50 images of winning moments from sports history
To reflect on sports history is to conjure up lasting images of winning moments. Whether these memories recall our favorite teams’ victories, Olympic and World Cup triumphs for our country, or career-defining plays for the athletes from posters on our walls, they’re often imprinted in both our minds and in famous photographs.
Visual markers in sports capture the rawest emotions of highly specific moments in sports history. Those images have the power to transport us back to our feelings at the time—even if, 20 years on, we can’t remember where we were. The United States women’s national team won the 1999 World Cup on home soil when, after 90 minutes of regulation and extra time, Brandi Chastain converted a game-winning penalty. Wherever we watched, the enduring memory is when Chastain tore off her jersey in victory, took to her knees, and raised both clenched fists to the sky. Her moment was so visually powerful that is has transcended soccer and come to represent patriotism.
Other winning moments in sports history are best emulated by one crucial play down the stretch, all at once showcasing will, talent, identity, and success; the time when the fragile line between the thrill of victory and agony of defeat hinged on a split-second choice despite a season’s investment. LeBron James’ example proved so significant, it earned a nickname in NBA Finals lore and Cleveland sports history: “The block.” His Game 7 chasedown stop of the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala inside two minutes stood for the Cavaliers team, the blue-collar nature of Cleveland, and the possibility of defeating the seemingly unbeatable.
And sometimes the best images are also the best way to honor the figures we’ve lost. When tragedy swiftly reminds us that sports are far from the most consequential thing in life, we can still look back on an athlete’s winning moment that felt larger than life, remaining grateful for their sacrifice on the court and bringing joy to millions.
Read on to explore the full collection of 50 images Stacker compiled showcasing various iconic winning moments in sports history. Covering achievements from a multitude of sports, these images represent stunning personal achievements, team championships, and athletic perseverance.
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1980: Team USA Hockey’s ‘Miracle on Ice’
At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, Team USA men’s hockey—composed primarily of amateurs—were heavy underdogs in their matchup with the tournament favorite Soviet Union. The American men trailed 3-2 heading into the third period but scored twice to spring the upset and prompt broadcaster Al Michaels’ famous question: “Do you believe in miracles?” Team USA beat Finland in the gold-medal game.
2015: Patriots’ Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl-winning interception
The Seattle Seahawks trailed Super Bowl XLIX, 28-24, with 26 seconds remaining on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. In an infamous coaching decision, Russell Wilson was called on to pass in lieu of a handoff to workhorse back Marshawn Lynch. Undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler read the slant and, in a bang-bang play, jumped the route and picked off Wilson to clinch Tom Brady and the Pats’ fifth Lombardi Trophy.
1998: Michael Jordan wins sixth and final NBA title
For the third straight season, head coach Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls reached the pinnacle of the NBA with Michael Jordan named Finals MVP. It was the duo’s sixth title together and second three-peat (1991–93), and they’d both depart following the conclusion: Jordan retired for the second time before joining the Wizards three years later, and Jackson went on to win five more titles with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
1954: Roger Bannister breaks four-minute mark in mile
British middle-distance runner Roger Bannister became the first to break four minutes in the mile at Iffley Road track in Oxford in 1954. Though his record would be broken just over a month later, his 3:59.4 mark was a historical achievement.
1999: United States women’s national team wins World Cup
After the 1999 Women’s World Cup championship match ended in a scoreless draw, the United States women’s national soccer team took down China in a penalty shootout, capped off by Brandi Chastain’s game-winner, and this celebration which is forever imprinted on the American sports conscience. At the time, the victory marked the USWNT’s second title, and it was made sweeter since they hosted on home soil at the Rose Bowl.
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2008: Michael Phelps wins record eight gold medals at Beijing Games
The American men’s victory in the 4x100-meter medley relay delivered Michael Phelps his record-breaking eighth gold medal at a single games. In breaking fellow American Mark Spitz’s seven golds in 1972, Phelps was part of two other relays and won five individual events. All but one victory set world-record times.
1958: Pele, Brazil soccer win first World Cup title
Behind then-17-year-old Pele, Brazil men’s soccer beat hosts Finland in Stockholm, 5-2, in the championship game. The legendary Pele and his teammate Vava (pictured) each scored twice.
1936: Jesse Owens wins 100-meter gold at Berlin Olympics
In the arena—and against the backdrop—of Hitler’s Germany, African American runner Jesse Owens shattered notions of Aryan supremacy. The Olympic icon won not only the 100 meters but also the 200, the 4x100 relay, and the long jump.
2009: Santonio Holmes’ Super Bowl-winning touchdown catch
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Super Bowl XLIII as favorites, but the five-time champions trailed 23-20 with 35 seconds left from the Cardinals’ 6-yard line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who won the title three years prior, found eventual MVP Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone for one of the most memorable victory-sealing plays in NFL history.
2008: Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer in Wimbledon marathon
Rafael Nadal had never won a grand slam outside of the French Open and faced five-time defending champion Roger Federer. The lefty outlasted the Swiss Maestro in a four-hour, 48-minute, five-set marathon—seven hours if you factor in two rain delays—that ended just as the sun disappeared. The duel remains inarguably one of the greatest tennis matches ever contested, and at that point was the longest in Wimbledon history.
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