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BIG Surprise Victors in Major Championships

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  • BIG Surprise Victors in Major Championships

    With no athletics on the horizon for at least a couple of months let's take some trips down memory lane.

    Whose victories in major championships were huge surprises?

    By major championships I'm talking World Championships, Olympics, European Championships, Commonwealth Games, and World & European Indoor Championships.

    I'll start with some of the first few that I thought of quite quickly. Some more also came quite easily to mind but I want to leave some for the rest of you to post. If you're looking for something to start with, the Men's 800m seems to be rich pickings. To be reminded of more I'll have to look through results - fortunately all major championship results can be accessed on the one site at

    In general, I would say that it only qualifies as a BIG surprise victory if the victor was no better than the 3rd favourite to win. A 2nd favourite can "easily" win if the favourite has an off day which does happen and is not very surprising in of itself. There are probably a couple of exceptions to this "rule" though, but you'd need to justify why the 2nd favourite winning was a big surprise.

    If you're posting, a bit of commentary on why it was such a big surprise would be good. For posting videos - if you're posting more than one link then do as I've done below (since this new forum doesn't allow more than one link per post) - go to any YouTube video and replace the string in the address after watch?v= with the ID provided.

    OK then ...

    Snežana Pajkić (YUG) - W 1500m at 1990 European Championships (Split)

    Just months after the Berlin Wall came down, the East German & Soviet machines hadn't yet been disbanded. Anyone wanting to triumph in the 1500m final had to get past the likes of Yvonne Mai, Ellen Kiessling, Lyudmila Rogachova, Natalya Artyomova, Doina Melinte & Violeta Beclea, not to mention Sandra Gasser & Christina Cahill also.

    The 19 year old Serbian Snežana Pajkić ... well, yes, she was talented having won the European Junior Championships in 1987 and 1989. But, her PB was only 4:08.21, several seconds slower than all but 2 of the 12 woman field. In fact she'd only made the final by being the 3rd of 4 fastest losers, finishing 7th in her heat.

    It's probably fair to say that she was a rank outsider to even get a medal, even taking into account that she was running on home ground.

    However, in a slow final Pajkić had the best kick (29.7 last 200) and the capacity crowd went nuts as she strode away!

    YouTube ID: xyrFPQOgdkI
    Ah, remember the days when if you wanted to carry the flag on your lap of honour you had to carry the damn flagpole too!

    Her winning time, a 4:08.12 Yugoslav record, remained her career PB. She competed in the 1991 WCh going out in the heats. I remember reading an article on her a few years ago but can't find it now. She suffered some injuries and of course her career was then put on hold by the terrible Yugoslav wars over the next few years. She attempted a comeback in 1996 I think but couldn't get back to the same level, perhaps due to back injuries. These days she is the Vice-President of Serbian Athletics.

    Billy Mills (USA) - M 10,000m at 1964 Olympics (Tokyo)

    Part Native American, Billy Mills grew up on an Oglala Sioux Indian reservation and was also known as Tamakoce Te'Hila. He'd finished 2nd behind Gerry Lindgren at the Olympic Trials but had never broken 29 minutes (a year later Ron Clarke ran a 27:39 WR).

    Entering the '64 Olympics as a virtual unknown Mills faced the likes of Clarke, the 1960 Olympic champions Murray Halberg & Piotr Bolotnikov, Mamo Wolde, Ron Hill and Mohammed Gammoudi, although Gammoudi wasn't yet quite the force he would become.

    But Mills surprised everyone by remaining in contention and the home-straight battle between him, Gammoudi & Clarke afforded what has become for Americans some iconic commentary by Dick Bank - "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!". This earned Bank the sack from NBC since he'd only been employed as a spotter not a commentator.

    Mills won in a 28:24 NR/OR and improved his NR to 28:17 the following year. He retired from athletics after not making the USA team for the 1968 Olympics.

    YouTube ID: VVlKVWFmfhk
    There's better quality (colour) video of the closing stages but this one features "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!"

    Emma Coburn (USA) - W 3000m Steeplechase at 2017 World Championships (London)

    Coburn had the 5th fastest PB (and SB) of those who toed the line in the final and against the 4 faster than her - Chepkoech, Kiyeng, Chespol & Jebet - she held a combined 0-11 record in the 2017 season leading up to the WCh.

    It turned out to be quite a crazy race. Beatrice Chepkoech missed the first water jump and had to turn back to go over it and with 200m there were still 4 athletes in contention for Gold. Amazingly, the USA finished 1-2 with Courtney Frerichs' silver an even bigger surprise than Coburn's victory in a NR/CR.

    YouTube ID: f4dCk4UYZEU

    Of those 4 faster than Coburn, Chepkoech & Kiyeng have managed to remain very competitive and since London 2017 Coburn is 1-7 vs Chepkoech and 3-6 vs Kiyeng further demonstrating what a big surprise her London 2017 victory was.
    Last edited by LuckySpikes; 19-04-20, 13:14.

  • #2
    Richard Kilty's World Indoors Championship, 2014. He wasn't even expected to get selection.


    • #3
      I doubt even his Mum expected Keshorn Walcott to win the spear as a teenager in London 2012. Everyone was totally blindsided by that.


      • #4
        A couple that quickly sprang to mind:-

        Paraskevi 'Voula' Patoulidou in the 100 Hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Yes her win was largely down to Gail Devers clobbering the last flight but she would have been no-one's favourite to have even got a medal.

        Marius Corbett's javelin gold at the 1997 Worlds in Athens. He improved by 4.50m and beat a field including the likes of Zelezny, Backley, Parviainen, Makarov, Henry and Hill.


        • #5
          Bump to get in front of the ludicrous amount of spam.