The 5 greatest moments in the Olympic Games - let’s hear it for the underdogs!

Christine Kapak
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They say every dog has its day, and that applies to underdogs too. Nowhere more so, it seems, than when it comes to the greatest show on earth - the Olympic Games.
With Rio 2016 in full swing, we look back at some of the surprise winners and unexpected overachievers to have graced the medal podium in the recent past.

Emil Zatopek 

Maybe it was his unorthodox training methods that made Czech runner Emil Zatopek's string of athletic successes so inspiring. Legend has it he sometimes ran in army boots, sometimes layered in multiple tracksuits, sometimes even with his wife on his back.

Whatever the truth in the rumours, the results spoke for themselves. At the Helsinki Games of 1952 he went down in the history books for winning three distance-running golds - 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon - in little over a week. It's a feat that was unprecedented at the time - and remains unequalled to this day.

But even before then Emil was grabbing the headlines. At his first Olympics in London four years earlier, his gold medal-winning run in the 10,000m saw him lap so many other competitors that the time-keepers couldn't keep up and only gave official records to the first 11 over the finishing line.

The look on their faces, however, was nothing to the bizarre contortions his own expressions went through. Sports journalists mocked these grimaces (and his ungainly style as a whole), memorably describing him as running "like a man who has just been stabbed in the heart". His retort? "I am not talented enough to run and smile at the same time."

Anthony Nesty

He was born in Trinidad before moving, at nine years old, to a country few people have heard of, let alone can locate on a map. Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America, is densely forested with a population of just 470,000. More pertinently to the man who was to become the first athlete of African descent to win gold in Olympic swimming, it had only one full-sized pool.

Nevertheless in Seoul 1988 Anthony Nesty triumphed in the 100m butterfly. This was despite being up against a superstar of the sport in American Matt Biondi, who clinched seven medals (including five golds) at the same Games.

Nesty's victory was just 1/100th of second, but it propelled him, a virtual unknown, to fame and a place in sporting legend. Back at home he was feted as a national hero and his achievement commemorated on stamps and currency.

Misty Hyman

Staying poolside, let's hear it for Misty Hyman, the 21-year-old American who ruined the Aussies' happy-ever-after by beating local girl, defending champion and most decorated Australian Olympian Susie O'Neill in Sydney in 2000.

As well as her considerable form and experience, it was also O'Neill's final Olympics and in front of a home crowd to boot. No one was betting on an upset.

And yet, despite having considered quitting the sport less than a year earlier, Misty Hyman took on the challenge. Her secret weapon? A powerful underwater dolphin kick - a skill which, in those days, was underrated and easily dismissed. She used it to power to victory in the 200m butterfly, beating O'Neill by 7/10ths of a second. It knocked sports commentators sideways - and even Hymen herself seemed unsure of the result, repeatedly looking at the scoreboard to check it wasn't all a marvellous dream.

Steven Bradbury

His reputation, at best, was for being unlucky. Critics were less kind and labelled him a reckless racer. And it's easy to understand why, for Steven Bradbury, a speed skater from Sydney, crashed out (literally) of both the '94 and '98 Winter Olympics. To add injury to insult, he also suffered a horrific fall in September 2000 when, having clipped a fallen competitor with his skate, he plunged headfirst into a barrier, breaking two vertebrae and requiring pins in his skull.

Against all the odds he recovered sufficiently to take part in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Not only that, he found himself in the 1,000m final when, as a third-place finisher in the semis, he was called up to replace another competitor who had been disqualified.

Conscious of his past form, Bradbury's coach advised him to stay back in the race and, in this way, to avoid potential collisions if the pack bunched up. His words had a ring of the prophetic because, in the last turn, an enormous pile-up took out the entire opposition. All, that is, except for a slightly bashful Steven Bradbury who, at a safe remove in last position, now found himself the unexpected leader.

'Eddie the Eagle'

Finally, to one of the most beloved underdogs of them all - Michael 'Eddie the Eagle' Edwards. Cheltenham-born, he became a folk hero when he donned British team kit to compete in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Canada. The country's sole participant, Edwards' events were the 70m and 90m ski jumps, where he was categorically outclassed by every single competitor.

What he lacked in talent, however, Edwards made up in likeability. The tabloid press were particularly charmed, and celebrity soon followed, culminating in a biopic released earlier this year starring Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken.

Less impressed were Olympic bigwigs of the time who, soon after his lacklustre performance on the slopes, introduced stricter entry requirements to ensure other countries tempted to bring their own 'Eddie the Eagles' into international competition would be thwarted. Edwards himself failed to secure another Olympic place.

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