This past year has felt like a world with its finger on the pause button. Everything from major movie releases to global events had to be postponed if not canceled altogether. As the world slowly and tentatively lifts its collective finger, one of the most notable postponements, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, finally gets its time to shine in 2021. Rather than focus on all the logistics and notable absentee athletes, we’ll take a look back at three of the most thrilling upsets in summer Olympic history.
3. Argentina Men’s Basketball Team Def. the United States
Athens, Greece, 2004
While the U.S. basketball team had been upset at the Olympics in basketball before, this time was very different. This was the Dream Team era. Team USA had some of the best players in the world from the best league in the world. None of that mattered to Argentina, though. The 89-81 final score doesn’t do the defeat justice. Keeping to the fundamentals, the Argentinians outplayed and outpaced Team USA throughout the game. Argentina would go on to win the gold against Italy, while Team USA settled for bronze.
2. United States Women’s Gymnastics Team Def. Russia
Atlanta, Georgia, 1996
Russia’s women’s gymnastics team had brought home nearly every gold medal since 1952. That all ended in Atlanta.
The day had a familiar vibe. The Russians had a narrow lead over the Americans going into the final day of competition. Fueled by a raucous Atlanta crowd, Team USA took the lead early, but Dominique Moceanu had a poor showing on the vault. Then disaster struck. Kerri Strug injured her ankle on her first go on the vault. Limping badly and unable to put much weight on the injury, her final attempt on the vault was America’s last chance for points. What happened next was one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history. Summoning all her will, Kerri Strug sprinted down the lane and executed a near-flawless vault before sticking the landing on her one good leg. Check out the link. It’ll give you chills.
1. Rulon Gardner Def. Aleksandr Karelin
Sydney, Australia, 2000
To understand the magnitude of this particular upset, you don’t need to know how the points work. You don’t need to have a grasp of the rules. You only need to understand the following: Karelin was a beast. Raised in harsh southern Siberia, the man weighed 15 pounds at birth. With three gold medals, nine world titles, and zero losses in international competition, Karelin was one of the most terrifying athletes in Olympic history. Gardner was the flip side of the coin. The youngest of nine children, he was a fun-loving kid who grew up on a dairy farm in Wyoming.
Karelin had a 20-pound weight advantage and a history of pummeling opponents so thoroughly they quit rather than continue fighting him. Gardner didn’t care. Scoring a shocking point in the second round, he held Karelin off and won 1-0 in overtime.
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