Facts, strange & bizarre

Vera Caslavska... winning against great odds.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Pietro Minnea, former World Record holder in 200 metres and winner of the Olympic Gold in Moscow 1980 worked in the PR Department at FIAT motors and received his doctorate in political science weeks before the Games. A political activist for the Social Democratic Party, which favoured a boycott of the Moscow Games, he served as a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004.

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Erika Salumae won two gold medals in cycling (match sprint) for the Soviet Union in Seoul in 1988 and for Estonia in 1992 at Barcelona. Estonia competed as an independent country between 1920 to 36, before the Soviet Union annexed it. Estonia became independent again when the Soviet Union broke up.

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Christa Rothenburger (GDR) won gold in the 500-metre figure skating in Sarajevo in 1984 and took the silver in the next meet in Calgary in 1988. Switching to cycling, she won a silver at Seoul thus achieving a unique record of medals in the summer and winter Olympics in the same year.

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Relentlessly persecuted by political opponents for supporting the liberal regime in Czechoslovakia, Vera Caslavska, winner of the all-around gold in gymnastics in Tokyo, trained in the small town of Sumperk in the Jeseniky Mountains fearing arrest by the Russians.

She captured four gold medals and two silvers in Mexico to add to her collection of four (three gold and one silver) won in Tokyo. Back home, the gymnast queen faced political harassment until the communist government collapsed in 1989. Fortunes turned for the better. She was appointed the President of the Czech Olympic Committee, and an IOC member thanks to the efforts of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

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Karoly Takacs, a member of the Hungarian pistol shooting team, suffered a severe grenade injury as an army sergeant in 1938, losing his right hand. But he changed into a southpaw and after a decade won the gold in 1948 in London at the age of 38.

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Aussie athlete, Edwin Flack, winner of the 800 and 1500 metres in 1896, competed in the marathon also. He employed his butler to follow him on a cycle to serve refreshments on course. But the cyclist, not the athlete, collapsed midway through.

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U.S. gymnast, George Eyser, won three gold medals and a total of six medals in the 1904 Olympics in Paris with a wooden left leg. He lost the leg after being run over by train.

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American shooter Sidney Hinds scored a perfect 50 in the free rifle event despite suffering an accidental bullet wound from a Belgian competitor in 1924 in Paris. Hinds later became a U.S. General.

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For the Russian rower Vyacheslav Iavanov, the joy of winning the gold at Melbourne in 1956 lasted only a few minutes. He literally jumped for joy oblivious of his medal falling into the lake. A desperate dive in search of it proved in vain!!

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Dieudonne Lamothe of Haiti has the dubious distinction of running the slowest 5000 metres in Olympic history with a time of 18:50:07s. “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the Haitian dictator, had warned Lamothe that he would be executed if he did not finish the race. And Lamothe escaped by completing it. Luckily, “Baby Doc” had not demanded a medal from Lamothe!

Compiled by S. Thyagarajan