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Five Classic Underdog Stories From The Winter Olympics

Miracles really DO happen

Five Classic Underdog Stories From The Winter Olympics Getty

Four years have come and gone, which means it's time to sit on the sofa in your trackies, smashing chips and yelling at highly trained athletes as they battle it out at the Winter Olympics again.

But even though most of our claims that "WE could do that, easy, it's just sweeping some ice in front of a kettle bell!" are generally as ridiculous as they seem, there are some competitors that have absolutely and unquestionably defied the odds to make it to the Games.

Sometimes they win medals and sometimes they win hearts but, regardless of where they placed, there are some pretty mind-blowing underdog stories here.

Steven Bradbury

Let's start with our first-ever gold medal winner, shall we? Bradbury infamously won the 1000m short track speed skating event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City even though he was coming dead last because all four of his opponents fell down. That shocked look on his face as he cruised past the finish line was mirrored in millions of faces around the world as the most unlikely of gold medals was won.

Interestingly, Bradbury had actually been considered the best speed skater in the world earlier in his career and was expected to win at the Lillehammer Games in 1994 - except he was taken out by another skater in the first round.

The American Hockey Team

You know you've done something special when your sporting victory has its own Wikipedia page. It was 1980 and the American hockey team - the youngest in the tournament - were made up exclusively of amateur players. As they headed into the medal round in Lake Placid, New York, they faced the team from the Soviet Union, who were primarily professional players and the favourites to win.

Against all odds, the underdogs beat the Soviets in what became known as the "Miracle on Ice" and went on to take home the gold medal.

Almost 20 years later, Sports Illustrated named the US team's victory the top sports moment of the 20th century.

Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards

Born Michael Edwards, "Eddie the Eagle" became an Olympic athlete simply because there were no other British sky jumpers at the time. Having failed to make the grade as a downhill skier, Edwards switched to a sport in which he was the sole representative for his country. 

So, despite coming 55th at the 1987 World Championships in West Germany, Edwards qualified as the only British applicant for the Winter Olympics the following year. He was almost 10 kilos heavier than the next heaviest competitor, was so near-sighted that he had to wear thick glasses - which fogged up at altitude - under his goggles and was entirely self-funded. He also came last in both the 70m and 90m Olympic events.

Despite all of this, Edwards' determination and grit endeared him to people around the world and earned him the nickname for which he is now known. 

The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team

If you seen Cool Runnings - and if you haven't, sort that out - you're probably loosely familiar with the Jamaican bobsledding story. A bunch of blokes with very little training from a tropical country head to the 1988 Winter Olympics, borrowing spare sleds from their competitors just so they could take part. The movie actually features original footage of that qualifiers crash, although the real-life team didn't ever carry their sled over the line.

The Jamaican bobsleigh team continues to qualify for the Winter Olympics, although only the women's team will be competing this year.

Pita Taufatofua

Technically Taufatofua hasn't competed in a Winter Olympics yet but his story echoes the Jamaican bobsleigh team's so much that we're already rooting for him. The Tongan athlete competed at the Olympic Games in 2016 in taekwondo but lost his opening round bout. 

Undeterred, Taufatofua - who you may recognise as the seriously oiled-up flag-carrier from the Opening Ceremony - has since qualified to compete in Pyeongchang as a cross country skiier.


Speaking with the Olympic Channel, the 34-year-old said that, after Rio, he needed to find a new challenge - so he looked for the hardest sport possible.

"It's freezing, it's negative a million degrees and then you've got to put your body through something really challenging," he said.