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9 Wild Moments from Winter Olympics History

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With the Pyeongchang Olympics nearing their final weekend in South Korea, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the wildest and most unpredictable moments of Winter Games past.


Knowing he was overmatched by his fellow athletes during the 1000 Meter Short Track Speed Skating competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Australian Steven Bradbury devised a strategy of waiting in the back of the pack on the off chance that his competitors might trip up. Amazingly, the strategy worked when a disqualification in the quarterfinals got him through to the semis and a crash sent him to the finals.

In the final, favorite Apollo Anton Ohno and the three other competing skaters collided in an epic crash; the trailing Bradbury was close enough to the pack to cross the finish line before any of the fallen skaters, becoming Australia's first gold medalist in the Winter Olympics.


In downhill alpine skiing, skiers travel at extremely high velocities (typically 60 to 85 miles per hour) down courses that closely follow the mountain's fall line.

In 1998, Nagano Olympics race officials were worried about the downhill course—specifically, a steep angle between the 6th and 7th gates. They altered this portion but the section still posed a danger.

Austrian Hermann Maier finished first in the World Cup standings before the Olympics but had a reputation for recklessness within the skiing circuit—in fact, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, “caution was not a word in Maier's vocabulary." Maier didn't slow down before the aforementioned dangerous turn in Nagano and went flying off the course at 70 miles per hour, tumbling to a halt some 50 meters away. In a sport where injuries—and even deaths—aren't unheard of, Maier shocked TV audiences by getting up and walking away with nothing more than a bruised shoulder.

Benefiting from a 24-hour weather delay on his next event, the Super-G, Maier used the extra rest to get back in full form and took home the gold. He also came in first in the Giant Slalom three days later.


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There have been a limited number of cases of cheating in the Winter Olympics (far fewer than in the Summer Olympics), but that doesn't mean it’s an impossibility. Just ask Ortrun Enderlein.

Enderlein, the defending luge champion, and her two East German teammates aroused suspicion by showing up just before their runs and leaving the scene hastily after. Enderlein won gold and her teammates placed 3rd and 4th, but upon closer inspection, it was discovered that their sleds had been heated immediately before the races, which reduced friction with the ice and resulted in faster times. The three were disqualified and the East German Olympic Committee blamed the affair on a "capitalist revanchist plot.”


English plasterer Michael Edwards traveled to Lake Placid, New York two years before the 1988 Calgary Olympics to fulfill his dream of making the event as a downhill skier. When money ran short, he decided to switch to ski jumping because it was significantly cheaper and there would be no competition at the national trials. Edwards became the first Olympic ski jumper in British history, but was far below the standards of the rest of the field.

Edwards crashed at the World Championships the year before the '88 Games and was ridiculed by the international press, who dubbed him “Mr. Magoo” due to his thick-rimmed glasses and heavy frame.

To the British, however, Edwards became a great source of fascination, which turned into a full-fledged national craze as he became the first Olympic ski jumper in the country's history and successfully landed his attempt at the Calgary Games. Although he didn't even score half the total points of any other competitor, he earned admiration worldwide and was given the nickname "Eddie the Eagle" by the President of the International Olympic Committee during the closing ceremony.

Sadly, many others in the Olympic community did not take him seriously, and they raised the qualifying standards to prevent Edwards from participating in the future. This didn't stop him from trying, but he failed to qualify on three successive occasions. Today, Edwards still plasters for a living and estimates that 70 percent of his income comes from speaking engagements.

In 2016, Eddie the Eagle, a biopic about Edwards’s life featuring Hugh Jackman (not playing Edwards), was released in theaters.


At the 1998 Nagano Games, snowboarding was introduced in an effort to make the Olympics more appealing to a younger audience. Still, there was some trepidation about the perceived rambunctious lifestyle of the snowboarding community and how it would fit in with the formality of the Olympics.

Nothing better illustrated this clash of values than when Canadian Ross Rebagliati became the inaugural winner in the Parallel Giant Slalom and was promptly stripped of his medal three days after the event for testing positive for marijuana.

Rebagliati claimed to have ingested it second-hand at a party and the Canadian Olympic delegation successfully appealed the IOC's decision on the basis that marijuana isn't a performance-enhancing drug. He got his medal back before the Games ended.

