Apolo Ohno

Steven Bradbury
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Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Ten memorable Winter Olympic medal moments from 2010s

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s this week. Here are 10 Winter Olympic medal moments that defined the decade …

Vancouver 2010: Lindsey Vonn’s downhill title, finish-area scream
Everything was lining up for the U.S.’ biggest ski star going into what was being billed as the “Vonncouver Olympics.” Lindsey Vonn was the two-time reigning World Cup overall champion, the reigning world championships gold medalist in the downhill and super-G and winner of five of the six World Cup downhills that season. Then came a setback, a bruised shin in slalom training 10 days before the Games that caused “excruciating” pain when putting on a ski boot. She lucked out as weather pushed the start of competition back three days. Vonn got her downhill gold, becoming the first U.S. woman to win the event. “I’ve given up everything for this,” she said on NBC.

Vancouver 2010: Shaun White lands Double McTwist 1260 for repeat gold
Having already clinched a repeat Olympic title, White could have used his second run in the final as a victory lap and simply slid down Cypress Mountain. Instead, he reached into his bag of tricks for what he called the Tomahawk, named after a 30-ounce T-bone steak he had recently devoured. White threw down the Double McTwist 1260 at the last Olympics he would be known as the Flying Tomato with flowing red locks.

Vancouver 2010: Apolo Ohno becomes most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian
With three medals at his third Olympics, Ohno broke Bonnie Blair‘s U.S. record for career Winter Olympic medals. The short track speed skater finished with eight total, tacking on a silver and two bronze medals in Vancouver, not far from his Seattle roots. An overweight Ohno had failed to make the 1998 Olympic team when favored at age 15. In 2002, he earned gold after a South Korean disqualification, making him an enemy of the world’s top short track nation. In 2006, he crossed the 500m finish line first in what he called the “perfect race.” After winning “Dancing with the Stars,” Ohno rededicated for one last Olympic push and skated competitively for the last time in Vancouver.

Vancouver 2010: Sidney Crosby’s golden goal
The very last gold medal of the Vancouver Games was the most vital for the host nation. In a U.S.-Canada men’s hockey final, American Zach Parise tied the game with 25 seconds left. Then in overtime, Crosby beat Ryan Miller to set off celebrations nationwide, where Canadians were filling bars and streets to watch the Sunday afternoon contest.

Sochi 2014: Sage Kotsenburg wins slopestyle’s Olympic debut
The first gold medalist of the Sochi Games was truly a surprise. Kotsenburg had gone nine years between slopestyle wins when he won the last U.S. Olympic qualifier that January. But “Second-Run Sage” unleashed a stylish first run in the Olympic final, landing a cab double cork 1260 with a Kotsenburg-invented Holy Crail grab and a back 1620 Japan Air, trying the latter trick for the first time in his life. He became a media hit, eating a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien and listening to President Obama call him “sick and chill” at the White House.

Sochi 2014: Meryl Davis, Charlie White win first U.S. ice dance gold
When Davis and White began skating together in 1997 at ages 9 and 10, they barely spoke to each other the first two years because she was so shy. But from 2009 on, they captured six straight national titles, two world titles and an Olympic medal of every color. None bigger than gold in Sochi in a discipline where the U.S. used to be so weak that reporters took meal breaks at the national championships rather than watch the performances. It would be their final competition.

Sochi 2014: Mikaela Shiffrin becomes youngest slalom gold medalist
Despite a mid-second-run bobble, Shiffrin delivered on pre-Games hype by winning the slalom at age 18. What followed hours later would prove noteworthy for the rest of the decade: In Shiffrin’s late-night press conference, she blurted out that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in 2018. While that did not come to fruition, Shiffrin has gone on to win World Cup races in every discipline, plus Olympic or world titles in giant slalom and super-G. She will likely break the career World Cup wins record early in the next decade.

