Paraskevi Patoulidou in Barcelona 1992 ()Paraskevi Patoulidou in Barcelona 1992 () © Copyright

Surprise Surprise

Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan wrecked three-time college cross country champ Edward Cheserek's dreams of a historic four-peat to take the 2016 NCAA XC Division I title at the weekend. It was a minor upset compared to some of the ones listed below.

Tokyo 1964: Billy Mills

Orphaned at the age of 12 and raised in an Indian Reservation for Oglala Siouc people, William Mervin “Billy” Mills (nee Makata Taka Hela) joined the US Marine Corpse after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Physical Education.

In 1964 he qualified for the US Olympic team in the 10,000m and the marathon. Going into the race, the clear favourite for the 10,000m title was world record holder Ron Clarke. With two laps to go, the leading pack merely consisted of three men; Clarke, Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and Mills. Clarke, whose world record stood at 28:15.6, seemed untouchable; neither Gammoudi nor Mills had gone sub-29 before.

After some bumping and shoving on the final lap it looked like a close call between Clarke and Gammoudi. However, with a late surge Mills went wide into lane four to sprint past the pair and take the victory. His winning time of 28:24.4 was almost 50 seconds faster than his previous PB and an Olympic record. No American had won the event before him and no American has won it since. 

Billy Mills wins the 10,000m at the 1964 Olympics ()

Munich 1972: Ulrike Meyfarth

Ulrike Meyfarth went into the 1972 Munich Olympics as a true underdog. She qualified for the Games as the third member of the German national team and held a personal best 1.85m.

In front of a patriotic home crowd the 16-year-old rose to the occasion to secure gold with a clearance over 1.90m. She went on to add a further 2cm to her winning height to equal the world record of 1.92m. Her win made her the youngest Olympic champion in an individual athletics event and set her up for a career that saw her win a second Olympic gold 12 years later and better the world record to 2.03m. 

Ulrike Meyfarth during the 1972 Olympics ()

Tokyo 1991: Mike Powell

Going into the 1991 World Championships, Carl Lewis had a 65-meet long jump winning streak dating back to 1981 and a 15-0 record against fellow American Mike Powell.

Lewis wasted no time to take charge in the final, while Powell struggled to find into the competition. After four rounds Powell had his hands firmly on silver, but gold seemed well out of reach. Lewis, aided by a +2.9m/s tailwind, had leapt 8.91m and looked sure to take the title. If Powell wanted to win gold, he would have to break the world record.

After a fourth round foul, Powell hit the board perfectly in the next round and sailed to an unprecedented (and wind-legal) 8.95m, beating Bob Beamon’s world record of 8.90m by 5cm. But the competition wasn’t over.

Lewis responded with the longest wind-legal jump of his career to move within 8cm of Powell and added another 8.84m jump to his impressive score card. Despite his consistency on the day and producing four jumps over 8.80m, Lewis had to settle for silver. Powell’s 8.95m leap with just 0.3m/s tailwind secured him the world title and a world record, which still stands to this day.

Mike Powell sets a world record at the 1991 World Championships ()

Barcelona 1992: Paraskevi Patoulidou

Going into the 1992 Olympic 100m hurdles final, Greece’s Paraskevi Patoulidou was already made up. She’d bettered her PBs in each round of the championships; from 12.96 in the heats to 12.88 in the semis.

The final proved once again why you should never bet on the sprint hurdles. Gail Devers was the overwhelming favourite in the blocks, but the American made a mistake at the final hurdle and tripped. Patoulidou took advantage of the unexpected finish and dipped for the line. Her winning time of 12.64 was a national record and made her the first Greek sportswoman to win an Olympic gold medal. 

Paraskevi Patoulidou wins the 100m in Barcelona 1992 ()

Rio 2016: Dilshod Nazarov

The 2016 men’s hammer throw final might not go down in history for record breaking distances, but it was a historic event nonetheless.

If there was one safe-bet victory before Rio other than Anita Wlodarczyk’s hammer gold, it would have been her compatriot Pawel Fajdek. But when the auto-qualifying mark for the final of 76.50m proved too far on the day for the two-time world champion, it was anybody’s guess who would take the Olympic title.

Step up, Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov. The 34-year-old secured the title with 78.68m in the fifth round and while it was the first time in 32 years that the Olympic hammer title was won with a throw shorter than 80 metres, it mattered little to Nazarov. The victory was his nation’s first medal of Rio 2016 in any sport and Tajikistan’s first gold medal in any sport since its independence.

Dilshod Nazarov wins the Olympic hammer title in Rio ()

Got any more upsets to add to the list? Tweet us @spikesmag.

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