Today, 20 years after the controversy, Rebagliati has moved on from his snowboarding past and is trying his hand at entrepreneurism: he’s the founder of Ross’ Gold, a cannabis business.


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Tonya Harding was an ice skating prodigy from a broken home who ascended to the world stage in the early '90s. As her financial security and world ranking started to decline in the months leading up to the Olympics, Harding became frustrated and directed her anger at fellow American Nancy Kerrigan, who was ascending in the world standings and landing lucrative commercial endorsements.

Harding's on-again-off-again husband Jeff Gillooly conspired with two other men to attack and injure Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics. They carried out the hit after Kerrigan's practice skate before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Shane Stant, Gillooly's hired man, hit Kerrigan on the knee with a police baton as she was talking to a reporter in a stadium hallway. He escaped by diving through a plexiglass door before running to a getaway car.

The attack resulted in a bruise, but because there was no bone or ligament damage, Kerrigan was able to perform and was selected (along with Harding, who was under investigation for the attack) for the U.S. Olympic team. At the Lillehammer Games, Kerrigan famously skated to a silver medal after terrific back-to-back performances while Harding, disgraced, finished in eighth place. Harding's life, and the scandal surrounding her competition with Kerrigan, has been turned into the Oscar-nominated film, I, Tonya.

According to Olympic Historian David Wallechinsky, when CBS executives thanked their staff in Norway for the great ratings (the figure skating finals were the one of the most watched events in television history at the time), a CBS employee wrote back: "Don't thank us. Thank Tonya."


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Controversy erupted before the 1948 Olympic Games in St. Moritz over whether the American Hockey Association or the Amateur Athletic Union was the chief governing authority for hockey in the United States. American Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage refused to sanction the AHA because of their commercial sponsorships, but the International Ice Hockey Federation officially ruled that the AAU was to be replaced by the AHA.

Amid the confusion, both teams made their way to St. Moritz to compete. Before they were set to march in the Opening Ceremony, the Swiss Olympic Organizing Committee banned the AAU. Because they were favored by Brundage, though, the AAU team got the honor of representing the U.S. in the opening ceremony, while the AHA team—which was actually allowed to compete by the organizing committee—had to sit in the stands.


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Luge racers regularly hit speeds of over 95 miles per hour, meaning that even the smallest shift in body position can easily result in catastrophe. This was evident before the 2010 Vancouver Games, when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili careened off the track during a training run and died of his injuries.

It was an eerie replay of the luge's first-ever appearance at the Olympic Games. Two weeks before the Innsbruck Games in 1964, Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki, a British RAF pilot who was inexperienced in the sport, flew off the track and died during a training run. Additionally, a German doubles luge team was injured on the track in a separate accident. The track had had several fatal accidents when it opened decades before, and although it was modified thereafter, Olympic participants had to lobby for further safety precautions to reduce some of the danger.


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The pairs figure skating competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics resulted in a massive scandal that gave wind to the long-standing notion that figure skating judges can be swayed. Russian competitors Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze made noticeable errors in their long program, while Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier performed a flawless routine that had the crowd chanting "Six! Six! Six!"

When the judges ruled 5-4 in favor of the Russians and loud boos rang from the arena, the Canadian Olympic officials filed a protest. Protests filed by the losing party have become relatively common in the Olympics and the exercise is often a symbolic and ultimately fruitless gesture. But in this case, some dirt actually turned up.

In the subsequent investigation, it was revealed that the swing vote, French judge Marie-Rene Le Gougne, was up for a seat on the International Skating Union's powerful technical committee, and reports surfaced that she confided to a British referee a few days earlier that she had been pressured by her own national committee to throw her vote for the Russian pairs.

Le Gougne changed her story a few days later in an effort to save face, but her contradictory statements only exacerbated the coverage into a full-blown media frenzy dubbed “skate-gate.” In the end, Le Gougne was suspended for three years, the Canadians were awarded a second pair of gold medals, and the sport underwent reform with judges' scores being kept secret and chosen at random.

2018 Winter Olympics By the Numbers: Which Country Was the Big Winner in Pyeongchang?

The closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics was held on Sunday, February 25, concluding more than two weeks of history-making figure-skating jumps and listening to curlers yell at each other. But if you're someone who tunes in to the Olympics only to see your country win, you may have been left feeling confused. There was no official winner announced at the end of the event, so how are you supposed to know which nation dominated the Winter Games? Judging solely by medal count, these are the countries that skied, skated, and slid their way to the top in Pyeongchang.