PyeongChang 2018: Chloe Kim’s back-to-back 1080s for gold
The 17-year-old phenom wasn’t thinking so much about flips and twists before her halfpipe runs, but ice cream and churros, as she tweeted during the competition. Before the celebratory desserts, Kim landed her signature combination — back-to-back 1080s, which no other woman has done. That was plenty enough for a rider who posted the two top scores in qualifying and the two top scores in the final. Then David Chang made her some churro ice cream sandwiches.

PyeongChang 2018: U.S. women’s hockey team edges Canada in shootout
Didn’t seem anything could top the Sochi Olympic final, where Canada tied it in the final minute (after a U.S. empty-net attempt clanged off the post) and won in overtime. Then came the shootout in South Korea. Twins Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson starred, three months after it looked like they could be cut from the team. The latter scored the winner on a deke she named, “Oops, I did it again,” after the Britney Spears song. The U.S. earned its first hockey gold medals since the 1998 team in the Olympic debut of women’s hockey.

PyeongChang 2018: Marit Bjoergen ends career with 15 medals, most decorated Winter Olympian
The last medal awarded at an Olympics this decade went to arguably the greatest Olympian of the decade. The Norwegian cross-country skier (and mother) broke countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen‘s career Winter Olympic medals record in PyeongChang, capped by taking the grueling 30km freestyle by 109 seconds, the largest margin for any Olympic cross-country race in 38 years. It would be Bjoergen’s last career race.

Honorable Mention: Vancouver 2010: U.S. four-man bobsled, Yuna Kim, Evan Lysacek. Sochi 2014: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Russian team figure skating, Noelle Pikus-Pace. PyeongChang 2018: U.S. men’s curling. Ester LedeckaJessie Diggins/Kikkan Randall.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral

Ten controversial Olympic outcomes

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Maximum Security’s relegation from Kentucky Derby winner to 17th place on Saturday conjures memories of controversial outcomes in Olympic history. There are many, many, many to choose from, but here are five each from the Summer and Winter Games, with help from NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen, excluding anything performance-enhancing-drug-related …

1912 Stockholm
Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe sweeps the pentathlon and decathlon, leading King Gustav V to tell him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Those medals awarded by the Swedish royal were stripped the following year when it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball, making him a declared professional athlete and his Olympic results voided by rules at the time. It took until 1982 before Thorpe’s medals would be restored and he would be declared a co-winner of each event. Sports Illustrated reported that a pamphlet was found in the Library of Congress of the rules for the 1912 Olympics. Those rules stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against an Olympian’s eligibility at the Stockholm Games had to have been made within 30 days. This exonerated Thorpe.

1924 Chamonix
The U.S. owns one Olympic ski jumping medal, and the story behind it is a doozy. Anders Haugen originally finished fourth in the first ski jumping event at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Fifty years later, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage noticed an error in the results that gave bronze medalist Thorleif Haug too many points. The correction bumped Haugen into third. Then 85, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal by Haug’s daughter at a special ceremony.

1968 Grenoble
French legend Jean-Claude Killy completed a sweep of the three Alpine skiing events, but not before his last gold came under dispute. Austrian Karl Schranz stopped during his second and final slalom run when he said he saw a person stray onto the foggy course. Schranz was given a re-run and beat Killy’s overall time. He was the gold medalist for two hours until being disqualified after it was discovered he missed two gates in his original second run. The Austrians argued the course trespasser was a French policeman who interfered with Schranz on purpose to boost Killy’s hopes. The French claimed Schranz made up the mystery man story after missing the gate.

1972 Munich
The U.S. men’s basketball team came to Germany with a 50-plus-game win streak, having won all seven gold medals in Olympic history. In the final against the Soviet Union, it appeared en route to No. 8 when Doug Collins sank two free throws with three seconds left to give the Americans their first lead, 50-49. The Soviet Union actually got three inbounds plays, the last redo controversially awarded by the FIBA secretary-general. Sasha Belov scored a layup on the last one to win 51-50. The U.S. players refused to accept silver medals, leaving the second step of the podium empty during the victory ceremony.

