With Leicester City on the brink of one of the greatest surprises in English football history, we look at 8 other sporting moments that shocked the world...
What is it that makes sport truly special? Is it the spectacle? The spirit of competition that’s been part of our DNA for millennia? Or perhaps it’s the storytelling aspect of it all. As Danny Willett just proved at the US Masters, no matter how great the odds, you can never truly predict what’s going to happen.
Likewise, the 2015/16 Premier League season has been undoubtedly the most surprising and unpredictable ever, and if Leicester City finish the season as Premier League champions, it will go down in history as one of the greatest upsets of the modern era. There will be books written, and films and documentaries made about this story. With that in mind, here are eight other sporting surprises, where the victors shocked the world…
Ice Hockey: Miracle on Ice
In the height of the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union faced off at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid for the ice hockey gold medal. The Soviets were heavy favourites, having won the last four Olympic tournaments and plenty more besides, and fielded a team of decorated professionals against the amateur college players representing the US. When the unbeatable Soviets lost, it wasn’t just a shock to the sporting world but to the political one too – the USA had struck a significant blow to their Cold War foes and the Soviet media crucified its national team. The USSR still won the silver medal, but their shame was such that they never even had their names inscribed on them.
American Football: The helmet catch
The Superbowl is designed to be a meeting of the best teams from two separate American Football conferences, but very occasionally it throws up a real David vs. Goliath matchup. Superbowl XLII was one such occasion, when the undefeated New England Patriots faced a talented but erratic New York Giants squad. The Patriots had steamrolled everything in their path and were ready to be crowned as one of the great NFL dynasties, but one man and his helmet stood in their way. With the Patriots up 14-10 and just one more stop needed, NYG quarterback Eli Manning somehow avoids three Patriots defenders and launches the ball at Giants receiver David Tyree, who can’t catch the ball but manages to pin it against his helmet. Two plays later, the Giants score a touchdown, and win Superbowl XLII against all the odds.
Rugby Union: Japan beats South Africa
The Rugby World Cup isn’t home to a great number of upsets – even the lesser nations like Samoa and Argentina are seen as being credibly dangerous if not a major threat. But when World Cup minnows Japan faced off against South Africa in the second game of the tournament, the possibility of an upset had not even been considered. Even when Japan stuck with the Springboks for most of the game, no-one believed they could win. With the game into stoppage time, and a penalty required for the draw, Japan went for victory and scored a try to win the game, pulling off the biggest upset in Rugby Union history.
Football: USA beat England in 1950
The 1950 World Cup in Brazil was the first time England had agreed to take part in the competition, and were heavy favourites to win. Conversely, the USA were part-time players mostly, and had lost their last seven matches by a combined score of 45-2, including a particularly heavy 11-0 drubbing by Norway. “We have no chance,” said US coach Bill Jeffrey. England played a 3-2-5 formation, and pounded away at the American defensive to no avail, whilst Haitian striker Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal of the game for the USA, gifting them a most unlikely victory.
Boxing: Buster Douglas KOs Tyson
Boxing loves an underdog – Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise is proof enough of that – but there’s been no bigger upset in the sport than when Buster Douglas became the first man to defeat Mike Tyson. Only one Vegas bookmaker would take money on the fight, and even then it was only at 42-1 odds for Buster Douglas – a fighter who had lost his last fight at heavyweight. Iron Mike was at his peak, already being talked about as one of the greatest ever to don a pair of gloves. When Tyson knocked Douglas down in the eighth round the fight looked over, but Douglas came back stronger and, inspired by the recent loss of his mother, unleashed furious volleys on Tyson. Tyson hit the canvas in the tenth round, and when he failed to get back up the boxing world turned upside down.
Tennis: Goran Ivanišević wins Wimbledon
Much-loved Ivanišević had been one of the best grass court players in the world for much of the ‘90s but had never won Wimbledon, finishing as runner-up in ‘92, ‘92, and ‘98. By 2001, his hard-serving style had taken its toll, and injuries had seen him fall to 125 in the world, but the All England Club offered him one last chance, giving him wildcard entry to Wimbledon. With the pressure off and the crowds behind him, Ivanišević powered through to a semi-final against Tim Henman, where he found himself on the brink of defeat before rain crucially intervened. The stoppage broke Henman’s nerve and Ivanišević prevailed, eventually beating Pat Rafter in a spellbinding final to become the first and only wildcard ever to win at Wimbledon.
Basketball: Texas Western beats Kentucky
Texas Western’s victory over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA college basketball finals isn’t the biggest upset in basketball history, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most significant. Kentucky was a prestigious basketball powerhouse, undefeated that year, and coached by Adolph Rupp – a man who vowed that “a black would never play at Kentucky.” The unheralded Texas Western Miners had squeezed through into the finals – facing a great deal of biased, racist refereeing along the way – and in beating the Kentucky Wildcats they became the first all-black team to win the NCAA tournament, setting the wheels of change in motion for equality in the sport.
Athletics: GB shocks the world in 4×100 relay
Great Britain’s 4x100m relay team had been full of promise for many years, but failed to deliver both in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, bungling baton changes and bowing out before even reaching the final. In 2004 the team headed to Athens fresh off the back of the Dwain Chambers drugs scandal, and faced off against an American squad which featured four of the five fastest men in the world, including 100m Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, 200m champion Shawn Crawford and former champ Maurice Greene. Despite the odds, GB turned in a perfect run, and Mark Lewis-Francis managed to hold off Maurice Greene by one hundredth of a second to pull off one of the most incredible Olympic upsets of all time.
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