The 10 greatest shocks and surprises in the Winter Olympics

The Winter Games, for all the thrills, spills and excitement they generate, live in the shadow of their bigger, bolder, more brash summer cousin.

Monday, 12th February 2018, 12:06 pm
Updated Monday, 12th February 2018, 12:10 pm
Winter Olympics 2018.


Think ‘Olympics’ and you’re most likely to think of Usain Bolt hurtling down the track at the speed of light or the deafening crescendo of a velodrome crowd as another world record gets smashed.

On that score the Winter Games gets a bad rep.

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They may generate less global superstars than the Summer Games but in terms of stories and quirkiness we’d argue that the Winter Olympics win the round, hands down as you can see in this infographic created by

Click HERE for the 10 greatest surprises in the Winter Olympics - shocks, surprises, weird and crazy happenings - they are all here!

1. Arguably one of the greatest sporting stories of all time. Four guys from Jamaica, accustomed to the swaying palm trees of the Caribbean, wholly unaccustomed to the feel of snow and ice, are thrown together to represent Jamaica in the bobsleigh event in 1988.

Funded by the Jamaican Tourist Board and a local businessman, an advertising campaign for potential recruits proved fruitless, so a team was commandeered from the Jamaican Defence Force.

En route to Calgary, however, they were bested by setback after setback, including a late injury to one of the four-man bob team, which necessitated the call up one of the team’s brother who had never ever set foot in a bobsleigh before.

Unbelievably, the four-man bob team finished in 30th place out of the 41 teams competing – a remarkable achievement – but the real story centred around the four-man “rookie” bob team.

On their third run they flipped the bob on one of the course’s trickier bends and it ended up on top of the four athletes. They climbed out and pushed the bobsleigh to the finish line.

Unfortunately, they were unable to complete their fourth and final run and so were classed as ‘did not finish’ and in last place, but the seeds of legend had been sown, as evidenced by Disney’s adaptation of the story, Cool Runnings.

2. A Frenchman by the name of Jean-Claude Killy entered the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, (France) with no Olympic medals to his name. Yet, he emerged a national hero and an international superstar.

Killy, despite having little Olympic pedigree, started the competition as a hot favourite – having been very successful at the 1966 World Championships – and duly delivered the first gold medal of three when he narrowly won the downhill competition.

Next up for Frenchman was the giant slalom event and this time the victory was comfortable – with a two-second margin over second place.

The hat-trick – and superstardom – was duly delivered when in controversial circumstances he won the final skiing event.

3. Not since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean iced-danced their way to gold in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, did the UK have even a sniff of victory in the Winter games.

Yet all this changed in Salt Lake City 2002, when the female team, curled its way to an unexpected glory, witnessed by 7 million Brits.

Captained by Rhona Cameron, the team – also comprising Debbie Knox, Fiona MacDonald and Janice Rankin – struggled to make it to the semi-finals and only did so by winning two successive tie-break matches against Sweden and Germany respectively. However, against the highly fancied Canadians they upset the form book to earn themselves a place in the final.

In true Hollywood fashion, they belied their underdog status by claiming victory with Martin’s last stone of the competition to beat Switzerland in the gold medal match.

4. Another Winter Olympic story that has made the transition to Hollywood film. In 1994, on the eve of the US championships – which would determine who would represent the USA in the Lillehammer woman’s figure skating – one of the country’s top two skaters was attacked by a mystery man with a baseball bat.

As it transpired, the ex-husband of one of the two – Tonya Harding – had attacked her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, with a view to injuring her and rendering her unable to skate. Despite the injury Kerrigan was able to skate and the pair, amidst huge controversy, both represented the US in Norway.

Harding – for whom the controversy over whether or not she knew of the attack in advance has never gone away – was unable to cope with the pressure created by the incident and finished a disappointing eighth, while Kerrigan was able to rise above it all and earned a silver medal.

5. In the spirit of ‘Cool Runnings’ a Kenyan by the name of Philip Boit became his country’s first ever winter Olympian when he competed in the gruelling 10K Cross-Country Skiing event at the 1998 Nagano games.

Despite starting life as a useful middle-distance runner, Boit surprisingly opted for cross-country skiing and as a result secured his country’s first ever slot in the Winter Games.

Unsurprisingly, he finished in last place – a full 20 minutes behind the gold medal winner, Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie – but was afforded a hero’s reception upon reaching the finishing line and also upon his return home in Nairobi.

6. There must have been something in the Utah air in February 2002, for the Salt Lake City games are cropping up again in our infographic. This time it involves South Korean skater Kim Dong-Sung and his quest for gold in the 1500m short-track speedskating final.

Despite the South Korean crossing the line first, he was disqualified by the judges and the gold medal awarded to USA’s Apolo Anton Ohno – the skater he was alleged to have impeded.

South Korean fans and officials erupted and eventually took their protest to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but to no avail. To this day there is a sporting rivalry between the two countries that harks back to this incident.

7. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is another whose Winter Olympic exploits have made it onto the silver screen. Despite being self-funded and having no background or experience in the sport, Edwards, through grit, determination and perseverance, managed a 55 th place in the 1987 World Championships that ultimately earned him a place in the Calgary games.

Edwards, bespectacled and 9kg heavier than the next heaviest competitor, came last in both the 70m and 90m competitions but won a place in the hearts of fans and media alike. He never qualified for another Olympics.

8. In the history of the Olympic Games only five athletes have won medals at the Summer and Winter Games. Only one has claimed a gold medal at both.

Edward Eagan – an American boxer – won his first gold as a light-heavyweight in the Antwerp 1920 boxing competition but twelve years and a change of sport later he topped the podium in Lake Placid as part of the USA four-man bobsleigh team. A remarkable achievement.

9. In one of the biggest turn-ups in Winter Olympic history, Australian Steven Bradbury – who through a fortuitous chain of events managed to qualify for the 1000m short-track speedskating final – upset the odds by profiting from a four-man crash to steal gold.

With only 50m of the 1000m remaining, Bradbury was 15m adrift of the pack and so was unaffected by the dramatic events unfolding in front of him. The mixture of surprise and ecstasy etched on his face as he crossed the finishing line told the story perfectly and, despite the USA appealing to the judges for the race to be re-run, his win stood, and he’ll be forever remembered as one of the most triumphant underdogs of all time.

10. In the first ever Winter Games – in Chamonix, France 1924 – Anders Haugen, a Norwegian-born ski jumper who represented the USA, was listed as fourth place and just missed out on a medal.

It wasn’t until 50 years later, in 1974, that a Norwegian ski historian discovered a mathematical scoring error, which meant that Haugen had actually finished in third place. He was subsequently, 50 years after the event, awarded his rightful bronze medal.

All of the above is further proof that stories aplenty unfold once the world’s best (and occasionally the worst) take to the snow and ice. They all have one thing in common however; a dream and the determination to see it through, whatever the odds. And it is perhaps this drive that attracts so many viewers from all the continents in the world. With the 23 rd Winter Games about to begin in Pyeong Chang, we know there will be other successful, scandalous, heart-warming and perhaps even ludicrous stories to tell. Guaranteed. Watch this space!