The Biggest Surprise Stars of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games have produced many champions. Of those, the majority were already rising stars or proven pros.
This list is not that majority.
The following athletes were the unknowns, the underdogs, or the has-beens.
Click on to see 15 stars that shocked nations around the world with their improbable victories.
15. Julia Mancuso
Event: Women's Apline Skiing - Giant Slalom
Year/Host City: 2006/Turin
Surprise because: She was suffering from hip dysplasia which caused her thigh muscles to tighten and aggravate her right knee; she had failed to medal in any other events. In fact, the much-hyped US ski team was looking to be an all-around embarrassment.
14. Steven Bradbury
Event: Men's Short Track Speed Skating - 1000m
Year/Host City: 2002 Salt Lake City
Surprise because: This guy is either a clown, a genius or both. Way outclassed, he was at the back of the pack.
When all the leaders fell over each other, he coasted to the gold.
And became an Aussie folk hero.
13. Wyndham Halswelle
Representing: United Kingdom (where else with a name like Wyndham?)
Event: Men's Athletics - 400m
Year/Host City: 1906/Athens
Surprise because: Well, because there was no element of surprise at all. None. You see, it's quite easy to win the gold in your event when you're THE ONLY COMPETITOR.
12. Ioannis Melissanidis
Event: Men's Gymnastics - Floor
Year/Host City: 1996/Atlanta
Surprise because: (a) He had failed to reach the finals in the previous two world championships.
(b) Greece hadn't medalled in gymnastics for about 100 years.
(c) He was up against gymnast goliaths Li Xiaoshuang of China, Vitaly Shcherbo of Belarus and Aleksei Nemov and Yevgeny Podgorny of Russia.
11. John Akii-Bua
Event: Men's Athletics - 400m hurdle
Year/Host City: 1972/Munich
Surprise because: (a) He beat out reigning Olympic champion David Hemery.
(c) He was the first African to win gold in an event under 800 metres.
10. Bode Miller
Event: Men's Alpine Skiing - Multiple
Medals: Gold, Silver (x3), Bronze
Year/Host City: 2010/Vancouver
Surprise because: He was supposed to be the hero of the 2006 Olympics, not the 2010.
This time around, expectations were low; he was coming off a ligament injury and had but 1 victory to his name for the previous two years.
9. Bryan Clay
Event: Men's Athletics - Decathalon
Year/Host City: 2008/Beijing
Surprise because: A year before, Clay had "endured injuries that knocked him out of the national and world championships."
8. Ted Ligety
Event: Men's Alpine Skiing - Combined
Year/Host City: 2006/Turin
Surprise because: (a) Spirits were down for the men's ski team after star Bode Miller was disqualified in the first leg of the slalom.
Then with a near-perfect slalom performance, he brought home the gold.
7. Tara Lipinski
Event: Women's Figure Skating - Singles
Year/Host City: 1998/Nagano
Surprise because: (a) She was up against skating genius Michelle Kwan--who at the present, is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.
6. Colette Besson
Event: Women's Athletics - 400m
Year/Host City: 1968/Mexico City
Surprise because: (a) She was an unknown and a teacher, not a full time athlete.
(b) British runner Lillian Board was a heavy favorite.
(c) She was in fifth place until the last 100m. Then made an unbelievable surge.
5. Kerri Strug
Event: Women's Gymnastics - Team
Year/Host City: 1996 Atlanta
Surprise because: After teammate Dominique Moceanu fell on both her vaults, the US team was in danger of losing their tenuous lead over the Russians.
Strug was the last to perform; on her first vault, she fell too, and injured her ankle.
It looked like it was all over, but then this happened.
4. Abebe Bikila
Event: Men's Athletics - Marathon
Medals: Gold, Gold
Year/Host City: 1960/Rome, 1964/Tokyo
Surprise because: In the 1960 Olympics:
(a) He was unknown. So unknown that at the start of the race, one of the media commentators said "And what's this Ethiopian called?"
(b) He was from a poor, humble background. A shepherd boy turned military guard.
(c) He ran barefoot.
(d) He was up against European Championship gold medal winner, Sergei Popov.
(e) He won in record time.
And in the 1964 Olympics:
(a) Forty days before the Olympics began, he had an emergency appendectomy. He was not expected to compete.
(b) He did compete. By mile 22, he was two and a half miles ahead of the nearest competitor.
(c) He broke the world record.
3. Rulon Gardner
Event: Greco-Roman Wrestling
Year/Host City: 2000/Sydney
Surprise because: He beat the unbeatable Alexander Karelin aka "Alexander the Great" aka "The Russian Bear" aka "The Experiment."
Karelin was on a 13-year unbeaten streak. Gardner had no previous championship titles, and was never before a world medalist.
It was "the miracle on the mat."
2. Soviet Basketball Team
Representing: The Soviet Union
Medal: Gold (controversial)
Year/Host City: 1972/Munich
Surprise because: As Houston Chronicle journalist Jerome Solomon states it, " "Prior to this one-point defeat, the U.S had won every gold medal in Olympic basketball history."
To this day the players on the Soviet squad are celebrated heroes in St. Petersburg.
1. US Hockey Team
Year/Host City: 1980/Lake Placid
Surprise because: (a) The Americans were all amateurs.
(b) The Soviet team was the most powerful USSR national team ever assembled. All pros. All proven. These guys practiced 11 months a year. Hockey was all the did, all they knew.
Just a year before, the Soviets had butchered the NHL All Stars 6-0 in the deciding game of a challenge series.
And remember, after beating the Soviets, the US team still had to go on to beat Finland for the gold.
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