1984 Los Angeles
The women’s 3000m was one of the more anticipated events of the track and field program. That was largely due to American Mary Decker, who had swept the 1500m and 3000m at the 1983 World Championships. At 1700m and the front of the race, Decker’s foot made contact with the heel of 18-year-old barefoot runner Zola Budd. Decker went down, injured and in tears, and did not finish. Budd was booed the rest of the race and faded to seventh. Budd tried to apologize, but an upset Decker did not accept at the time. The two later reunited for a 2016 documentary.

1988 Seoul
U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. landed 86 of 303 punches to South Korean Park Si-Hun‘s 32 out of 188 in the light middleweight final, but Park won a 3-2 decision. A judge later said he felt so badly for the host-nation fighter Park that he gave him the vote, assuming Jones would still win 4-1. Park even apologized to Jones, saying, “I lost the fight. I feel very bad.” And Jones earned the Val Barker Award as the most technically proficient boxer across all divisions at the Games.

1998 Nagano
Canadian Ross Rebagliati won the first Olympic snowboarding gold medal in the giant slalom. But three days later, he was stripped of it for testing positive for marijuana, igniting controversy. Rebagliati claimed it was from second-hand smoke and protested. His appeal was accepted and his medal returned on the grounds that marijuana was not performance-enhancing. Rebagliati has in recent years returned to headlines for launching a legal marijuana business.

2002 Salt Lake City (Short Track Speed Skating)
Apolo Ohno was already burgeoning as the sport’s first mainstream star when, over a four-day stretch, he earned silver and gold medals in unexpected fashion. First, he flailed on his hands and knees across the finish line for silver in the 1000m after he and three other skaters fell in the final turn, going for gold. Australian underdog Steven Bradbury took the win as the only man left standing, but Ohno was praised for his grit and quick thinking. Then came the real controversy in the 1500m final. Ohno originally finished second again, this time to South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, but Kim was disqualified moments later for bumping Ohno during the race. Kim, on a victory lap, threw a South Korean flag onto the ice. The fallout continued. By various accounts, Ohno was dubbed “the most hated athlete in South Korea” by a Seoul newspaper and when he later returned for a World Cup competition there, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan referenced the DQ in a goal celebration of a 1-1 tie with the U.S., mimicking a short track skater’s striding motion. “We knew that our people still have some grudge against the United States for the skating incident, so we wanted to allay that with the goal ceremony,” Ahn told reporters after the game.

2002 Salt Lake City (Figure Skating)
An unprecedented second set of gold medals was awarded to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in the pairs’ event after a French judge said she was pressured to rank them below Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in what turned out to be a 5-4 judges’ decision. Later that year, figure skating’s judging system was overhauled. The 6.0 scale was thrown out. A code of points was instituted that, while undergoing tweaks, is still in place today.

2004 Athens
Gymnastics judging imbroglios in Greece ultimately helped expedite that sport’s judging system change. In the men’s all-around final, South Korean Yang Tae-Young‘s parallel bars score was protested by his federation two days after the event for having a start value one tenth too low. Had it been a tenth higher, Yang would have earned gold rather than the bronze behind American champion Paul Hamm. The International Gymnastics Federation ruled that Yang’s start value should have been a tenth higher but did not change the results (the Americans also noted that Yang was not penalized two tenths during his routine for having too many hangs). Nevertheless, FIG president Bruno Grandi then wrote Hamm a letter urging him to give the gold medal to Yang. A final South Korean appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was denied, in part because the original protest was filed too late. Hamm remains the gold medalist. Later in the Athens Games, a booing crowd led to a score upgrade for Russian Alexei Nemov in the high bar final. Hamm was the next man up who had to wait nearly 10 minutes before the episode ended. Hamm ultimately earned silver, losing a tiebrearker to Italian Igor Cassina.

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