When Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dived across the finish line Monday to win the 400 meters, narrowly denying a gold medal for American Allyson Felix, she created one of the most memorable moments of the Rio Olympics.
Miller said it was a spur-of-the-moment action, completely unplanned. Already, some have labeled her finish a new event: land diving.
Instantly, Miller not only earned a victory but a place among the most unusual finishes in Summer Olympics history. Her moment became a part of Olympic lore, along with these 10 crazy endings:
The chef was overcooked
At the 1908 London Games, Italian Dorando Pietri had the marathon gold medal in his grasp. He entered the Olympic stadium in first after taking the lead with about 2 miles to go. But the heat, close to 80 degrees that day, soon took its toll. As he made his way around the track, he stumbled and fell. He was revived and helped to his feet by doctors and others and took off again, still wobbly. He fell four more times and was helped up each time until he finally crossed the finish line first for an apparent victory. Thirty seconds later, American John Hayes finished.
But the U.S. team protested, and Olympic officials ruled Pietri would not have been able to win on his own and disqualified him.
Years later, Pietri, a 5-foot-2 pastry chef, wrote, “The pain in my legs and in my lungs became impossible to bear. It felt like a giant hand was gripping my throat.” He said he barely remembered finishing the race.
When water polo turned bloody
Just weeks after the Soviet military had crushed an anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary, the Hungarian water polo team defeated their oppressors 4-0 in a semifinal match at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
The game had to be called in the final moments because the situation in and out of the pool had turned dangerous. Hungary’s Ervin Zador was struck in the face by a Soviet Union player late in what had been a very rough game, opening a gash near his eye. Zador’s blood poured into the pool. When he climbed out to have his wound tended, irate spectators — including many from Melbourne’s large Hungarian community — and Hungarian officials rushed the pool, screaming at the Soviets. At that point, the Swedish referee ended the game.
The contest has been called the “Blood in the Water” match, because of Zador’s wound.
“We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country,” Zador said years later. “We were yelling at them, ‘You dirty bastards, you come over and bomb our country.’ They were calling us traitors. There was fighting above the water, and fighting beneath the water.”
Burning of the doves
Opening ceremonies are supposed to be uplifting moments to start the Games.
But at the 1988 ceremonies in Seoul, uplifting morphed to horrifying in a matter of moments.
Hundreds of white doves, symbols of peace, had been released as part of the program. Later, the Olympic torch entered the stadium, and the flame eventually was taken by three South Korean athletes to the cauldron high above the field. As the athletes held their torches over the cauldron’s rim, they didn’t know that several of the doves had decided to settle there. When the cauldron caught fire, the doves — some perched, others flying over the spot — were incinerated.
Releasing of doves at opening or closing ceremonies had been common, dating to the first modern Games in 1896. No doves have been released since 1988, however.
Violation ruins good walk
As Jane Saville approached the Olympic stadium, she could hear the crowd of 100,000 roaring in anticipation of her victory.
The Australian had a strong lead in the 20-kilometer race walk in 2000 at Sydney. She appeared a lock for the gold medal as she sped toward the tunnel that would lead her to the track and a final lap to the finish line. Fans carrying Australian flags followed along with her, and Australian network commentators were anticipating her win.
“We are getting so close,” said one.
But as she neared the tunnel, a judge ruled she had lifted two feet off the ground simultaneously, a violation that results in disqualification.
Saville burst into tears but continued walking, waving off an official who tried to stop her. It ranked as one of the most disappointing moments for Aussie fans at the Games.
“What can you do,” Saville said after the race. “Nothing. I was embarrassed and upset. It has been a dream of mine to walk into the stadium first. As I was approaching the tunnel I was thinking, ‘I can do this.’ This was a dream. I could hear the crowd.”
‘The Eel’ makes a splash
Just three months before the Sydney Games in 2000, Eric Moussambani heard a radio pitch: The Equatorial Guinea National Olympic Committee was looking for swimmers to send to Australia. When no one else showed up for a planned trial, all Moussambani had to do was prove he could swim, which he did in a hotel pool.
But Moussambani, then 22, wasn’t a good swimmer, and he soon proved it to the world. In a preliminary qualification round of the 100-meter freestyle, he was to race two other swimmers. Both were disqualified for false starts, however, leaving Moussambani to swim the heat alone in the largest pool he’d ever been in.
Moussambani dived in and began swimming, mostly with his head above water. After 50 meters, he began to flounder. He stopped to catch his breath, then continued. He finally splashed his way to the end, finishing in 1:52.72. It was the slowest time in the event in Olympic history, and one of the most memorable endings ever. The eventual winner of the event at that Games would swim 48.30.
Suddenly, Moussambani was the subject of media reports around the world, an unlikely Olympian who struggled but won his heat, even if he didn’t qualify for a next round. He was dubbed “Eric the Eel.” He was inundated with interview requests, attention and sponsorship offers. But the International Olympic Committee used the incident to crack down on what it called tourist athletes who didn’t belong on the Olympic stage.
“I got a bit worried and thought I wasn’t going to make it,” Moussambani said later of his swim. But he said he was proud. “It’s still a great feeling for me, and I loved when everyone applauded me at the end. I felt like I had won a medal or something.”
