The Olympics are special, there’s no doubt about it. Some of the greatest sports stories ever told come courtesy of the Olympic Games. From the Miracle on Ice to the Jamaican bobsled team, the Olympics have a knack for bringing out the best in people.
Of course, the Olympics aren’t all about team sports. Individual efforts from athletes like Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and Usain Bolt are legendary. That being said, there’s just something about teams of players that make things that much more exciting. Seeing Michael Phelps win his individual medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was fun, but watching his team win the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay, where Jason Lezak came from behind to beat the trash-talking French side, was absolutely thrilling.
It’s always tough to quantify what it means to be the greatest of all time. When it comes to Olympic teams, it really boils down to one of two things. The first is complete and total dominance. Being head and shoulders above the competition puts any team in the running for the GOAT. The second thing is underdog status. A team that scraps its way to the top, despite the fact that no one thinks they can do it, is also in the running. Most importantly, to be considered one of the greatest of all time, an Olympic team must win Gold.
15 1988 U.S. Men’s Volleyball
When you think of the greatest teams of all time, volleyball might not be the first sport to come to mind. In 1988, the U.S. Men's team entered the Olympic tournament with a serious chip on their shoulders. During the 1984 campaign, they won Olympic gold in Los Angeles, knocking off Brazil in decisive fashion. However, the Soviets sat out the Olympics that year and many saw the American's victory as a fluke.
By the time the 1988 Olympics rolled around, the Soviets were back in the games and ready to pick up where they left off. They were considered by many to be the favorites to win Men's Volleyball gold. After all, they had dominated the sport alongside Japan throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately for them, they met a determined United States team in the finals. The Soviets claimed the first set but the Americans bounced back in dramatic fashion, winning gold in just four sets.
14 2004 U.S. Women’s Soccer Team
The 1996, 2008, and 2012 U.S. Women's soccer teams could have all made this list easily as well, but it's the 2004 team that really stands out in the crowd. The lead-up to the 2004 games was already full of drama, as it was set to be the last hoorah for the fabled Fab Five. After their iconic 1999 World Cup win that saw Mia Hamm capture the heart of a nation, the Women's national team had disappointing showings in both the 2000 Olympics and 2003 World Cup.
Before the 2004 Olympics began, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Joy Fawcett had all announced that these games would be their last. Soon, Abbie Wambach and the rest of the new guard would be tasked with taking over the legendary squad. After dominating the group stage, the U.S. squad fought off an impressive Germany squad in the Semi-finals. In a fitting end to the games, Wambach scored the gold medal winning goal in the 112th minute of the finals against Brazil. The Fab Five went out on top and Wambach became the face of the new generation.
13 1976 Soviet Union Hockey Team
The Soviets were a dominating force throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Their hockey team, in particular, was considered nearly unbeatable. That is until a pesky team of American scrappers took them down in one of the greatest stories in sports history. If it wasn't for the Miracle on Ice, the Soviets would be much higher on this list.
The Soviet hockey team skated to an easy win during the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo and followed that up with a series of exhibition games against North American professionals. They carried their momentum to the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck and won gold in one of the most decisive performances to date, outscoring their opponents my a total of 40-11. Going into the 1980 games, the Soviets were once again heavy favorites. Unfortunately for them, a scrappy U.S. team was determined to knock them off their mantle. Even with their Lake Placid loss, the Soviet team of the 1970s is still one of the most dominant ever.
12 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey Team
The 1980 U.S. men's hockey team is not the most talented team of all time, not by a long shot, but they're one of the greatest nonetheless. That team played with more heart and conviction than any other. Between their underdog status, their raw skill, and the fact that they beat an unbeatable team, they easily earned their spot on this list.
The U.S. team was led by Herb Brooks, a man who was left off the 1960 gold medal-winning U.S. national team. The 1960 team pulled off a similar, albeit much less publicized, underdog story. Going into the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, the American team wasn't seen as much of a contender. The Soviets were considered by many to be utterly unbeatable. They were overwhelming favorites to win it all for a third straight games, but the author of this tale was American. In one of the most dramatic performances of all-time, the U.S. team dispatched the Soviets in the semi-final round and went on to beat the Finnish team to win gold.
