Olympians are an interesting breed. They strive against life and limb to compete, to prove themselves, to represent their country and to be the best in the world at something. Here are thirteen incredible stories about Olympians doing everything they can to win, to finish or to even compete. From a man with gall stones who ran two miles to get to the stadium, won a race, then was rushed to the hospital, to a woman who overcame paralysis, to a man who stopped rowing mid-race for a family of ducks and still won -- these are the thirteen wildest stories about Olympic athletes, and what they'll do for a chance at the gold.
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Punches were thrown during the 1956 Olympic Games, but unfortunately, it wasn't in a boxing match. Tension was running high in a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR, just weeks after Soviet tanks had crushed an uprising in which hundreds of Hungarians had died and thousands more were arrested. Obviously, the best course of action is to verbally taunt the people representing the country that has killed your countrymen. The intent was to incite anger and potentially secure a win for their country, but the Hungarian team ended up poking the bear a little too hard. Fists flew and five players were told to leave the pool. Just before the final whistle blew, a Russian player, Valentin Prokopov, socked Ervin Zador right in the eye, ending the match in the most bloody fashion possible. The Hungarians crushed the Russians and went on to win the gold medal. Really, there isn't anything more manly than men punching each other in a pool, right? Imagine if this scene had unfolded during the synchronized swimming event.
Typically, Olympic athletes only have to worry about the other athletes during the Games, but in Bobby Pearce's case, nature decided to interject. In the 1928 Olympics, Pearce was having a ball, winning all of his rowing races with little effort. When the quarter finals rolled around, he was dominating his other opponents when a family of ducks came into his lane. Instead of just plowing right through the fuzzy little creatures, Pearce stopped rowing to let them pass. He won the race by 20 lengths and still broke the course record. The ladies love a man who brakes for ducks. This guy might be a hero, but seriously, what a dick. Pearce takes the time to stop, and then completely blows past his competition. It's the rowing equivalent of showboating. It's showrowing.
Kipchoge ‘Kip’ Keino
The Olympics wait for no man, and Kip Keino knows that all too well. Suffering from a bad case of gallstones (really, is there ever a good case?), a German doctor insisted that running in the 1968 Summer Olympics would endanger him severely, but nothing would stop Kip. In the 10,000 meter race, he collapsed with a lap to go. Instead of calling it quits, Keino showed up four days later to run in the 5,000 meter race and took the silver. Although he was told not to run again, Keino was determined to take part in the 1,500 meter race. An hour prior to the race, still incredibly unwell, he boarded a bus, but was caught in a massive amount of traffic. Keino, already quite late for the event, ran two miles to the stadium in time to register for the race. He won that race and set a new Olympic record time. Shortly after the Games, Keino had the gallstones removed. I wonder if Kip tried to have the gallstones added to the Olympic medals he received, or if they sat creepily in a jar on a mantle. He would get them down from the shelf every so often and make his grandchildren hold them while he talked about what it means to be a champion.
The best way to start a career as a runner is to have infantile paralysis. Wilma Rudolph was struck by the disease and work a brace on her twisted left leg until she was nine. By the time Rudolph was twelve, she had suffered from scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, and chickenpox. How she even made it to sixteen is a miracle. In the 1960 Olympics, the twenty-year-old Rudolph was considered a track superstar, won three gold medals, and was considered the "Fastest Woman on Earth." Looks like a little adversity does a body good. Milk has nothing on Wilma Rudolph. For her next trick, she planned on acquiring and surviving both AIDS and cancer, but her coach suggested she dial it back a bit.
In everyday life, continuing on with your life while dealing with a broken bone is a great way for everyone to think you are an idiot. When it happens in the Olympics, you are set for future fame. Shun Fujimoto broke his knee during his floor exercise routine in the 1976 Summer Olympics, but continued on to score a 9.5 on the pommel horse and a 9.7 on the rings. The final dismount from the rings is agonizing to watch, and just like a trainwreck, you can't look away. Hitting the ground from an eight-foot drop, he "raised his arms in a perfect finish before collapsing in agony." What a pansy, right? Fujimoto insisted he didn't want to let his team down and his participation in the pommel horse and rings events pushed Japan into winning the gold. At least when they asked him if he would do it again, he said "No." As much as I'd like to believe people are amazing and gracious, I think this is a case of impending disappointed Asian parents. "You learned C++? Why not A++?"
Could you turn down a million dollars in the name of your compatriots? I didn't think so. However, Teofilo Stevenson, an amateur Cuban boxer, was offered $5 million USD to go professional and take on the current world heavyweight champion, a guy you might know as Muhammad Ali. Instead of taking the money and running, Teofilo turned down the offer saying "What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" Like a boss. He went on to win three Olympic gold medals for Cuba in the 1980 Summer Olympics. I guess turning down money like that is fairly easy knowing that around half of that eight million populous includes women that want to jump your bones. Being gracious is simple when you know you'll be treated like a king for the rest of your life. The amount of free cigars and Cuba Libre's probably add up to around $2 million, so he's on his way.
An excellent way to show what a badass you are is to sign autographs DURING your Olympic event. That's exactly what Richard Allen did in the 1932 Olympics when India trounced the US team in field hockey. The Indian team was leading the match 24-0 when Allen, their goalkeeper, took a break to sign autographs behind the post. This gave the American team a chance to score a singular goal. Allen participated in three Olympic ceremonies and only ever had two goals scored against him, a standing record.
Martin Klein and Alfred Asikainen
One thing I love above all else is watching sweaty men punching each other. In the 1912 Olympics, fans bore witness to the longest wrestling match, which lasted 11 hours and forty minutes. Klein ended up winning, but he was too exhausted to compete in the finals. I can't blame him for not wanting to continue, there's only so much dude-on-dude action that one person can handle.
Len Tau and Thomas Hicks
The 1904 Olympic Marathon was hard on everyone. If you were one of the few that actually finished the race, chances are you had a harrowing encounter during the run. Len Tau was chased a mile off course by a dog and still managed to come in ninth place. Thomas Hicks takes the cake, though, with his consumption of strychnine - rat poison - to stimulate his central nervous system. Twice during the race, Hicks' handlers administered the rat poison to him, along with raw eggs and brandy. Somehow, he not only managed to cross the finish line, but he did it first and took the gold. Looks like I'll be bringing my flask with me on my next 5k run.
Poor Betty Robinson. She was originally a silver medal winner in the 4 x 100 meter relay race, but there was no more running in her future when she was in a plane crash in 1931. It's one thing to be in a plane crash and survive - it's another to be wrongly pronounced dead and then tossed into the trunk of a car. When the undertaker realized she wasn't dead, they took her to a hospital where she lay in a coma for seven months. After losing the ability to walk, you might assume she'd take some time off, relax a bit, but that isn't Betty Robinson. She wo-manned up, learned to walk again, and in the 1936 Summer Olympics, she took home a gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay. Throwing this out there. If anyone threw me into a trunk, I would want to repay the favor. And considering this chick is pretty fast, she could technically run that dude down, even if he was in a car. I imagine the headline would be "Betty Robinson Beats Man to Death with a Relay Baton."