Top 10 Winter Olympics Moments

The 2014 Winter Olympics begins on February 7th, and to celebrate, we will be posting a few Winter Olympic lists from now until the end of the Games.  The first is a look back at some of the biggest moments in Winter Olympic history.  Whether it is a plucky underdog, a massive scandal, or redemption, there has been some truly unforgettable moments.

#10. Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards

In 1988, Eddie Edwards became the first British ski jumper to qualify for the Olympics.  Unfortunately, he would be a global celebrity after the Games, for all the wrong reasons.  Edwards performed woefully, finishing dead last in both events he entered. Because of his terrible performance, his thick glasses, and the fact that he was overweight, Edwards gained immense popularity, with casual fans loving the ultimate underdog.  He was nicknamed “the Eagle” ironically, and was even referred to in the closing ceremony by the president of the Organizing Committee, Frank King, who said “some of you even soared like an eagle.” However, other athletes felt he made a mockery of the Games, and new rules were brought in to stop a similar situation in the future.

#9. Jamaican Bobsled Team

New Zealand, Jamaica, and Mexico all had athletes qualify for the bobsleigh events at the 1988 Olympics, with the media creating a “Caribbean Cup” competition between these nations with little or no snow.  The informal cup was won by New Zealand, but Jamaica became the most famous.  The Jamaicans had little experience, and other nations had to loan the Jamaican team their sleds in order for them to compete.  Although the Jamaicans improved and impressed with some fast starts, they eventually crashed due to inexperience and did not finish.  After their crash, the team walked their sleigh off the course while smiling and shaking hands with fans, which became one of the most famous images of the 1988 Games.  In 1993, the movie Cool Runnings, inspired by the Jamaican team’s involvement, was released, becoming one of the most popular sports movies of all time.

#8. Hermann Maier

Austrian skier Hermann Maier suffered a horrific crash in the downhill race of the 1998 Olympics, as he fell on his head and tumbled head over heels several times before crashing through two layers of fencing.  Despite the heavy fall, Maier got up and walked off the course on his own.  He then returned only a few days later to win the gold medal in both the super-G and slalom events.  This performance made him a global superstar.  In 2001, he collided with a car in a near-fatal motorcycle accident.  When he returned in 2004, he won both the super-g and slalom overall titles in the World Cup circuit, one of the most impressive comebacks in sports history.  He went on to win another two gold medals in his favorite two events in 2006, before retiring in 2009, after skiing for 13 years.  Because he seemed to be indestructible, Maier was nicknamed “The Herminator”.

#7. Masahiko Harada

At the 1994 Olympics, Japan was heading for a gold medal in the team ski jumping event.  Anchor Masahiko Harada only needed a jump of 105 meters to seal the gold.  Despite reaching 122 meters in his previous jump, Harada choked and only jumped 98 meters to hand the gold medal to the German team.  In one of the great redemption stories, Harada delivered in the 1998 Olympics.  His first jump was a terrible 78.5 meters and knocked Japan from first to fourth.  However, he finally conquered his demons and jumped an Olympic record-tying 137 meters, leading Japan to the gold medal.  To make it even sweeter, the medal came in their home country, in Nagano.  Harada became a global celebrity, earning the name “Happy Harada” with his warm personality winning over casual fans.

#6. Nodar Kumaritashvili

The day of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics brought a horrific tragedy, as Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died while training for the Olympics.  The 21 year-old lost control on a course at Whistler Sliding Centre and was thrown off the course, hitting an unprotected steel support pole, and dying within minutes.  There was immense controversy with the course being unsafe, as the president of the International Luge Federation had previously said the course’s speed “worried” him.  The Georgian team considered withdrawing from the Games, but decided to continue on in his memory.  They worse black ribbons in the opening ceremony and left a space vacant in their procession as a sign of respect.

#5. Eric Heiden

Eric Heiden is widely thought of as the greatest speed skater of all time, and it’s not hard to see why.  What Heiden accomplished in the 1980 Olympics is astounding.  The American won all 5 events he entered, leaving Lake Placid with 5 gold medals, the only Winter Olympian to ever win so many.  He won the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, and 10000m events, setting a world record in the 1000m.  After retiring from speed skating, Heiden took up road bicycle racing, even competing in the 1986 Tour de France.   Heiden was named #46 on ESPN’s list of the 50 best athletes of the 20th century, the only speed skater to make the list, and was named the best speed skater of all time by Dutch newspaper Trouw.

#4. Salt Lake City Scandals

Unfortunately, the 2002 Olympics were marred by two major controversies.  In 1995, Salt Lake City was overwhelmingly given the right to host the event.  However, in 1998, allegations emerged that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had taken bribes from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC).  Several IOC members were expelled following the scandal.  During the Olympics in 2002, an even bigger scandal emerged in figure skating.  Russian pair Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were awarded the gold medal in the figure skating pair competition, while commentators almost universally thought the Canadian pair Salé and Pelletier, who had skated flawlessly compared to the Russian’s mistakes, should have won.  French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne allegedly admitted to being pressured by head of the French skating organization, Didier Gailhaguet, to vote for the Russians.  Following the scandal, the IOC introduced new judging rules, and suspended Le Gougne and Gailhaguet for 6 years.

#3. Nancy Kerrigan

On January 6th, 1994, one of the most infamous moments in sports history occurred.  American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in her knee with a police baton by Shane Stant.  The attack was planned by one of her competitors for a place on the US team, Tonya Harding.  Kerrigan missed the US Championships because of her injury, but her rivals agreed that she deserved a place, and she was given a place on the US team despite missing the qualification tournament.  After the performance of her life, Kerrigan won the silver medal at the Olympics, just over a month after her injury.  She had been the darling of the media after her attack,but a backlash began after she was caught saying several undiplomatic things on microphone, like complaining about gold medalist Oksana Baiul’s crying after her win.  The media than turned on Kerrigan, and she was soon forgotten, despite her amazing comeback.

#2. Miracle on Ice

The most famous ice hockey match in history was the 1980 Olympics men’s semifinal between the mighty USSR, who had won nearly every tournament for 30 years and the US, made up of mainly amateur players.  The US had surprised everyone by drawing with Sweden and defeating Czechoslovakia in their group, but were still massive underdogs.  The New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote the day before the match that, “a miracle” for the US to win the match.  The Americans were losing 3-2 after two periods, but scored two early goals in the third period to lead 4-3.  As the match neared its end, sportscaster Al Michaels delivered the famous line, “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!”  The US went on to defeat Finland in the final to win the gold medal.  Sports Illustrated named the Miracle on Ice as the top sports moment of the 20th century.

#1. Dan Jansen

Dan Jansen’s story has to be the biggest feel-good story in Winter Olympics history, and that’s why it’s number one.  The American speed skater impressed at the 1984 Olympics, at the age of 18.  He had taken up speed skating after his sister Jane inspired him to, and when the 1988 Olympics arrived, he was a heavy favorite for gold.  However, the morning of his 500m race, he was informed Jane was dying of leukemia.  He tried desperately to call her, but couldn’t get through, and was told an hour later that she had died.  Jansen still raced in the 500m, but fell in the first turn.  Another fall in the 1000m left him without  medal.  A heavy favorite at the 1992 Olympics, Jansen once again left without a medal.  He knew 1994 would be his last chance as he approached the end of his career, and won the 1000m race to finally earn a gold medal.  He celebrated with a lap around the ice holding his daughter – named Jane.

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