The Winter Olympic Games were first held in 1924 and were contested 20 more times through 2010, offering ample examples to draw from for a list of five very unexpected results in the history of the Games.
The selections below comprise a sampling of what I believe are among the most noteworthy team and individual results for this discussion:
5) Dan Jansen-1994: American Dan Jansen was one of the world’s best speedskaters from the late-1980s through 1994, capturing a number of world titles and establishing world records at 500 and 1,000 meters. However, he failed to perform up to expectations at consecutive Olympics in 1988 and 1992.
First, at the Calgary Games, Jansen was dealing with a family tragedy and fell in both of his races. Four years later at the Albertville Games, he skated poorly and did not achieve a podium finish in his two events.
With a third opportunity to compete in 1994 in Lillehammer after the decision to stagger the Summer and Winter Olympics, Jansen came up short again in the 500 meters, which was usually his best event.
But in the 1000 meters, he concluded his Olympic career with a new world-record time of 1:12.43 for the gold, and is admired to this day by many for his perseverance in overcoming adversity.
4) Steven Bradbury-2002: Representing Australia, short-track speedskater Steven Bradbury was not considered a favorite for a medal of any type at the Salt Lake City Games.
In the 1000-meter final, Bradbury was trailing the other four competitors in the last circle of the oval. While the leaders were jostling for position, China’s Li Jiahun took a tumble and the other three skaters around him got entangled and also fell to the ice.
Bradbury, with a look of complete disbelief on his face, took advantage of the golden opportunity by avoiding the carnage in his path and cruised unimpeded past the finish line for the Olympic title.
3) Francisco Fernandez Ochoa-1972: Spain’s Ochoa had put together a nondescript career in alpine skiing in the years preceding the Sapporo Games and was certainly not viewed as a medal contender in the Olympic slalom.
The pre-race favorites were Jean-Noel Augert of France and Italy’s Gustavo Thoeni and they seemed destined to fight it out for the gold.
But Ochoa skied much faster than the rest of the field in his first run down the slope, and captured the gold after the second one when the favorites failed to reduce his lead. The Spaniard won with a combined time of 1:49.27 for a one-second margin of victory over Thoeni, while Augert finished a disappointing fifth.
2) 1960 U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Team: Most Americans are aware of the U.S. defeat of the Soviet Union in ice hockey on the way to gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics, but many have no knowledge of the identical feat accomplished by the U.S. ice hockey team at the Squaw Valley Games two decades earlier.
Sometimes referred to now as the “Forgotten Miracle,” the U.S. ice hockey team earned the gold medal with seven consecutive victories, including wins over Canada, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Sweden.
The U.S. took a thrilling victory over Canada in the medal round by a 2-1 score, and then vanquished the Soviet Union, 3-2. The gold medal was then secured with a come-from-behind 9-4 rout of Czechoslovakia.
1) 1980 U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Team: In what was expected to be an easy win for the Soviet Union’s ice hockey juggernaut against an overmatched U.S. team in the semifinals at the Lake Placid Games, the Americans stunned the world and generated an outpouring of national pride with a hard-fought 4-3 victory on home ice.
After sportscaster Al Michaels summed up the contest in the final seconds with the stirring call, “Do you believe in miracles?,” the game became known in American popular culture as the “Miracle on Ice.”
The shocking victory over the Soviet Union gave the American men great momentum heading into the gold-medal game against Finland, which the U.S. went on to win by a 4-2 score for the Olympic title.