Aussies jam on air guitars
Before the 4×100 freestyle relay at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, American swimmer Gary Hall Jr. said he and his mates would “smash the Aussies like guitars.”
U.S. swimmers always had dominated the event, and Hall and Co. were confident, even against an Australian team that featured star Ian Thorpe.
On the anchor leg, Hall, swimming against Thorpe, was in good position with 25 meters left to fulfill his promise. But then Thorpe churned past him, and the Aussies posted a world-record time of 3:13.67. Team USA swam 3:13.86.
As Thorpe climbed out of the pool to celebrate, his teammates Michael Klim, Ashley Callus and Chris Fydler began rocking out, strumming imaginary guitars.
“That wasn’t planned, nor had we spoken about it,” Klim recalled in 2010. “Hadn’t been mentioned at all, but on the spur of the moment we did it.”
The first U.S. swimmer to congratulate them? Hall.
“Even though he dished it out, he was a true sportsman,” Klim said.
Mayhem in the ring
The trouble started when referee Keith Walker held up the arm of Bulgarian boxer Alexander Hristov in victory. Judges had awarded him a 4-1 decision over South Korea’s Byun Jong-il at the end of their bantamweight bout at the 1988 Games in Seoul. Then, a near-riot ensued.
Feeling they’d been robbed, a Korean coach and team manager stormed into the ring, with one of them grabbing Walker, a New Zealander, and shouting at him. Then other South Korean officials poured into the ring, with some throwing, and landing, punches on Walker. Walker eventually was escorted from the ring under heavy security as Korean fans loudly protested and surrounded the ring. Plastic bottles and even a couple of folding chairs were hurled into the ring.
Then it got even weirder. Byun, who twice had points deducted for head butts, as ruled by Walker, refused to leave the ring. He sat on a chair in a corner, or on the canvas, for more than an hour. Two scheduled bouts had to be postponed until he eventually left the ring.
In 2014, Walker told a New Zealand newspaper the situation in the ring that day was “diabolical.”
“I was quite terrified about who was going to clobber me next and how I was going to get clobbered,” he said.
Sneak attack in the marathon
With 4 miles to the finish of the 2004 marathon in Athens, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil had the lead and looked strong. De Lima had led for much of the race and said he felt good.
“For the way I was running, I was unstoppable,” he said later.
De Lima had a big lead when an Irishman named Neil Horan, a defrocked priest wearing a kilt and a green beret, came out of the crowd to push him to the side of the road, grab him and restrain him for about 10 seconds until bystanders helped him break away. De Lima still had the lead, but he says he wasn’t the same.
“He did not injure me, but he broke my rhythm and I lost concentration,” de Lima said.
Stefano Baldini of Italy (gold) and Meb Keflezighi of the U.S. (silver) passed de Lima, who took the bronze.
De Lima was given the honor of lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremonies in Rio.
Marathoner fights to the end
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess wasn’t going to win the debut of the women’s marathon in 1984 at Los Angeles. She was no match for winner Joan Benoit.
But her struggle over the final lap on the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum turned into a moment that was almost as memorable as Benoit’s landmark victory.
Andersen-Schiess, a 39-year-old ski instructor, emerged from the tunnel that leads to the track. Already wobbly from the heat, she ran slowly, almost stiff-legged, and appeared on the verge of collapse. All eyes in the Coliseum and watching on TV focused on her.
ABC announcer Al Michaels told viewers, “That is the quintessential marathon picture, right there.”
Officials moved with her in case she needed help. But she kept going.
Finally, after shuffling the final 400 meters in 5 minutes, 44 seconds, Andersen-Schiess crossed the finish line in 37th place with a time of 2:48:42. She then fell into the arms of Olympic staff.
Some saw it as dangerous. Others saw it as the embodiment of courage. Andersen-Schiess said she knows many remember the moment.
“I think people are always fascinated with something out of the ordinary,” she said 23 years later. “If they see that it’s not that easy but still we fight through it, even if we don’t win, it shows the spirit of the Olympics.”
U.S basketball team robbed of gold
Going into the 1972 Games in Munich, the U.S. men’s basketball team had never lost a game. It had won every gold medal since the sport’s debut in 1936. That all changed with one of the craziest endings to a basketball game anywhere.
In the gold-medal game against the Soviet Union, the Americans trailed early and spent the rest of the game catching up. Finally, with 10 seconds remaining, Doug Collins stole a pass, went in for a layup and was fouled. He made both free throws to give Team USA a 50-49 lead. Then came a series of bizarre events.
After the Soviets inbounded the ball and moved upcourt, officials stopped the game with one second left. The Soviets said they had tried to call a timeout earlier and that the officials missed it. So officials put the clock to three seconds and gave the Soviets the ball to inbound. When they passed the ball in, a last-second shot missed, and Americans celebrated an apparent victory.
Officials stepped in again, however, ruling the clock had not been properly set. Again, the U.S. had to defend an inbounds play with three seconds remaining. This time, Alexander Belov caught a long pass and completed a layup to give his team a 51-50 lead as the horn sounded.
The Americans were stunned. Their protest to the International Basketball Federation that day was denied. The U.S. Olympic streak was over, and American players refused to accept their silver medals.
Said U.S. player Mike Bantom: “We couldn’t believe they were giving them all these chances. It was like they were going to let them do it until they got it right.”