Since the return of the Olympic Games in modern times, the United States has churned out a large number of dominant track and field athletes. Many notable Olympic records and achievements have come through the efforts of these elite performers. They are one of the reasons the Summer Olympics has grown into such a popular sporting event.
These 10 athletes stand out as true American icons in the sport:1. Jesse Owens: No one stands as a bigger icon in the sport for Team USA than Owens because of his impact on modern sports history. Owens will be forever remembered as the athlete who defied Adolf Hitler's grand plan to turn the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a showcase for racial superiority. Owens won four gold medals in Berlin. He prevailed in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and ran on the winning 4x100 relay. Owens held a record mark of 26 feet and 8.5 inches in the long jump for 25 years.
2. Carl Lewis: Among track and field athletes, Lewis is in a class by himself. He is the only one to win nine gold medals and earn four of those gold medals in the same event. Lewis won the long jump at the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Games. Lewis had been ranked No. 1 in the world for three consecutive years in both the 100 meters and long jump when he made his Olympic debut. He won the long jump 65 consecutive times in Olympic and world competition at the height of his career. Lewis also matched the Olympic sweep Owens engineered at Los Angeles in 1984.
3. Michael Johnson: Achieving seemingly impossible milestones defined Johnson's Olympic career. He became the first runner to win both the 200 meters and 400 meters in the same Olympics at Atlanta in 1996. Johnson became the first to repeat in the 400 when he won gold at Sydney in 2000. He also won 4x400m relay gold medals in 1996 and 2000. Johnson still holds world records in the 200 and 400 meters.
4. Evelyn Ashford: No other female U.S. track athlete has matched Ashford in winning gold medals. Ashford ranked as the top American sprinter seven times in her career and was No. 1 in the world four times. She won five Olympic medals -- all but one were gold. Ashford won the 100 meters at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, an event where she set world records twice during her running career.
5. Florence Griffith-Joyner: More than two decades after her last Olympic appearance, Griffith-Joyner still holds the world records for the 100 meters and 200 meters, She blew everyone away at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Griffith-Joyner won gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay. She also claimed silver in the 4x400 relay.
6. Al Oerter: If any athlete set the standard in discus, it had to be Oerter. He won four consecutive Olympic gold medals in discus and remains the only athlete to accomplish that feat. Oerter was considered an underdog each time out, but he won set a new Olympic record four consecutive times. He was the first discus thrower to surpass 200 feet in 1964 and hit his best Olympic mark in 1968 with a throw of 212 feet and 6 inches.
7. Jackie Joyner-Kersee: No female athlete has a stronger argument for being the greatest all-around athlete in Olympic history. Joyner-Kersee still holds the world record of 7,291 points in the heptathlon. She won back-to-back gold medals in 1988 and 1992 and earned a silver medal in 1984 in the event. Joyner-Kersee was the first woman ever to break 7,000 points in the heptathlon. She also won gold in the long jump in 1988 and followed up with back-to-back bronze medals in 1992 and 1996.
8. Bob Richards: More than half a century after he last competed in the Olympics, Richards remains the only Olympic athlete to win consecutive gold medals in pole vault. He competed in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Games as a pole vaulter. Richards won a bronze his first time around and gold each subsequent time. He also placed 13th in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics.
9. Bob Beamon: In his only Olympic appearance, Beamon rewrote the record book on the long jump. His gold medal-winning jump of 29 feet and 2.5 inches at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics broke the existing world record at the time by 55 centimeters . Beamon's record would stand for another 23 years before Mike Powell finally eclipsed it in 1991.
10. Gail Devers: A bout with Graves Disease could not stop Devers from becoming one of the most dominant sprinters and hurdlers of her time. Although she never finished better than 4th in the 100-meter hurdles at the Olympics, she was a 10-time national champion in the event. Devers won back-to-back gold medals in the 100 meters at the 1992 and 1996 and added a third one in the 4x100 relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
John Coon has covered multiple Olympic sports as a reporter in Salt Lake City. He considers the Summer Olympics to be one of his favorite sporting events.