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Very Real

10 Times Olympic Athletes Stole The Gold And Shocked The World

Because who doesn't love an underdog?

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt
Olympians Love True Crime Shows, Just Like Us!

Everyone loves seeing Olympic favorites like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps demolish their competition, but there's a special kind of satisfaction that comes from watching underdogs come up from behind and steal the win. In preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics on NBC from Feb. 8-25, here are ten times Olympic athletes beat the odds and won.

1. Steven Bradbury

Sometimes it pays big to go with your own strategy, however unconventional it may be. Need proof? Look no further than the story of Steven Bradbury. At the 2002 Winter Olympics, he began the race near the back of the pack but ended up winning the 1,000 meter short track speed skating event after all of the skaters in front of him crashed into each other, resulting in a four-person pileup. Bradbury skated across the finish line, alone and unchallenged.

2. Kipchoge Keino

Almost showing up late to the Olympics, having to run a mile just to get there, and still taking home the gold? That's one story that sounds like it belongs on a movie screen, but you'll actually find it in the history books. During the 1968 Olympic Games, Kenya's Kipchoge Keino was diagnosed with gallstones. He didn't let that stop him from competing though; he competed in two races (the 10,000 meter and the 5,000 meter) while injured, taking home the silver in one but getting disqualified in another after the pain he was feeling prompted him to give up the lead and double over in pain, crawling off the track.

On the morning of the 1,500 meter race, the bus that was transporting him to the stadium got stuck in traffic, so Keino hopped off and ran the remaining mile to the stadium, arriving with mere minutes to spare. He went on to run the race and beat fan favorite Jim Ryun, cementing the largest winning margin by  finishing 20 meters ahead of him and recording the second fastest time in the event's history, CNN reports.

3. Abebe Bikila

No one expects the barefoot guy to take home the gold, but Abebe Bikila did just that during the 1960 Olympic Games. Representing Ethiopia, Bikila became the first East African to win a gold medal when he won the Olympic marathon. And if that's not impressive enough, consider the fact that he ran the entire event barefoot, and was so fast that he set a world record. He is truly the #GOAT.

4. Kerri Strug

If you think gymnastics looks difficult, try doing it with a major ankle injury. That's exactly what US gymnast Kerri Strug had to do in 1996. At the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia that year, spectators probably had low expectations for 18-year-old Strug; she'd severely injured her ankle in her first vault performance, but despite the pain, she went on to compete again and helped secure the gold for her team. When she nailed a perfect landing despite her injury, she shocked and captivated the world.

5. Shaunae Miller

Shaunae Miller's win during the women's 400-meter race was one of the most controversial moments of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Miller, representing the Bahamas in the race, dove across the finish line in the last seconds, beating Team USA's Allyson Felix by only .07 seconds. Talk about a photo finish.

6. U.S. Men's Hockey Team (1980)

No one expected the U.S. Men's Hockey Team to take home the gold during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. The Soviet Union team, who were the defending gold medalists that year, had taken home the gold in five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games and were the favorites to win. Meanwhile, the U.S. team was made up of college players; not only were they the youngest team in the tournament, they were the youngest in U.S. national team history and were up against professional athletes.

What happened next came to be known as the "Miracle On Ice." After tying during the first period and the Soviet team gaining the lead during the second, the U.S. Men's Hockey team, led by head coach Herb Brooks, captured the lead and won the game 4-3 during a nail-biter of a third period. After defeating Finland during their final match-up, the U.S. team took home the gold.

Their victory landed the team a spot in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and, in 2008, Sports Illustrated chose their win as the number one sports moment of the 20th century.

7. Chad le Clos

When Michael Phelps gets in the pool, fans expect him to come out a winner. Is it any surprise then, that when South Africa's Chad le Clos bested Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly during the 2012 London Games, many viewers were shocked?

It's hard not to root for Clos though, who told reporters after the race, "I just wanted to race Phelps in the final and I've beaten him. I can't believe it. Phelps is my hero and I love the guy. To beat him, I can't believe it. You don't understand what this means to me. This is the greatest moment of my life."

8. Mo Farah

Fall seven times, get up eight, right? At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Great Britain's Mo Farah fell down during the 10,000 meter race. He didn't just lie down on the ground in a pool of his own sweat and embarrassment though, as, no doubt, many people would have done. Farah got right back up and made his way back to the middle of the pack before eventually taking the lead and winning the gold. Inspired yet?

9. Sarah Hughes

By the time the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City rolled around, Sarah Hughes had yet to win a single national or international title. Entering the games, the 16-year-old American was overshadowed by fan favorites Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen, both of whom had scored better than Hughes during the qualifiers.

It seemed as if things were unfolding as expected when Hughes came in fourth during the short program. It turns out that Hughes was just getting started, though; she bounced back and then some during her long program, where she wowed spectators by nailing a routine that featured two perfectly executed triple-jump combinations, an Olympic first. Thanks in part to her competitors — Michelle Kwan and Russia's Irina Slutskaya — underperforming during their final programs, Hughes went on to take home the gold.

As Hughes told The New York Times after her win, "I think this just shows, don't make predictions in skating because who knows."

10. Tara Lipinski

Sarah Hughes isn't the only American teen figure skater with a surprise victory under her belt; during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Tara Lipinski, then only 15 years old, became the youngest skater to take home gold during the individual ladies' singles event.

Lipinski was up against pretty stiff competition that year, too; her teammate Michelle Kwan was among the favorites to win, and Kwan had already bested Lipinski in competition twice before. Though both women had strong performances during the short program, Lipinski found her moment to shine during her long program, where she skated her way to Olympic gold.

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[Photo: Getty Images]