According to Bloomberg, Norway came out of the games as the most decorated country. The Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million took home 11 bronze, 14 silver, and 14 gold medals, bringing the total to 39. That makes Norway the biggest single nation winner at any Winter Olympics, breaking the prior record of 37, which was set by the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Norway was represented by about half the number of athletes competing on Team USA, but it was bolstered by a few advantages—like long winters (making training for cross-country sports easier), universal healthcare, and a culture that encourages young athletes to play sports for the sake of play rather than for the sake of winning.

Germany tied Norway for the most golds with 14, but earned 10 silver and seven bronze medals, landing them in second place with 31. Canada ranked third with 29 medals overall, 11 of which were gold, and the United States came in fourth with a tally of 23 medals, including nine golds. The Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France, and Austria round out the top 10.

Teams used to spending a lot of time on the podium may strive for that top slot, but placing in any event is impressive. The majority of teams that competed went home without any medals to show for their efforts. Fortunately, they have until 2022 to prepare for the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Most Decorated Winter Olympians in History
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Lars Baron/Getty Images

For most athletes, winning a medal at the Olympics would be the pinnacle of their career. But these athletes didn't stop at just one. They excelled under pressure and earned themselves a spot in the annals of their respective sports as the Most Decorated Winter Olympians.

1. Marit Bjørgen, 14 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Marit Bjørgen
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Bjørgen became the most decorated athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Games with five medals. She added three gold medals in 2014 to bring her lifetime total up to six golds, three silvers, and one bronze—making her the most successful female Olympian. With a gold, silver, and two bronze medals in PyeongChang, she became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time.

2. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 13 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Biathlon

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
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Bjoerndalen won two gold medals at Sochi in 2014—in men's sprint biathlon and in the first Olympic mixed relay biathlon—to give him the lead in career-medal count. His hardware collection now includes eight gold medals, four silver, and one bronze. The 44-year-old failed to qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

3. Bjorn Daehlie, 12 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Bjorn Daehlie
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When Bjoerndalen won his 13th career medal, he surpassed fellow countryman Daehlie, who had held the record for most Olympic medals since his dominance in the '90s. Over three Winter Games Daehlie won eight gold and four silver medals before sustaining a career-ending injury as a result of a roller-skiing accident in 1999.

4 (tie). Raisa Smetanina, 10 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Osetrov Yuri/ITAR-TASS/Landov

Although Bjørgen and Belmondo (below) have since matched her, Smetanina was the first woman to win 10 Olympic medals. Her final, a gold medal, came at her fifth Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992. She was 39 years old—at that time the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympic gold.

4 (tie). Stefania Belmondo, 10 Medals

Country: Italy
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Stefania Belmondo

Belmondo's Olympic career spanned a decade—from the 1992 Albertville Games through the 2002 Salt Lake City Games—despite a devastating injury in 1993. She ended her career with two gold medals, three silver, and five bronze.

6 (tie). Lyubov Yegorova, 9 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

Yegorova only made two Olympic appearances: at Albertville in 1992, and two years later at Lillehammer. She managed to squeeze nine medals out of those Games—six gold and three silver—before her career came to an end due to a doping scandal at the 1997 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

6 (tie). Claudia Pechstein, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Speed skating

Claudia Pechstein
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Pechstein is the most successful Olympic speed skater—male or female—in the world, and also the most successful German Winter Olympian of all time. That said, she missed the chance to set herself even further apart in the 2010 Games after getting slapped with a two-year ban from the sport in 2009 for doping accusations.

6 (tie). Sixten Jernberg, 9 Medals

Country: Sweden
Sport: Cross-country skiing

1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck
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Jernberg (right) was a blacksmith and a lumberjack before beginning his career as a cross-country skier. Over three Olympics in the 1950s and '60s, he earned four gold, three silver, and two bronze medals, never finishing lower than fifth.

6 (tie). Uschi Disl, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Biathlon


This five-time Olympian is the owner of two gold medals, four silver and three bronze, and the 2005 title of German Sportswoman of the Year. She has been the most successful women’s biathlete at the Olympic Games, although she never won a gold in an individual event.


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