Sebastian Coe: Long before he became a politician and the face of the 2012 London Olympics organizing committee, “Seb’’ Coe was a British Olympic hero. He was one of the most exciting runners to watch, and his rivalry with countryman Steve Ovett remains one of the most sizzling in Olympic history. In 1979, Coe broke three world records in a 41-day span (800 meters, mile, and 1,500 meters). A year later, he added the 1,000-meter record to the list. Coe and Ovett dominated middle-distance running for nearly a decade. Coe won four Olympic medals – gold in the 1,500 in 1980 and 1984, and silver in the 800 in 1980 and 1984.
Daley Thompson: It wasn’t just back-to-back decathlon gold medals that made Daley Thompson so memorable, it was his charisma. The son of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother, Thompson competed in four Olympics and won in 1980 and 1984. When he won in Los Angeles in ’84, he took a victory lap wearing a sweatshirt that read: “Thanks America for a good games and a great time.’’ On the back, it said: “But what about the TV Coverage?’’, poking fun at the jingoistic U.S. network coverage. He also ran with Great Britain’s 4x100 meter relay team.
Steve Redgrave: The title of Most Decorated British Olympian of all time goes to rower Sir Steve Redgrave, one of just four athletes to win gold medals in five consecutive Olympic Games. Redgrave, 6-5, won gold at the 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He also won bronze in 1988. He twice was flag bearer for Great Britain in the Opening Ceremonies and is sure to be honored at the London 2012 ceremonies.
Kelly Holmes: It was impressive enough that Holmes won gold medals in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but truly remarkable that she did it at the age of 34. She is the oldest woman to win either event. Holmes ran track as a teen, but quit at 18 to enlist in the British army. She returned to the sport in 1992, and by the 1996 Atlanta Games was one of the world’s best. She finished fourth (by a tenth of a second) in the 800 meters in Atlanta, and won a bronze four years later in Sydney.
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Chris Hoy: He started cycling at age 6 after watching a BMX scene in the movie, ET, and he went on to win five Olympic medals. He made headlines at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after winning all three sprint gold medals: the team sprint with Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff, the Keirin and the Sprint. In 2000, he won silver in the team sprint. In 2004, he won gold in the 1km track time trial.
Ben Ainslie: He is unassuming, and his sport doesn’t garner the attention of track and field or swimming, but sailor Ben Ainslie won medals at four different Olympics, and that alone is worthy of notice. Ainslie won silver in Laser in 1996, gold in Laser in 2000, and gold medals in Finn in 2004 and 2008. He learned to sail at a young age with his father, Roddy, who captained a boat that competed in the first Whitbred Round the World race in 1973. The younger Ainslie went on to compete in the America’s Cup.
Matthew Pinsent: He won 10 world championships and gold medals at four Olympics, three of them on the same boat with legend Steve Redgrave. He won the Coxless Pair in 1992 and 1996, and also the Coxless Four in 2000 and 2004. The 6-5 rower retired in 2004 and now works as a sports broadcaster with the BBC.
Linford Christie: He isn’t universally loved, but sprinter Linford Christie will always be remembered for winning the 100-meter gold medal in 1992, four years after a doping test found traces of a banned stimulant. The Jamaica-born Christie, 32 at the time of the Barcelona Games, benefited from the absence of Carl Lewis, who was ill during the U.S. trials and didn’t qualify. World record holder Leroy Burrell of the U.S. was favored and had beaten him 10 straight times, but he was charged with a false start in the final and wound up fifth. Christie remains the oldest man ever to win the 100.
Mary Rand: The first female British athlete to win an Olympic gold in track and field. Rand won the long jump at the 1964 Games in Tokyo in one of the best performances ever. Four of her six jumps were personal bests, and she registered a world-record jump of 22 feet-2 and ¼ inches to win the gold. Later in the week she won a silver in the pentathlon and a bronze in the 4×100 meter relay.
Derek Redmond: He didn’t win a medal. Didn’t even make the final. But the image of Derek Redmond crossing the finish line in the 400-meter semifinal at the 1992 Olympics is indelibly etched in the minds of all who saw it. At the 150-meter mark, his right hamstring tore and he fell to the ground. The rest of the field passed him and crossed the finish. Medics brought out a stretcher, but he insisted on limping to the finish unaided. Upon seeing his son in distress, Jim Redmond ran through the stands, past security and onto the track. The father put an arm around his son’s shoulder and they finished the race together, a touching moment that makes every Olympic highlight film.