1 STEVEN BRADBURY, OLYMPIC SPEED SKATING, 2002
Sport has some basic rules. Put the ball over the net. Stay on your feet. Bradbury, the Australian, did the second and it took him from last to first. In the men’s short track 1,000m speed skating event, Bradbury was in fifth place. Then the top four skaters got in a tangle in the end, all fell and Bradbury skated past them and over the finish line. Then, fittingly, he said: “I don’t think I’ll take the medal as the minute-and-a-half of the race I actually won. I’ll take it as the last decade of the hard slog I put in.”
2 RULON GARDNER, OLYMPIC WRESTLING, 2000
Aleksandr Karelin once carried a fridge up to his flat. He reportedly weighed 7kg at birth. He won three successive Olympic super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling gold medals (1988, 1992, 1996) and had not lost a bout in 13 years and was nicknamed “The Experiment”. A fourth Olympic gold in 2000 was a formality because he was fighting a relatively unheralded Wyoming farmboy named Rulon Gardner. But Gardner somehow, incredibly, prevailed, and later said: “I kept saying, ‘I think I can. I think I can.’ But it wasn’t until it was over that I knew I could.”
3 NIGERIAN FOOTBALL TEAM, OLYMPICS, 1996
In the semi-finals, the Nigerians played a Brazilian team which had Ronaldo, Bebeto and Roberto Carlos. Nigeria trailed 1-3. In the final, the Nigerians played an Argentinian team which had Hernan Crespo and Diego Simeone. Nigeria trailed 1-2. Yet the African team won both matches, the semi-final 4-3 and the final 3-2, on their way to a miraculous gold. In Nigeria that night, wrote The Guardian, some bars ran out of beer.
4 BUSTER DOUGLAS, HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING, 1990
In Mike Tyson’s 35th fight, Michael Spinks lasted 91 seconds. In Tyson’s 37th fight, Carl Williams was down in 93 seconds. So it was appropriate that in Tyson’s 38th fight, Buster Douglas was a 40-1 outsider. But Tyson was not in perfect shape and Douglas was unafraid. Despite being knocked down in the eighth round, Douglas knocked Tyson down for the first time ever in the 10th round and won. “I knew he would break,” Douglas told The Independent years later, “if I kept on hitting him. And what did I have to lose?”
5 BORIS BECKER, WIMBLEDON, 1985
The son of a German architect had a beautifully-built serve which he used to knock down people and history. When the tournament began in 1985, Becker was world No. 20 and not widely known; when the tournament ended, he had become, and would stay, unforgettable. The 17-year-old had style, power, joy and timing. His 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 win in the final over Kevin Curren made him the youngest champion on those lawns, the first German man to win there and the first unseeded player to grab the men’s singles.
6 HINAKO SHIBUNO, BRITISH OPEN GOLF, 2019
She had never played a tournament outside Japan. She had never played in an LPGA event. She had never been at a Major. But Shibuno, a cheerful presence who was dubbed “Smiling Cinderella”, won the British Open at Woburn by a single shot. When asked by a reporter how she would spend her winnings, she replied: “Could you tell me how much I won?”
TOMORROW: Comebacks worth coming back to
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