicly signing a petition that left her exiled and unable to appear in public and prevented her from training or further Olympic game participation. Caslavska's willingness to stand up for her beliefs at great personal cost is admirable.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Lawrence Limieux 6 of 10
    Lawrence Limieux
    Lawrence Lemiex was in second place in the sailing competition of the 1988 Summer Olympics when he came upon two competing sailors who were injured after being thrown from their boat and into the rough waters. In a true display of sportsmanship, Lemieux veered from the course to save the men and then waited until they were transferred to a patrol boat before continuing the race, putting him in 22nd place. When judges learned of Lemieux's selfless actions they decided unanimously to award the sailor second place in the race, the position he was in when he broke away to rescue the Singapore crew. Lemieux was also awarded the prestigious Pierre de Coubertin Medal for Sportsmaship, one of only eleven given out since its launch in 1964. Lemieux's story proves that nice guys don't always finish last.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • Masahiko Harada 7 of 10
    Masahiko Harada
    In the 1994 Winter Olympics, Japanese ski jumper Masahiko Harada cost his team the gold medal when he performed the worst ski jump of any athlete in the top 8 teams. Despite the poor performance, he returned to the Olympics in 1998, where history seemed destined to repeat itself after a poor first jump. Not to be discouraged, Harada's second jump was a record-tying 137, meters which earned him a bronze medal in the large hill jump and his team the gold. Harada's efforts are a lesson in perseverance, optimism, and overcoming obstacles.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • Jenny Thompson 8 of 10
    Jenny Thompson
    Jenny Thompson is enviably well-rounded. Not only has she won more swimming medals than any woman in Olympic history, eight of which are gold, but she has also challenged herself to achieve academically. While attending medical school, Thompson competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, winning two silver medals. The decorated swimmer has since become a physician and is a role model to anyone who aspires to excel in the classroom as well as the gym.
    Photo credit: iStock
  • Tom Daley 9 of 10
    Tom Daley
    British diver Tom Daley returned home from his debut at the Olympics in Beijing to something as unwelcome as it was unexpected: bullying. The teenager was taunted by classmates who called him names such as 'Diver Boy' and was even physically assaulted, forcing his parents to pull him out of school. Daley spoke out about the bullying and became a sponsor of a children's helpline run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Now 18, Daley is set to compete once again on his home turf in the Olympic games in London later this year. Whether he will bring home a medal or not is yet to be determined, but his efforts to combat bullying make him a winner no matter the outcome.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Oscar Pistorius 10 of 10
    Oscar Pistorius
    New to the Olympics this year and set to compete in the 400- and 1600-meter dash is Oscar Pistorius — an athlete already worthy of a child's admiration before he ever sets foot on the track. Why? Well, because he isn't setting foot on the track. Pistorius is a double amputee. Aptly nicknamed "Blade Runner," the athlete will line up among his peers to race on carbon-fiber prosthetic blades, an Olympic first. Born with a congenital absence of the fibula, Pistorius' legs were amputated at 11 months old. He was told he would never stand or play sports. He is yet another lesson in the power of a positive attitude and an ironclad will to succeed.
    Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


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