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Ranking the top U.S. Summer Olympics athletes of the 1980s: The top 10

Published Jul. 26, 2012

The official Stuck in the '80s list of the Top 20 U.S. Olympians of the Summer Games during the '80s rolls onto today as today's Olympians prepare to parade into London to begin the 2012 games.

Again, I'm relying exclusively on, which has already ranked the 100 greatest U.S. Olympians in Summer Games history. Amazingly, quite a large percentage of their list participated during one of the '80s olympiads.

The website used the following criteria: world records, medal counts, sustained excellence over multiple Olympic cycles and cultural impact. What they didn't factor in was success outside the Games and singular moments of greatness (unless those moments were part of overall great careers).

So what we have at hand then is the top rated U.S. Olympic athletes, according to Bleacherreport, who competed in the 1984 and/or 1988 Summer Games. (Remember we boycotted 1980 in Moscow.) I've included their rank within the '80s, which is based entirely on their rank among the top 100 of all time (which is also noted.) Confused? Nobody said the Olympics were an exact science.

Part 2 of the rankings is today. Nos. 11 through 20 ran Thursday. See them here. Enjoy the list and the games and recall with wonder the ancient days when there was more honor in beating a man on the playing field than killing him on a battlefield.


10. Dara Torres (Swimming)
Overall rank: 36
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2008
Medals: 12 (4 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze)
Bleacher says: "Never transcendent in any one event or Olympiad—she never won an individual gold medal—Torres made a career of defying time, somehow getting faster and stronger as the decades passed. If it hasn't been the most high-octane run, it's certainly been among the most captivating."

9. Florence Griffith-Joyner (Track)
Overall rank: 33
Olympics: 1984, 1988
Medals: 5 (3 gold, 2 silver)
Bleacher says: "Oozing star quality—from her ruby red lipstick down to the tips of her cartoonishly long fingernails—Florence Griffith-Joyner was everything a track sensation should be: colorful, charming and most of all dominant."

8. Bruce Baumgartner (Wrestling)
Overall rank: 30
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996
Medals: 4 (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
Bleacher says: "Though he lacked the pre-Games celebrity of a Dan Gable or Cael Sanderson, Bruce Baumgartner managed just fine on the Olympic stage, even surpassing many of his more famous peers. With medals in four consecutive Summer Games, Baumgartner is the most decorated American wrestler ever and served as U.S. Olympic flag-bearer for the 1996 Atlanta Games."

7. Janet Evans (Swimming)
Overall rank: 17
Olympics: 1988, 1992, 1996
Medals: 5 (4 gold, 1 silver)
Bleacher says: "Janet Evans' career is a cautionary tale in judging Olympic athletes solely by their medal counts.Though her five medals might not seem like a lot by swimming standards, one should note that Evans, because she specialized in distance events, never had the benefit of competing in an Olympic relay."

6. Matt Biondi (Swimming)
Overall rank: 16
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992
Medals: 11 (8 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
Bleacher says: "At the 1988 Seoul Games, Matt Biondi became just the second swimmer to win seven medals at one Olympiad."


5. Edwin Moses (Track)
Overall rank: 14
Olympics: 1976, 1984, 1988
Medals: 3 (2 gold, 1 bronze)
Bleacher says: "With victories in 122 consecutive races between 1977 and 1987, Edwin Moses dominated the 400-meter hurdles unlike any runner in any event over any era."

4. Mary Lou Retton (Gymnastics)
Overall rank: 11
Olympics: 1984
Medals: 5 (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)
Bleacher says: "There have been more talented American gymnasts. There have been more accomplished American gymnasts. But if you're looking for the most influential U.S. gymnast in history, the conversation begins and ends with Mary Lou Retton."

3. Greg Louganis (Diving)
Overall rank: 9
Olympics: 1976, 1984, 1988
Medals: 5 (4 gold, 1 silver)
Bleacher says: "Greg Louganis' Olympic career had all the markings of greatness: from the trauma of his 1988 head injury and subsequent recovery to his decade-long reign as the world's greatest diver to the unparalleled grace with which he performed."

2. Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Track and Field)
Overall rank: 5
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996
Medals: 6 (3 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
Bleacher says: "Voted the greatest female athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, Jackie Joyner-Kersee made her name at the Olympiads of the late 1980s and early 1990s."

1. Carl Lewis (Track and Field)
Overall rank: 2
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996
Medals: 10 (9 gold, 1 silver)
Bleacher says: "Across two decades, and in some of the most widely contested events on the planet, Carl Lewis was a cut above.
Overshadowed somewhat by his post-career buffoonery—national anthem travesties, first-pitch follies and the like—let us not forget that Lewis was also one of the top clutch athletes in sports history."