Only a handful of Olympic track runners are household names, but all deserve recognition for their great athletic feats. Track-running events at the Olympics include the sprint distances of 100, 200 and 400 meters; the middle-distance events of 800 and 1,500 meters; and the long distances of 5,000 and 10,000 meters, as well as the men's and women's 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays. The Olympic marathon is another iconic running event that falls under track and field and caps off the games.
Owens and Christie
Jesse Owens won four Olympic golds at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, three of them in running events: the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 meter relay. He overcame much discrimination, from within his home country of the United States and abroad, to participate in these games. Linford Christie is famous in Britain for being the only British runner, as of 2014, to have won gold medals in the 100 meters at four of the most prestigious running events in the world. He managed to earn a silver in the 1988 Seoul Olympics in the 100, and a gold in 1992 in Barcelona, but has been banned off and on from competition since due to use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Lewis and Johnson
Carl Lewis, one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, competed in four Olympic Games: Los Angeles, 1984; Seoul, 1988; Barcelona, 1992; and Atlanta, 1996. He captured the 1984 gold in the 100 meters by an unprecedented eight-foot margin; he also earned gold in the 200, and in the 4x100 meter relay. After breaking the two-decade-long world record for the 200 meters at the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials, American Michael Johnson won gold in both the 400 and the 200 at that year's games in Atlanta. Famed for a pair of golden Nike running shoes he donned during the Atlanta games, Johnson also won gold in the 400 during the Sydney games in 2000.
Bolt and Gatlin
Usain Bolt dominates the record books in the sprint-distance races and relays. Jamaican-born, Bolt won gold in the 100, the 200 and the 4x100 meter relay in Beijing in 2008, following that up by successfully defending his golds in all three, setting an Olympic record in the 100, in 2012 in London. American Justin Gatlin, who won gold in the 100, a bronze in the 200 and a silver in the 4x100 meter relay in Athens in 2004, earned notoriety after testing positive for testosterone, a banned substance, in 2006. He returned to the Olympics in 2012 to earn a bronze in the 100 meters.
Today's women build on the work of stars like Wilma Rudolph in the '56 and 1960 games (three golds), and "Flo-Jo" Joyner, a four-time medaler with three golds in 1988, and whose times in the 100 and 200 are still world records. More recent Olympic champions are led by Cathy Freeman, who won gold in the 400 meters at the 2000 Sydney games and silver in Atlanta in 1996. Freeman was famous for speaking out against the racist crimes Australia had committed against her Aboriginal ancestors. American Allyson Felix rose to fame at the 2012 games as the only woman to bring home three gold medals in track and field, winning the 200 and as a member of the winning teams in the 4x400 meter and the 4x100 meter relays. Felix's teammate in that world-record-setting 4x400 relay, Carmelita Jeter also brought home a silver in the 100 and a bronze in the 200 meters. Sanya Richards-Ross also made headlines at the 2012 games, bringing the U.S. gold in the 400 and in the 4x400 meter relay. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, deemed the "fastest woman in the world" at the 2012 games after defending the 100 meter gold she had earned in 2008 in Beijing, also won silver in the 200 and in the 4x400 meter relay, running for her home country of Jamaica.
Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj won two gold medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004 for his impressive performances in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters. He also earned a silver in the 1,500 in the 2000 games. A gold medal winner in the 10,000 meters at both the 2004 and 2008 games, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele also brought home a silver medal in the 5,000 meters in 2004 and a gold in the event in 2008, and as of 2014 still holds the Olympic record time in both the 5,000 and 10,000. Mo Farah, from Great Britain, thrilled hometown crowds in the 2012 games by winning a gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
Emil Zatopek, who won the gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and went on just a few days later to also win the marathon at the 1952 Helsinki games, is considered one of the greatest distance runners to have ever competed. Women have also made a name for themselves in the Olympic marathon. Shalane Flanagan won bronze in the 10,000 in Beijing and went on to compete, but not medal, in the London 2012 Olympics as a marathoner representing the United States. American Joan Benoit Samuelson won gold in the marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the year the event was introduced.