When it comes to Olympic victories, what sets the winners apart from every other competitor on the field? You’d be surprised to find out that champions often win by a very small margin – oftentimes only a fraction of a second separates a gold and silver medalist.
While every gold medal win is well deserved, not all victories are necessarily earned on skill alone. In fact some of the greatest – and most talked about – victories in Olympic history became infamous because of the victor’s sheer dumb luck! Here are three of the most shocking, inspirational and completely accidental moments from the modern-day Olympics.
The miracle on ice
The year was 1980; the event, ice hockey. At the height of the Cold War, when Soviet and American relations were at their breaking point, these brave teams vied for the title of world champion of the ice-covered stage. While the Soviet Union was thought to be the clear favorite, luck and perfect timing had a different plan for this historic game. In the final moments of the last period of the match, the United States and the Soviet Union had both accumulated three goals. As now infamous television announcer Al Michaels counted down the final ten seconds of the game inquiring “do you believe in miracles?” the American team, consisting exclusively of amateur players, rocketed the puck past the Soviet goalie to solidify their ultimate victory. Whether you believe luck had a hand in the outcome, there’s no doubt that the historic play acts as the single most indelible moment in all of U.S. sports history – effectively immortalizing America as one of the luckiest countries in the world in the process.
A different strategy for success
The year was 2002; the event, speed skating. In a sport where even the smallest mistake can derail a victory, Australian Olympic athlete Steven Bradbury made a conscious decision that shook the foundation of Olympic norms in his 1,000m speed skating final. Allowed to skate only because of disqualifications and incapacitating injuries of his competitors, Bradbury resigned himself to losing the match but insisted on participating anyway. In the final fifty-meters of the race, a spectacular collision occurred that wiped out the four leaders, leaving victory in the hands of the only viable skater left standing: Bradbury. With renewed excitement, he skated quickly across the finish line winning Australia its first ever winter gold medal.
A vicious cycle
The year was 2016; the event, men’s individual road racing. On any given day long-distance cycling can be a particularly unforgiving sport, but on this particularly blistering day in Rio de Janeiro, that statement held new meaning. Greg Van Avermaet, professional cyclist and winner of two consecutive Tour de France titles, changed his fate in the final moments of the men’s championship race after his quick response-time kicked into gear to avoid certain disaster. Rivals Nibali and Sergio Henao were neck and neck, set to take gold and silver medals respectively, when by mere chance a collision took them out of the running altogether. With more than just a little luck on his side, Van Avermaet was able to avoid the crash and streak across the finish line earning him, and his home country of Belgium, the coveted gold medal.
The Olympic Games are a spectacle, full of heart-racing moments and awe-inspiring ability. The inspirational, unbelievable Olympic moments like these are incredible and unforgettable, and show that luck was on these athletes side at just the right time.