5 Greatest Underdog Victories

Everyone loves an underdog.

There’s nothing more inspiring than the little guys taking down the big guns. Maybe it’s because, deep down, we all identify with the underdog. Maybe it’s because it gives us hope when teams and individuals achieve the seemingly impossible.

We’ve put together a collection of five of our favourite ever underdog victories so you can relive the glory of these magic moments all over again — or discover them for the first time.

5 of the biggest underdog wins in sporting history

#1. Steven Bradbury’s 2002 Winter Olympic Gold

You know you’ve cemented your place as one of the great underdogs of all time when your name becomes a by-word for winning against all odds.

In Australia, the term “doing a Bradbury” is still well and truly part of our lexicon twenty-odd years on from Bradbury’s miraculous win.

With his 2002 performance in the men’s short track speed skating 1,000m final, Bradbury exemplified the underdog determination to never give up, no matter how challenging the situation.

In his humble victory speech Bradbury acknowledged the elements of luck that contributed to his win, but also rightfully claimed the gold medal as testament to a decade of determination:

“Obviously I wasn’t the fastest skater. I don’t think I’ll take the medal as the minute-and-a-half of the race I actually won. I’ll take it as the last decade of the hard slog I put in.”

As for calling his victory pure luck, that’s not quite a fair assessment. Bradbury was employing strategy by holding back:

“I was the oldest bloke in the field and I knew that, skating four races back to back, I wasn’t going to have any petrol left in the tank. So there was no point in getting there and mixing it up because I was going to be in last place anyway. So (I figured) I might as well stay out of the way and be in last place and hope that some people get tangled up.”

Bradbury had indeed had a long hard slog to even make it to the Olympics. After breaking his neck in a training accident in September 2000, it’s phenomenal the Sydneysider even made it to Salt Lake City at all.

As the first Australian ever to win a Winter Olympic gold medal, Steven Bradbury has earned his place in the history books, and the way in which he won it has earned him a place in Aussie folklore along with it.

#3. Iceland’s Euros 2016 Performance

On paper, it sounds completely impossible. A tiny country with a population of 300,000 taking down England, a football-obsessed nation of over 50 million.

Yet that’s what happened at the 2016 Euros where Iceland blasted onto the scene and soon earned a cult following from fans of all nationalities.

Not everyone was a fan though, with Portuguese superstar Ronaldo expressing his disdain for the Icelandic team’s performance:

“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end [of their 1-1 draw with Portugal].

“It was unbelievable. When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend, this, in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in this competition.”

Ronaldo’s sour grapes attitude over the 1-1 draw with Iceland is in contrast to the Reykjavik Grapevine magazine’s sentiments, who summed up their performance in charmingly Icelandic fashion:

“And now we smite them into tiny pieces of dust and destroy their goal with a ball set on fire by our volcanic thunder.”

Amazingly, around 10% of Iceland’s population of just over 300,000 travelled to France to witness their nation’s greatest sporting hour.

Although they eventually got knocked out 5-2 by France in the quarter-finals, the Iceland team’s performance will go down in history as one of the greatest underdog moments in sporting history.

#3. Newcastle Knights 1997 ARL Grand Final Win

To appreciate the magnitude of the Knight’s 1997 fairytale Grand Final win, you’ve got to know what was happening in Newcastle at the time.

Major employer BHP had recently announced the closure of its Newcastle steelworks, effectively signalling the loss of thousands of jobs for the town whose unemployment rates were already above the national average.

It was less than 8 years since the devastating earthquake of 1989, which still left traces of its destruction throughout the city.

Newcastle needed a win.

The star-studded Manly Sea Eagles were minor premiers, overseen by the Immortal Bob Fulton. The long-standing Sea Eagles club pre-dated the relatively young Knights by 60 years, hailing from Sydney’s prosperous Northern Beaches.

This was old versus new, Goliath versus David, Manly versus Newcastle.

By the middle of the first half, Manly led by 10-0, and still led 16-8 when the halftime siren sounded. The Knights would have to pull something out of the bag in the second half.

With 6 seconds to go and the score tied at 16-16, Andrew Johns made an unexpected play, placing himself at dummy half instead of going for a field goal. He offloaded the ball to Darren Albert, the fastest player on the field, who sailed through Manly’s defence and planted the ball between the posts in a movie-perfect season-winning moment.

“I could get killed tomorrow and die a very happy man. I shouldn’t say it but before the game I thought it was out of our reach but this is what dreams are made of.” – Robbie O’Davis, dual try scorer and Man of the Match

#4. Miracle On Ice

It’s not often the USA is considered the underdog, but back in 1980 at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the United States men’s ice hockey team were decidedly not the favourites as they prepared to face down the Soviet Union in a medal round.

The Soviet Union had won gold at 12 out of 16 world championships and won gold at 5 of the previous 6 Winter Olympic Games — and everyone expected them to make it 6 from 7 that day in Lake Placid.

Team USA was made up of college hockey players, veritable Davids in the shadow of the Goliath Olympic and World Championship veteran Soviet Union squad.

For three nail-biting periods, the youthful USA team trailed the Soviets, until at around 10 minutes into the fourth quarter with the scores tied at 3-3, Mike Eruzione shot the puck past Soviet goalie Vladimir Myshkin with a 25-foot wrist shot that sent the 10,000-strong crowd into a frenzy of celebration.

With 10 minutes of play still remaining, the Americans defended like men possessed, with goalie Jim Craig pulling off several spectacular saves.

At last, the final seconds arrived and the crowd counted down to the iconic victory as commentator Al Michaels intoned the soon-to-be-famous words:

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

The final siren sounded and officials, coaches and players flooded onto the ice in a wave of incredulous joy — they’d pulled it off, the miracle on ice!

The plucky young team went on to prove it wasn’t a fluke by taking out the gold against Finland. The Soviets finished with Silver after defeating Sweden.

#5. Leicester City Win The Premier League Title

When it comes to rags to riches underdog victories, they don’t come better than Leicester City’s performance in the 2015/16 Premier League season.

Only 7 years before, Leicester City had been playing in League One, the third tier of English football. The previous season, 2014/15, Leicester were bottom of the league for practically the whole season, with the team narrowly saved from relegation by a late surge of 7 wins in their final 9 matches.

So, just how unlikely was this incredible come-from-behind victory?

  • Odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League at the start of the season: 5000-1
  • Odds of Elvis being found alive: 2000-1
  • Odds of Kim Kardashian becoming US President: 2000-1
  • Odds of discovering the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland: 500-1

With pre-season odds of 5000-1, one lucky fan who believed in his team from the start netted himself £20,000.

The Leicester City Foxes went from 5000-1 outsiders at the start of the season, to three rounds left to play and only one match away from taking the title. Leicester City fans and the entire football community held their breath as the underdog victory of the century looked more and more likely.

Former Leicester City striker, avid supporter and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker tweeted in December, 2015:

Five months later on 2nd May 2016, Leicester beat all odds and were crowned with the Premier League title, their first-ever Premier League win.

Lineker was as good as his word and presented Match of the Day in his Leicester City branded boxers.

gary lineker

Source: Irish Times

Relive the moment Leicester City’s devoted fans learned their team had achieved the impossible.

Winning big off underdog victories

As punters, there’s always something enticing about the idea of those big underdog wins. It’s every bettor’s dream to be the one who picks that 5000-1 outsider, and it’s that element of possibility that keeps many of us coming back for more.

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