More Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
Let’s commemorate some more of the greatest moments in Winter Olympic history.
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1932 Lake Placid
Image source (Luftwaffe Captain Werner Zahn is presenting the world championship trophy to Billy Fiske during Feb. 15 ceremonies at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. At left, Paul Stevens of second-place U.S. team holds microphone. Other gold medalists on Fiske sled are (left to right): Edward Eagan, Clifford Gray and Jay O’Brien. German driver Hans Kilian is behind Gray; at far right is Swiss driver Reto Capadrutt.)
At the tender age of only 16, William “Billy” Fiske III (1911 – 1940) steered the five-man U.S. bobsledding team to gold at the 1928 St. Moritz Games, becoming the youngest gold medallist in the sport. Four years later at the 1932 Games, he led a four-man team, considered to be one of the most eccentric team ever assembled in Olympic history, to another golden triumph. Fiske was invited to the 1936 Winter Games to be held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but declined due to his disagreement with German politics. However, Fiske’s heroism was not immortalized on the sporting field. In 1940, He became the first American pilot to die in World War II, when he fought for Britain’s Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.
The other members of this extraordinary four-man team were: Clifford Gray (born Percival Davis, 1887-1941), a British songwriter-actor, whose best known song “If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)” (1916), which is heard in films as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Cat’s Meow (2001); Edward “Eddie” Eagan (1897-1967), who remains the first and only person to win both Summer and Winter Olympic golds—he earned a gold in boxing at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games; and Jay O’Brien (1883-1940), who, at 48, became the oldest Olympic gold medallist in bobsledding and the third oldest in the entire history of Winter Olympics.
Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards was the first ever competitor to represent the United Kingdom in Olympic ski jumping. But this clumsy, bespectacled former plasterer with a lovable goofy appearance would soar like an eagle, actually more like a dodo, into the hearts of Olympic fans around the globe. Many members of the skiing community felt he was making a mockery of their sport, but the world thought otherwise. It seemed like that the worse he performed, the more popular he became. He was quoted saying, “To have jumped and still be alive—it’s a thrill”, even if he finished dead last in both the 70-meter and the 90-meter jumps. His defeat did not stop him from releasing a book and video, recording a chart-topping song in Finland “Mun Niemi En Eetu” (”My Name is Eddie”) and appearing in numerous advertising campaigns on television.
Not long after the 1988 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) instituted what became known as the “Eddie the Eagle” rule requiring that all Olympic hopefuls to finish in the top fifty percent of international competition, virtually eradicating Edwards’ chances from participating in future Games. Nonetheless, Eddie the Eagle will be making a comeback as he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in the relay for the 2010 Vancouver Games on January 7, 2010 as it makes its way across Canada.
1980 Lake Placid
Eric Heiden never sought the glory, but accomplished what fellow Olympian Dan Jansen labeled as “the single greatest feat in the history of sports.” This thunder-thighed 21-year-old pre-med student collected five gold medals, setting four Olympic records (500 m, 1,000 m, 1,500 m, and the 5,000 m) and breaking the world record by 6.2 seconds in his final event, the demanding 10,000-meter race. His winning 5 individual golds at the 1980 Games certainly ranks among the greatest individual performance in Olympic history, tied only by Michael Phelps who won 8 eight medals at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, comprising of 5 individual and 3 relay golds. No other Olympian had won more individual gold medals at a single Olympics, be it Summer or Winter. Everyone seemed very impressed with his performance except Heiden, who remarked “Heck with the gold medals, what can you do with them? I’d rather get a nice warmup suit. That’s something I can use. Gold medals just sit there. When I get old, maybe I could sell them if I need the money.” Heiden is the only speed skater to make the list of ESPN’s “50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century” in 1999.
