The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

The Olympics have always been full of underdog stories, and consistently prove that you can overcome almost anything if you're determined, insane, or both.
The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

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.

A Kidnapped Child Helps the Dutch Win Gold

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

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.

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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.

Steven Bradbury Just Waits for Everyone Else to Crash (and They Do)

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals
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?

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

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.

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"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:

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Then, just short of the finish line, the entire field crashes in front of him ...

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... allowing Bradbury to calmly skate across the line for the gold:

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"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.

Kipchoge Keino Has to Run to the Stadium, Then Win the Race

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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.

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals
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.

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Emil Zatopek Wins a Marathon Despite Not Knowing How Marathons Work

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

First of all, this is Emil Zatopek:

The Hindu

Who apparently lacks sweat glands.

This entry isn't about his facial expressions -- we just wanted to point that out. In the 1930s, the Czechoslovakian started his athletic career when the shoe company he was working for forced him to run races. He had an unorthodox running style, because it wasn't like he had any real training.

EPA via The Guardian

He intimidated other runners by always looking like he was about to die.

Zatopek competed in a few events here and there, including leading the Czechoslovakian team to victory in a few shorter distance races, and winning the bronze for the 10 kilometer race in the 1948 Olympics. But in 1952, for the Helsinki games, he decided to run the marathon as well -- something he had never run, or even trained for. He wasn't even totally sure of the rules.

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"Like ... we just run, right?"

Against all odds, he kept up with the leading runner, Jim Peters, purely because he wanted to ask him if the current pace was too fast. (Peters sarcastically told him it was "too slow," which turned out to be true considering what happened next.)

When Zatopek came across the refreshment stations handing out water and fruit slices to the runners, he didn't take anything ... because he was afraid they'd charge him for it. So he went the whole 26.2 miles not even getting a sip of water simply because he had no idea marathon runners needed to drink tons of water to stay running. Or at least they did until Zatopek came along.

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals

"Why don't you just store it in your hump?"

Despite being dehydrated and no doubt worrying about getting stuck with a hefty refreshments bill due to a lemon he briefly touched at the 12-mile mark, he won the marathon, shattering the record in the process. It was hardly a freak occurrence -- Zatopek would go down as one of the greats (including finishing sixth in the 1956 games despite running with a freaking hernia against doctors' orders). Proving once again that crazy beats experience every time.

Im Dong-Hyun Dominates Archery, Can't See the Target

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals
AP via Yahoo Sports

South Korean Im Dong Hyun set the world record in archery during the 2012 London Olympics by scoring a 699 out of a possible 720. Not a big deal, considering that the record he broke was his own. Or maybe it is a big deal, considering he's blind.

OK, not blind blind -- he has 20/200 vision, which means that he needs to be 10 times closer to an object to see it the way you do, and that the target he's aiming at would be nothing more than a tiny orange blur (and no, he doesn't wear corrective lenses). But that hasn't stopped Im from becoming the LeBron James of archery.

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals
Reuters/Ruben Sprich/Files (China)

But with much cooler eyewear.

So how in the possible hell is this man able to put an arrow into a grapefruit-sized target from nearly a football field away? He relies solely on muscle memory. After all, the target placement and distance for a particular event never change, so it's less about seeing and more about holding your arms in the exact perfect position, down to the millimeter (at that point, seeing the target actually just distracts you from getting your motion just right). Kind of like how there are people on YouTube who can beat Mario Bros. with their eyes closed. So it's all pretty simple, really. That is, as long as you're a superhuman arrow-slinging cyborg (Im can't even participate in other sports, because it could mess up the machine-precision muscle memory in his arms).

It also helps that South Korea does not fuck around when it comes to archery -- when they were preparing for the London games they actually built a replica of the Lord's Cricket Ground to practice, so it would look exactly the same. To add to the realism, they practiced in front of a full stadium, and announced archers' names in English to mimic the experience of being in London.

The 5 Most Insane Ways Underdogs Won Olympic Medals
Paul Gilham/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Stephen Fry was flown in at enormous expense.

Hell, it's almost like they intentionally picked a blind archer just to prove a point.

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Related Reading: Hey, did you know there are no gay people in Sochi? That's what the mayor claims. There's a lot of ugliness the Olympics try to hide, like the nonstop orgy going on in the village. Still, at least these Olympics give us a chance to beat the bad guys.


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