(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) _ Ester Ledecka even stunned herself by winning the women's super-G event Saturday. The part-time ski racer, part-time snowboarder wasn't expected anywhere near the podium before topping a field including American great Lindsey Vonn and Austria's Anna Veith, the defending Olympic champion.
Ledecka didn't believe it when she saw the score _ "Is this a kind of mistake?" she recalled thinking.
But of course, as Vonn said Saturday, "at the Olympics, a lot of weird stuff happens." Here are a few other unlikely and memorable gold medal performances:
Steven Bradbury, 1,000-meter speedskating, 2002
(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
The Australian short-track speedskater seemed an unlikely champion heading into the race, and he knew it. What’s so remarkable about this story, though, is Bradbury was a massive underdog as late as the final turn.
In the gold medal race in Salt Lake City, Bradbury purposely trailed well behind a quartet of top skaters, including American favorite Apolo Anton Ohno. Bradbury wagered that his best chance at a medal was to lag behind and hope the favorites would crash each other out, but with one lap remaining, it looked like he was going to finish many strides behind the pack in fifth place.
Then Ohno and China’s Li Jiajun got tangled up late on the final bend, causing all four of Bradbury’s competitors to spin out into the wall. Ohno scrambled to his knees and crawled across the finish, but not before Bradbury glided past.
Bradbury stuck out his arms in disbelief after winning Australia’s first winter gold medal.
U.S. men’s hockey team, 1980
The Miracle on Ice is the most famous underdog story in U.S. sports history, and it’s hard to imagine what could ever top it.
Coach Herb Brooks led a hardnosed group of amateur American players to a historic upset of the Soviets in Lake Placid, New York, and then the U.S. beat Finland to win its first hockey gold since 1960. Considering the Soviet dominance _ it had won five of the past six Olympic golds _ and the backdrop of Cold War tensions, the victory became a landmark moment for the U.S. on and off the ice.
Among its many accolades, the American squad was awarded Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, the first time the award ever went to an entire team. In 2002, captain Mike Eruzione and his teammates wore their hockey jerseys while lighting the Olympic flame to open the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.
Bill Johnson, men’s downhill, 1984
(AP Photo/Michel Lipchitz)
A self-proclaimed “daredevil” who learned to ski in Oregon, Johnson stunned the status quo when he won the downhill at Sarajevo. He became the first American man to win Alpine skiing gold, and also the first racer of either gender from outside the Alps to take the event.
Johnson’s victory was unprecedented, but not totally unpredictable. He broke through a month earlier by winning a World Cup race in Switzerland, the first time an American man won a World Cup downhill event.
Still, it shocked many in the predominantly European sport when the 23-year-old predicted his own victory to reporters. Johnson believed the straighter course played to his strengths, then went out and proved it.
Johnson’s swagger made him a favorite among American fans while perturbing the sport’s traditionalists. He won two more World Cup events in 1984 before his career petered out, and he was left off the 1988 Olympic team entirely. While attempted a comeback at age 40 in 2001, Johnson crashed during a training run and spent the next three years staying with his mother as he recovered. More health problems followed, and he died in 2016 at age 55.
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