The Olympic Games have always been a source of inspiration featuring the best of the best in amateur sports and athletics competitions. Just watching these athletes achieve amazing feats is awe-inspiring, but when you think they can't do any more, they go that extra mile. This is what takes an athlete from great to exceptional. Read on to uncover the top 10 most inspiring stories of the Winter Olympics, stories of people overcoming the greatest obstacles in their quest for excellence.
The Jamaican Bobsled Team: Tropical Inspiration
One of the most inspirational stories of the Winter Olympics has to be the success of the Jamaican bobsled team. They debuted at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta where they became famous because of the novelty of a tropical based team competing in a winter sporting event. Unfortunately, they did not finish because they lost control and crashed. However, they were greeted with applause when they walked to the finish line, carrying their sled.
They showed significant improvement throughout the games,
impressing onlookers with fast starts, and then went on to qualify in
the 1992 Winter Olympics in France. Here, they finished poorly but they
did place 14th, ahead of the US, Russia, France and Italy in the 1994 Winter
Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In 2000, the Jamaican team took home
the gold medal from the World Push Bobsled Championships. Their story
inspired the major motion picture, Cool Runnings.
Dan Jansen: Overcoming Personal Tragedy and Going for Gold
Dan Jansen is one of the best American speed skaters in history and his story is one not easily forgotten. In the 1988 Winter Olympics, Jansen was one of the favorites to win the gold. However, the devastating news of his sister's death of leukemia mere hours before the beginning of the race led to him losing in both the 500 and 1,000-meter races.
He again failed in 1992 in Albertville but at Lillehammer in 1994, Dan Jansen not only won the gold but also set a new world record. He dedicated the medal to his sister in a touching moment. Lillehammer was to be the last time he competed in the Olympics and he went out in style, raising the bar for all Olympic competitors.
Vonetta Flowers: Accidental Olympian
Vonetta Flowers had always dreamed of competing in the Olympics but had always been unsuccessful in securing a spot on the Track & Field team. In 2000, a few months before the Olympic trials she was admitted to hospital for the fifth surgery on her knee in eight years. Her disappointment led to her decision to retire after a disappointing performance at the trials.
A mere two days after the trials, Vonetta's husband decided to try out for the U.S. bobsled team after seeing a flyer inviting track and field athletes to try out. Vonetta was not interested and was still trying to deal with the fact that she would never live out her dream of competing in the Olympics. However, she agreed to accompany her husband to the trials. Unfortunately, Johnny pulled his hamstring as soon as the trials began and Vonetta agreed to stand in for him.
This series of accidents would lead to Vonetta and her partner, Jill Bakken, winning the Gold medal at the Winter Olympics only a year later, becoming the first U.S. bobsled team to win a medal in 46 years. Vonnetta Flowers is also the first person of African descent to win a Gold medal at the Winter Olympics!
Dale Begg-Smith: The Canadian Who Became Australia's Olympic Hero
Dale Begg-Smith, also known as the Iceman, won the Gold medal for Australia at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics in skiing. Born in Vancouver, Dale worked hard just to qualify for the Australian team, perfecting his technique and style for three years. His hard work paid off as he won Australia's first Gold medal in this category.
Dale originally skied for Canada but he was not allowed to focus on other responsibilities, such as school, alongside the team and decided to leave. Steve Desovich, Dale's coach at the time, advised him to move to Australia, where he received dual citizenship and joined the Australian team.
Ruben Gonzalez: Oldest Winter Olympics Competitor
At the age of 47, Ruben Gonzalez will be competing in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as part of the U.S. luge team. Gonzalez is a national luge champion and a three-time Olympic competitor.
His story began at the age of 21, when Scott Hamilton's win of the Olympic Gold Medal kindled a fire in him to compete in the Olympics. As a boy, he had moved to the U.S. from Argentina when he was 6, as his father worked for Exxon and they were relocated. He spoke no English and was teased or ignored by his classmates.
Most luge athletes begin training at the age of 12, but this did not deter Ruben. After many crashes, bruises and broken bones, Ruben qualified to compete in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Since then, he has also competed in the Albertville and Salt Lake City games, and will now be competing again at 47 in the Vancouver games.
Han Xiaopeng : China's Golden Inspiration
Han Xiaopeng not only won China the first gold medal in Olympic history, but also become the youngest Olympic skiing champion. Born in 1982, Xiaopeng's rise was anything but easy. After suffering a severe knee injury in 2000, at the World Cup, and again in 2001, before the Salt Lake City Olympics, Xiaopeng seriously considered retiring. The damage to his knee was so extensive that he had to be hospitalized with experts claiming he was lucky he hadn't been crippled for life.
However, exhibiting the true spirit of an Olympian, Xiapeng forged ahead. With a lot of hard work and pain, he won the gold in the 2006 Torino Olympics. Because of his victory, China has begun spending more money on sports and supporting their athletes.
Nikki Stone: They Said She Would Never Walk Again, She Brought Home the Gold
Nikki Stone won the gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics for inverted aerial skiing. The stunning aspect of this win is that a mere two years earlier more than ten doctors told her she would never ski again, especially since she couldn't even stand at the time. Two spinal discs had suffered massive damage due to a chronic injury and they told her there was nothing they could do.
However, Nikki refused to go down without a fight and two years later proudly stood on the Olympic podium, receiving her gold medal. She has continued to prove her doctors wrong by winning 11 World Cup titles, four national titles and two Overall Grand Prix titles. Not too shabby for someone who would never ski again.
Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards: A Different Kind of Success
Edwards' dream was to compete in the Olympics as a downhill skier. However, he just missed qualifying for the British team for the 1984 games. In an attempt to improve his chances of qualifying for the 1988 games, he moved to Lake Placid in the U.S. to be able to enter higher standard races. Unfortunately, he soon ran out of funds so he switched to ski jumping. This way he could qualify easier, as there were no British ski jumpers, and the costs were much lower.
Not only was he heavier compared to other competitors, he also was very shortsighted, meaning he had to wear glasses all the time. However, he still qualified for the games and at the time, he was living in a mental institute because he couldn't afford any other accommodation. He came in last in both ski jumping events but captured the hearts of people all over the world.
He became known as "Mr. Magoo" and was singled out by Frank King, indirectly, in the closing speech to the Winter Olympics. When King stated, "some of you have flown like an eagle," over 100,000 people in the stadium shouted out Eddie's name.
Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards was chosen to be one of the torchbearers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and ran with the torch in Winnipeg.
Simon Ammann: From Zero to Hero
Simon Ammann, hailing from Switzerland, took home the gold for both the normal and large hill ski jumping events at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, despite never having placed among the top 12 in any other competition. The 20 year old, who looked no older than 13 and was quickly compared to Harry Potter, almost didn't make it to the games at all. Only two weeks before the start of the games, he suffered a concussion while jumping.
He is the second man to have taken the gold in both events,
preceded by Matti Nykanen of Finland.
"Miracle On Ice": Do You Believe in Miracles?
February 1980 saw a shocking miracle on ice as an inexperienced, amateur U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets, who had defeated the Americans easily a week prior, and went on to take the gold. The Soviets were considered the best team in the world and no one doubted they would be walking away with the gold. To see this young team, made up of mostly college kids, beat the Soviets provided a much-needed ray of hope for the U.S. At the time, the country was suffering from high unemployment and inflation, as well as many political issues.
Mike Eruzione made the winning shot ten minutes before the end of the match, while goalie Jim Craig fought off the Soviet attacks until the match concluded.