Let's be honest: Those of us who aren't huge sports fans only watch an event like the Olympics in hopes that something insane will happen. The inspiring underdog story, the crazy misfit who wins by bending the rules -- you know, the shit they make sports movies about.
Fortunately, the Olympics have always been full of this stuff, and consistently prove that you can overcome almost anything if you're determined, insane, or both.
In 1900, the modern Olympics was only 4 years old and was still trying to prove itself as a legitimate event. So, while they had a lot of the same standard track and field events you're familiar with, the rules were, let's just say, rather lax.
As symbolized by this poster depicting a Greek goddess masturbating with the Eiffel Tower.
For example, you have the shenanigans surrounding the "men's coxed pair" rowing event. Seven teams were from the host country, France, with only the Belgians and the Dutch brave enough to send teams of their own. The Dutch team was hoping to just make it into the semifinals but suffered a setback when they found their coxswain (because "steerer" was not nearly as hilarious to say) had put on too much weight and would slow down the boat. So what do you do when your race is coming up and you're one member short due to obesity? You go grab some stranger off the street, that's what.
No, really -- rather than forfeit, Francois Brandt and Roelof Klein hit the streets of Paris and frantically began searching for someone who A) was not a fat-ass, B) knew how to steer a boat, and C) was Dutch. However, desperation kicked in and they waived the last two requirements, picking a random 12-year-old French boy from the streets of Paris and running with him to their boat.
"Stop screaming, ma'am, we just want to use your boy for some coxswaining."
Amazingly, the kid seemed to know what he was doing, and soon the Dutch team was out-sailing the stunned Frenchmen on their home turf. After a close race, Team Netherlands crossed the finish line first. After medals were given out and a few photos were snapped, the French boy vanished, presumably thrilled he just got paid a gold foil wrapped chocolate for playing pirates with some weird foreigners all day.
And because the Olympic committee back then didn't care about what constituted a national team, or what minimum age requirements were, or anything else, they called it a legitimate victory by a mixed-nation team. To this day, three names appear as the victors: Brandt, Klein, and Unknown cox.
AP via Fox Sports
While not a bad speed skater, Australian Steven Bradbury was an underdog in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City simply due to being well past his prime. But what he lacked in sheer speed, he made up for in patience. And so, he decided he would simply hang back and wait for the others to fail. Between the ultra-competitive South Korean team, the well-funded American and Chinese teams, and the "born for winter sports" Canadian team, there was a fierce pack of skaters up ahead of Bradbury. So why not just let them take each other out?
Being Australian, he just assumed that everything would kill everything else.
Honestly, we believe that what happened next provides a valuable life lesson to all of us:
First, in the quarter-finals Bradbury came in third, but Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon had nudged another skater and was called for cheating, allowing the cautious Bradbury to advance. Then, in the semifinals Bradbury was trailing in fourth place, waiting. And, sure enough, the other three skaters in the lead (all former medal winners) let competition get the better of them. They all crashed into each other, Stooges-style, allowing Bradbury to simply skate across the line into the finals, with a second-place finish.
"And my coach said two packs a day was too much."
But that kind of vaudevillian wackiness is a once-in-a-lifetime thing -- it's not like you can make it some kind of long-term strategy. Right? See, kids, this is why we watch sports
The finals would include home favorite Apolo Anton Ohno and three other former medal winners. Again, Bradbury quickly fell behind the pack. And again, he simply hung back and waited for some kind of Mr. Bean-esque slapstick pileup to rescue him.
Going into the final turn, there's Bradbury way the hell in back, in fifth place as they enter the final turn:
Then, just short of the finish line, the entire field crashes in front of him ...
... allowing Bradbury to calmly skate across the line for the gold:
"You suckers bought skates? I just borrowed these from one of the figure-skating flower girls."
Bradbury raised his arms in disbelief, having won Australia's first Winter Olympic gold medal ever. It was just like the plot of Cool Runnings, except this time the underdog competitor from a sunny country no one gave a chance to won just by deciding to chill out in the back and watch the super competitive skaters knock each other out. Hey, we'd watch that movie.
When Kipchoge Keino arrived in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympic Games, he did so as more than just an underdog. While Kenyans these days have a firm death grip on the sport of distance running, back then it had long been dominated by some of the whitest dudes ever to put on a pair of tiny shorts (seriously, the history of the 1,500 meter before that point is littered with names like Ron, Luigi, and freaking Herb).
To make things worse, doctors diagnosed Keino with gallstones during the games. He calmly said "screw it" and entered the 10,000 meter race, despite medical professionals saying he could actually die from running at all. Overcoming what must have felt like razor blades dagger-dicking his guts, he actually held the lead with two laps remaining. That's when it started to feel like a baby alien inside him was gnawing his innards, at which point he doubled over in pain and had to crawl off the track. For most men, that would have been the end of the matter.
He was determined to at least give the other guys a sporting chance.
But like a gallstone-infested phoenix, Keino rose up and finished his laps, though he would ultimately be disqualified for leaving the actual track. (Seriously, somebody couldn't have explained that to him before he got up and finished the race?) Four days later, his condition only getting worse, Keino would set off to run the 5,000 meter event, taking the silver (losing the gold by a whopping two-tenths of a second). And yet none of this would go down as his most ridiculously badass accomplishment of those games.
Now bedridden due to his condition, Keino rolled his sore ass out of bed the morning of the 1,500 meter race. He hurried to the bus that would take him to the stadium, but the gods took a piss on him once again when the vehicle promptly got stuck in traffic. Keino was not to be denied, however, so he recalled his childhood of running endless miles to his school bus in the high altitudes of Kenya, and fucking ran the remaining mile to the stadium, arriving minutes before the start of his official race.
Michael Fresco/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Oh, sweet, I'm still going to have enough time to warm up."
There, he faced the reigning champion and heavily favored Jim Ryun, who oh by the way had the benefit of not having to run through the city in order to get there. No matter -- Keino shrugged it off and destroyed Ryun by 20 meters -- the largest margin of victory in the history of the event.