Shizuka Arakawa initially planned to retire after the 2004 World Championships but changed her mind when she earned the World title. She struggled with injury the succeeding year, disappointingly slumped to 9th place at the 2005 Worlds. Instead of quitting on such a down note, she became even more motivated to prove her detractors wrong and regain top form by hiring Belarus figure skater Nikolai Morozov as her coach, a decision that would pay off handsomely.
At the 2006 Games, Arakawa was in third place behind heavy favorites, Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya, after the short program, with less than a point separating the three. However, both Cohen and Slutskaya fell during their long program. Arakawa took advantage of the situation and snatched the gold by skating a clean yet emotionally-charged presentation combined with graceful speedy moves and technically flawless jumps. She finished with 191.34 points, a whopping 7.98 points ahead of Cohen, who took second place. With this feat, she became the first Japanese, also the first Asian, to earn the gold medal in Olympic figure skating, a sport usually won by North American and European nations. Furthermore, what makes her accomplishment so special was the fact that she was the only Japanese athlete to win a medal in the entire 2006 Games.
Hermann Maier was the favorite to medal in all alpine skiing events, having dominated the alpine World Cup competitions in the several months leading up to the Nagano Games. But on his very first event, the downhill competition, he lost an edge and tumbled down the hill, slamming through two safety fences before settling on a patch of snow on the edge of the course. Well, he could be dead! The remarkable thing was that Maier merely dusted himself and skied away after remaining still for a few minutes. Not simply content with securing his place of Olympic immortality with such a spectacular crash, he went on to win the Super-G three days later, and the Super Slalom another three days after. His Olympic success and his seemingly indestructible nature earned him the nickname “The Herminator,” in allusion to the Terminator films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
2002 Salt Lake City
Since Australia has never been known as a superpower in winter sports, speed skater Steven Bradbury knew he could never outrace a field headed by 19-year-old American short track skating sensation Apolo Anton Ohno, fast rising 16-year-old Korean star Ahn Hyun Soo, Chinese multiple Olympic medallist Li Jiajun and Canadian Matthew Turcotte. So his strategy was to stay close behind and patiently wait for chaos, which is exactly what happened.
Ohno was leading the pack in the 1,000 meter race with just about 20 meters from the finish line, when Li tried to overtake him when the two collided. Ohno then brought down Ahn and Turcotte as he sprawled across the ice, causing a massive wipeout. Lurking far behind, Bradbury simply glided across the finish line, lifting his arms in utter disbelief and astonishment. Ohno immediately staggered and stumbled to finish the race claiming the silver, despite a gash in his leg that required six stitches; while Turcotte got up in time to take the bronze. By his accidental triumph, Bradbury became the first Australian, and the first person from the entire southern hemisphere, to ever win a Winter Olympic event.
One thing is definite in the men’s singles figure skating competition during the 1988 Games: A person named Brian was going to skate off with the gold. American Brian Boitano, the 1986 World champion, was leading by a tiniest of margin over Canadian Brian Orser, the 1987 World champion, going into the highly anticipated face-off for figure skating dominance, dubbed informally as the “Battle of the Brians“. Boitano, the first to skate, performed a near-perfect long program; while Orser, under tremendous pressure to bring honor for the host nation, two-footed a landing and omitted his planned second triple axel—small mistakes sufficient to give Boitano the gold.
More articles on Greatest Athletes series:
- (Almost) Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Male Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- Greatest American Female Gymnasts
- Greatest American Male Gymnasts
- 10 Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time
- 10 Greatest Male Figure Skaters of All Time
Articles on the Olympics:
- Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Moments of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
- Unforgettable Moments of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
- Michael Phelps: The Greatest Olympian of All Time
Golden Olympic Performances:
- Men Singles Figure Skating
- Ladies Singles Figure Skating
- Men’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise
- Men’s Gymnastics – Pommel Horse
- Men’s Gymnastics – Still Rings
- Men’s Gymnastics – Horizontal Bar
- Men’s Gymnastics – Parallel Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Uneven Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Balance Beam
- Women’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise