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The 10 Most Shocking Winter Olympics Moments We Still Can't Believe Actually Happened

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The 10 Most Shocking Winter Olympics Moments We Still Can't Believe Actually Happened

By Ryan Rosendale

While many of the most memorable and shocking Olympic Games moments have taken place during the Summer, many that have stood the test of time have occurred during the Winter Olympiads.

Here, we look back at ten of the most shocking moments in Winter Olympics history - both good and bad!

10. Snowboarding's Debut Marred By Controversy - 1998 Nagano Games

In an attempt to make the Winter Olympics more appealing to a younger audience, the IOC introduced snowboarding to the Games for the first time, despite some trepidation about the perceived rambunctious lifestyle of the snowboarding community and how it would fit in with the formality of the Olympics. This was highlighted 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.

09. Tragedy Rocks The U.S. Figure Skating Team - 1964 Innsbruck Games

In the lead up to the 1964 Winter Olympics, the brightest names in United States figure skating boarded a plane to attend the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague. They never made it.

Sabena Flight 548 crashed while approaching the airport in Belgium. All 18 athletes, their coaches and some of their family members died in the crash. The victims included nine-time U.S. ladies' champion turned coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and both of her daughters, who were also champion skaters.

The tragedy occurred just three years before the Games, and it took seven years for the once dominate Americans to regain international prominence in the sport.

Ross Rebagliati shows his medal to supermodel Veronica Webb on a TV show. Credit: Alamy
Ross Rebagliati shows his medal to supermodel Veronica Webb on a TV show. Credit: Alamy

08. Flying Austrian Walks Away From Death Defying Fall - 1998 Nagano Games

The 1998 Nagano Olympics again features on our list but this time for a vary different reason. During the alpine skiing event, Austrian Hermann Majer failed to slow down at steep angle between the sixth and seventh gates. The number one ranked alpine skier in the world 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.

07. French Judge Admits To Throwing Competition - 2002 Salt Lake City Games

The 2002 edition of the Winter Olympics, taking place from Salt Lake City in Utah, was home to a massive scandal involving the judging during the figure skating final. 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. However, the judges ruled in favour of the Russians 5-4, causing Canadian officials to file a protest.

The protest's investigation found that French judge Marie-Rene Le Gougne, was up for a seat on the International Skating Union's technical committee, and 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.

06. Norwegian Skier Etches Her Place In The History Books - 2018 PyeongChang Games

Cross Country Norwegian skier Marit Bjoergen became the most decorated woman in Winter Games history with a silver medal in the skiathlon at the 2018 Games, her 11th podium across five Olympics. Bjoergen later became the most decorated Winter Olympic athlete of all time, ending the 2018 Games with 15 overall career medals.

Marit Bjoergen. Credit: Alamy
Marit Bjoergen. Credit: Alamy

05. The Luge Track Claims Another Life - 2010 Vancouver Games

One of the Winter Games most thrilling but dangerous events has always been the luge. With racers regularly hitting speeds of over 95 miles per hour, 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 became the second luge related death at the Games.

04. Hot Sleds, Cold Ice - 1968 Grenoble Games

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.

One of the Winter Games most famous cheating scandals occurred in 1968 when Ortrun 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 stripped of their medals.

03. Bradbury Becomes An Australian Sporting Icon - 2002 Salt Lake City Games

A relatively unknown name heading into the 2002 Games, speed skater Steven Bradbury headed into the 1000 Meter Short Track Speed Skating as a major underdog. But when race favourite Apollo Anton Ohno and the three other finalists 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 medallist in the Winter Olympics history and become a national icon.

02. "Miracle On Ice" - 1980 Lake Placid Games

Having won gold in five of the six previous Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union were the clear favourites heading into the 1980 Games. After going through the group stage undefeated, the Soviets faced off against the also undefeated Americans, a group of mostly amateurs lead by coach Herb Brooks, in the first game of the medal round yet were still undeniable favourites. In what was later dubbed as the "Miracle on Ice", America would go onto upset the reigning champions 4-3 and carry that momentum into their gold medal winning game against Finland while the Soviet Union would claim silver against Sweden. The heroics of the Americans would later go onto be portrayed in the 2004 Disney film Miracle starring Kurt Russell.

01. 'The Nancy Kerrigan Incident' - 1994 Lillehammer Games

One of the Winter Olympics most infamous incidents occurred during the 1994 edition of the Games. During a crucial practice to determine who would make the American figure skating team, a henchman hired by American Tonya Harding's ex-husband to take out her American teammate Nancy Kerrigan. The bodyguard struck Nancy Kerrigan in the leg in an attempt to secure Harding the gold. Both Kerrigan and Harding still competed in Lillehammer with Harding's knowledge of the attack proved post-competition. She was fined, received three years of probation, and never skated competitively again. The incident is one of the Games most well-known and was made into a feature film in 2017 titled I, Tonya

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Analysis, Australia, Winter Olympics, top 10

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