The history and inspiration to such a question could be a lifetime of study in itself. In the modern era I would not know where to begin. For Summer Olympics, Track and Field, it will always be Jesse Owens for me. He inspired an entire race of people who were still yet to be declared "equal" in the United States, and were the subject still of terrible racism in Europe. What he did under Hitler's nose was one of those once is a millenium things that have the handprint of God on it. I was second all around track for my city in 5th grade. My interest dropped off later, but I was a fast little thing at 10 years old. I remember the TV programs about Jesse as a child and was inspired at a time when the 60's unfolded. Every Olympics seems to make someone extraordinary come forward. While I am in awe of Phelps' longevity, and Gabby Douglas' meteoric rise in a sport that is so hard, it is people like Oscar competing with people with perfect bodies while he has prosthetics that amaze me and touch me far more.
We likely have a lot more winter heros and heroines at GS, but it would be cool to hear about who inspires you and why, in this or any Olympiad. For Hockey, there are two matches, when the little American team beat the vaunted Russian team-was it 1982? I have to look it up, but it was a miracle when you look at the makeup of the teams. The Cnadians winning by 1 point in Vancouver was thrilling and it was meant to be. Poor Canada would have gone on a week long binge. It was thrilling Hockey tho we (usa) lost.
For skating, which brings us all here, I have a lot of favorite Olympians and fondly remembered Oly performances. The Olympic performance that hooked me on skating was Peggy Fleming when I was a little girl. i vividly remember her green dress, the outdoor rink, and her balletic approach to the sport. I never could skate well, weak ankles I guess, but that Grenoble Olympics opened my eyes to a beautiful place with a beautiful woman who glided around on the ice. She is unforgettable. The Olympic skater I admired most was Dorothy Hammil as she seemed scared, yet did well. Then she exploded into consciousness and everyone got the hairdo. She was beyond pretty. Forever they are great skaters who defined female ice skaters until Michelle Kwan came along to a younger generation. All three inspire me, but Dorothy went through much more to get where she went and stay there.
Olympic performances that thrilled me were the Battle of the Brians. The atleticism was perfect, and they were elegant too. I recall two male skaters of the seventies that made me think I was watching Nureyev on skates. In 1976, I recall seeing John Curry, and thinking male skaters could be as elegant as the women and do bigger jumps. Another Harvard skater was a man named John Mischa Petkevich. I do not recall what event I saw John in. It could have been the Olympics. The beauty of what they did defines figure skating for me. The performances from the Olympics I thought were worthy of the Olympics were many. When I think of non single Olympians that stay in my mind to this day (and that is not easy, rueful smile) I think of the Russian pair team Rodnina and Zaitsev. I recall speed, power, and perfect unison. I don't think they have an equal. Later another Russian pair would be perfectly romantic and very different, but this R/Z seemed to me what pair skating was supposed to be. In Nagano, there were four inspiring performaances, the best ladies podium ever, and an icedance team from Canada that would never win the medals they should. Bourne and Kraatz were the best team, and I felt as good as the famed British pair who became legends for life after Sarajevo.
As for other winter Olympians, I loved the midwestern girl, Bonnie Blair. She was so wholesome and such an athlete. Dan Jansen thrilled me when he finally won gold. Anton Apolo Ohno's determination with his father made me happy for him. The fearlessness of Shaun White and the joy his smile brings thrill me. One of the bravest and ultimately luckiest skaters is Elena Berezhnaya. It couild have ended so differently. And when I think of Paul I am thankful for Anton S who's love healed Elena to win gold.
There are so many sports besides skating in the winter, but skating consumes me. It is like nothing else exists while waiting for the Olympians who figure skate. I am sure others here are less myopic. Gymnastics is as fascinating as figure skating. The magnificent 7 and Keri Strug were the best. Watching Nadia make her perfect 10 and the expllosion of Bela Karolyi into America. Mary Lou was amazing, a force of personality. The earlier Russian women, Olga Korbut, Ludmila Tourischeva defined gymnastic excellence for me for a long time.
Who inspires you and why from any Olympiad? Every one is this place where several thousand athletes dream their biggest dreams.