11 2008 U.S. Men's Basketball Team
Ever since professionals were allowed to play, the Americans have been the team to beat when it comes to Olympic basketball. It seems like more often than not, the Americans beat themselves in the Olympics (or in the case of 1972, the refs beat them). That being said, two U.S. basketball teams stand head and shoulders above the competition. One of those teams is the 2008 Beijing squad.
Led by Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, the team dominated the competition. They won each of their eight games by a minimum of 11 points, with the gold medal game against Spain being the only game that they didn't outscore their competition by 20 or more. The American's biggest win came against Germany, who they outscored 106-57. All of this came after a supremely disappointing bronze medal in the 2004 games. Based purely on skill alone, there’s only one other basketball team in history that could have rivaled the 2008 Beijing squad.
10 1976 U.S. Men's and Women’s Swim Teams
There are quite a few amazing swim teams that could have made this list. The American men have dominated the pool for what seems like decades. The German women's teams of the 1970s were also particularly successful, but they were riddled with PEDs and, more importantly, beaten by a determined 1976 U.S. women's side. Despite several outstanding performances, the real standout from the 1976 Olympics was the U.S. women's 4X100m team.
That year, the U.S. men took down gold in 12 of 13 events, including both relays, while the German women claimed 11 of 13 gold. There were two team events for the women that year, the 4X100m freestyle relay and the 4X100 medley relay. Despite the fact that the German women were chock full of PEDs, the U.S. team still managed to beat them in the freestyle relay, destroying the previous world record time by four seconds.
In total, the U.S. men took home 27 of 39 possible medals that year, with the women adding an additional four silvers and two bronzes to their gold.
9 2014 Dutch Speed Skating Team
The Dutch speed skating team at the Sochi Olympics was about as dominating as they come. They were so good in fact, that many people suspected them of cheating in some way or another. The truth is, the Netherlands are really just obsessed with speed skating, especially long track speed skating. Throughout Olympic speed skating history, the Dutch have collected a staggering 105 long track medals.
At the 2014 Olympics, the Dutch team continued their dominance in overwhelming fashion. The squad took down 24 of 36 medals, including 21 of 30 individual medals, and broke the Olympic record for the most gold medals won by a single country in a single event. If that weren't enough, the Dutch team also swept the podium four times over the course of the Sochi Olympics. Collectively, the Dutch speed skating team at the 2014 games put on one of the most dominant displays in the history of the Olympics.
8 2012 U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team
First there was the Magnificent Seven, then there was the Fierce Five. Truthfully, both teams deserve their spots on the greatest of all-time list. The difference between the two teams is that one struggled their way to the top, and the other dominated the path to the point that anything less than Gold was a disappointment.
Seeing Kerri Strug fight through the vault on one leg is one of the most iconic moments in American Olympics history. While the Fierce Five might not have had that one truly defining moment, they had just about everything else. As far as pure talent is concerned, they were almost certainly the greatest Olympic team ever. They were the best and they knew it. The fact that they won by an unprecedented five points, when the Magnificent Seven won by less than a point, is testament to just how dominant they were. Not to mention, one of the most memorable parts of their run was McKayla Maroney being visibly unimpressed with her silver medal.
7 U.S. Beach Volleyball's Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are arguably the most dominant duo in any Olympic sport. Their record on Olympic sand is simply unprecedented. As partners, they won three straight gold medals and only ever dropped one set in Olympic play. That kind of utter team dominance is completely unmatched throughout the history of the Olympics.
For Misty May-Treanor, three straight gold medals was enough. Even before the 2012 London Olympics began, both she and Walsh Jennings knew that this was the end of the road for the May-Treanor. Walsh Jennings wasn't ready to throw in the towel though. Immediately after finishing off fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy to win gold, Walsh Jennings asked Ross to be her new partner, a proposal that Ross accepted almost immediately. It's that competitive spirit alongside heaps of incredible talent that allowed May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings to become the most dominant duo in Olympic history.
6 1936 U.S. Men's Rowing Team
For some reason, the 1936 Olympics were held in Nazi Germany. The 1936 U.S. Men's rowing team is one of the greatest of all-time based almost entirely on circumstance. The German men were dominating rowing that year, making Hitler and the Third Reich proud.
The final rowing event of the games was the men's coxed eight. Rowing for the Americans was a ragtag bunch of kids from the University of Washington that had been together for less than a year. Germany was expected to win the event easily, with Italy seen as their only real competition. Going into the final stretch, Germany held a commanding lead over the Americans. With several sick rowers, it should have been impossible for the U.S. team to catch up to Germany. Somehow though, they did. In the last few meters, they pulled even with both Germany and Italy. It was a photo finish that the Americans won by just over half a second. They may not be the winningest team in Olympic history, but shocking Hitler and all of Nazi Germany in such dramatic fashion makes the 1936 U.S. rowing team one of the greatest nonetheless.
5 2000 Cuba Women’s Volleyball Team
Cuba usually doesn't make much of splash at the Olympics, with one major exception. Their women's volleyball team is one of the most consistently dominant teams in Olympic history. Between 1992 and 2000, they won every single major international competition, including three consecutive gold medals.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the Cuban aging squad face their toughest challenge yet. Russia had brought their strongest team on record to the competition and were ready to give Cuba a run for the money. After dropping the first two sets in the final versus Russia, the Cubans came back to win three straight sets to take the match in convincing fashion. The comeback was spearheaded by the team's elder statesmen, Regla Torres. After the three Olympic golds and a decade of dominance, Torres would go on to be named "Best Female Player of the 20th Century" in 2001, capping off a historic run with the greatest Olympic volleyball team of all-time.
4 2004 U.S. Softball Team
The dominance of the U.S. softball team at the 2004 Olympics is truly incredible. The team didn't just beat everyone, they destroyed them. Pitch by pitch, they utterly dismantled the competition. A perfect 9-0 record is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. softball team outscored their competition 51-1 and shut out the first eight teams they faced. The singular run scored against the Americans came in the gold medal game. An over-matched Australian side managed to squeak out one run in a 5-1 loss that gave the U.S. their third straight gold.
It wasn't all about defense for the Americans though. With an Olympic record .545 batting average from Lisa Fernandez and a record five homers from Crystl Bustos, the rest of the competition really just didn't have a chance. For eight years, the U.S. softball team was the most dominant force in Olympic sports. They won 122 straight pre-Olympic warm-up games and nobody ever really challenged them for gold. The only thing that could beat the Americans was time itself.
3 2014 Canadian Women's Hockey Team
How do you do better than the three straight golds from the U.S. softball team? Four straight golds from the Canadian women's hockey team. While they might not have been quite as dominant, the Canadian women's hockey team still won gold in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, with a silver in 1998 to boot.
The Canadian team went into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi with a massive target on their back. Everyone wanted to take down the reigning champs, with an especially talented American squad poised to knock them off their pedestal. With less than a minute left in the gold medal game, the Americans were up by one.
Miraculously, Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin managed to score a last second goal to bring her side even and send the game into overtime. Then, nearly halfway through the overtime period, she scored the game winning goal to give Canada its fourth straight gold medal, solidifying them as one of the most consistently great teams in Olympic history.
2 1928-1956 India Men’s Field Hockey Team
Field hockey might not be the first sport to come to mind when you think about the Olympics, especially for Americans. For India though, Olympic field hockey is a big deal. From 1928 to 1956, India's men's team won gold in every single Olympic games. Because of World War II, the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled, meaning that from 1928 to 1956, India won six straight Olympic golds in men's field hockey, instead of what would have likely been eight.
During their historic streak, the Indian team went through several different rosters. At the end of their run, both Leslie Claudius and Udham Singh, who are considered to be the two best players in Olympic field hockey history, were both playing for India. India's streak was snapped in 1960 when they lost to Pakistan in the gold medal game. Four years later though, at the 1964 Olympics, India once again recaptured gold.
1 1992 U.S. Men's Basketball Team
They're called the Dream Team for a reason. The 1992 U.S. men's basketball team was a collection of the best basketball players of all time. Led by Michael Jordan, they were never going to be called the underdogs. With Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and more, the Dream Team was truly a spectacle.
They backed up their star power with some seriously incredible numbers. Throughout the competition, they outscored their opponents by an average of 43.8 points. Croatia gave them their hardest test in the gold medal game, which the Americans won by only 32 points. Barkley led the way in scoring, averaging 18 points a game while shooting .875 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Jordan averaged 14.9 points a game on the road to becoming the greatest basketball player the world has ever seen. When the dust had settled, the American Dream Team was by far the greatest team the Olympics had ever seen.
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