Olympic Heroes Then & Now

updated 07/15/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Whether the setting is Athens 1896 or Atlanta 1996, capturing the gold requires a single-minded devotion to excellence and an awesome ability to overcome internal and external hurdles—injuries, illnesses, family tragedies, racism, war, political upheaval. As the stories in this special section attest, the qualities that forge the soul of a champion endure long after the last echoes of applause have faded. Life is their victory lap.

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