The sport of gymnastics is often thought of as an individual one. Sure, there's a team competition at each Olympics, and winning the gold medal is a source of national pride. However, it seems inconceivable that one would risk permanent disability to help his team win a gold medal.
In 1976, that's just what Shun Fujimoto did. The 26-year-old suffered a devastating injury during his final tumbling run in the floor exercise within the team competition. It turned out he had broken his right kneecap. However, the Japanese were in a tight race with the Soviet Union for the gold medal. So Fujimoto hid his injury and moved to the next event—the pommel horse. Despite the pain, Fujimoto managed to score a 9.5.
His next event was the rings, an impossibility with a broken knee, right? Fujimoto performed the routine of his life, scoring a career-high 9.7. He finished with a twisting triple-somersault dismount, sticking the landing with his right knee somehow buckling only slightly. According to Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite, Fujimoto gritted his teeth and, with tears in his eyes, raised his arms in triumph. Fujimoto then staggered away, collapsing into the arms of his coach.
Fujimoto had dislocated his kneecap and torn ligaments on his dismount. Still, he wanted to continue, planning to ask for a pain-killer in the infirmary. Doctors were horrified and ordered him to withdraw from the competition. One told Fimrite, “How he managed to do somersaults and twists and land without collapsing in screams is beyond my comprehension.”
Fujimoto's performance, understandably, inspired his teammates. Despite finishing the event one man short—the top five scores out of six gymnasts were used in the team competition – the Japanese won the gold medal on the final event in the closest competition in Olympics history (576.85-576.45).