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10 Greatest Upsets in the History of Sports Across the World

6. In 1983, a 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young won a 544-mile endurance race because he ran throughout day and night for 5 days while the professionally trained athletes slept at night. When awarded the first prize of $10,000, Cliff said that he didn’t realize there was an award and ended up giving the money to the other runners!

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Albert Ernest Clifford Young is best known for his unexpected win of the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983. He was 61-years-old, and his occupation was potato farming. He was not a trained athlete, but a fit one.

Young covered a distance of 544 miles (875 km) during the race between Sydney and Melbourne. When Young showed up at the tournament, he was dressed in overalls and farmer’s boots. He started at a slow pace and continued with that pace while his competitors had gone far ahead. But when the other competitors stopped to sleep at night for six hours, Young just kept running at his own pace. At the end of the first night, he was able to take the lead. He kept running continuously for five days and eventually won the race by a lead of 10 hours!

Cliff Young
Cliff Young. Image Credit: Wikipedia

When asked by the press, he told them that he is used to running for two or three days in gumboots to round up his sheep. He later claimed that during the race, he was imagining that he was actually running after his sheep. When he was awarded the prize money of AU$10,000 for winning the race, he said that he had no idea there was a prize! He felt bad accepting it and ended up splitting the money among the five other runners who had completed with him in the race.

Young’s tortoise-and-hare feat became so famous that the Cliff Young Australian Six-Day Race was launched that same year. He was also awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1984 “for long-distance running.” (source)

7. “Miracle on Ice” is the iconic men’s ice hockey game in the Winter Olympics of 1980. The underdog U.S. hockey team that was comprised of college students defeated the defending, four-time-gold-medal-winning USSR team. That was an ending no one expected, and people called it a miracle. 

The year was 1980 and the event was the men’s ice hockey tournament in the Winter Olympics. The game was called “Miracle on Ice” and was being played between the host United States and the many-time-gold-medalists, the Soviet Union.

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In six of the previous Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union had won five of them. The team was made up of professional players with notable experience in playing international games. The US team, on the other hand, was made up of amateur players who were mostly college students. They were the youngest group in the history of the US national team.

When the game started, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the US would lose. The first period ended in a tie. The Soviets took a lead in the second period, but the US team scored two goals in the third and final period to win the game 4-3. The US then went on to win the gold medal by beating Finland in the finals.

This unexpected victory against the professional Soviet team became an iconic moment in the history of US sports. Equally famous is the TV commentary of the final seconds of the game by Al Michaels for ABC in which he said, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

The game was named the top sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated in 1999. In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation called the “Miracle on Ice” the best international ice hockey story of the past 100 years. (source)

8. In 1990, Mike Tyson was the undisputed champion in the boxing world. In his last fight before meeting Buster Douglas, he knocked out his opponent in 93 seconds. But then Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, amazed the world by knocking out Tyson in the 10th round despite having the flu. It was so unexpected that Douglas broke down after the match.

Mike Tyson was the undefeated boxer in the ring. He was the undisputed champion of the world. So, when a professional boxing match was supposed to take place between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas at the Tokyo Dome, everybody was rooting for Tyson. The posters had “Tyson is Back!” written in big letters. In the fight just before this, Tyson had knocked out his opponent in just 93 seconds. The opponent was Carl “The Truth” Williams.

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Many people saw this match as a warm-up routine for Tyson before he met the number one heavyweight contender Evander Holyfield in the next match. Nobody thought Douglas had a chance. But his six consecutive wins in the previous matches gave him the chance to fight Tyson.

Douglas was having a bad time before the match. In the days leading up to the match, he lost his mother, and the mother of his child was suffering from a serious kidney ailment. He had also contracted the flu just before the day of the fight.

Mike Tyson vs Buster Douglas
Mike Tyson after being knocked out by Buster Douglas. Image Credit: Youtube

But all these factors helped Douglas to channel his focus and energy. Douglas dominated the fight from the beginning. He didn’t show any fear and stood his ground when Tyson threw a few of his signature, upper-cut blows. In the eighth round, with just 10 seconds remaining, Douglas was hit by Tyson’s uppercut, but he managed to get up after a nine-second count.

In the dramatic ninth round, Tyson turned aggressive and started throwing punches. Douglas was able to fight off the attacks and cornered Tyson against the ropes. There he threw the historic punches that knocked out Tyson. Douglas himself was so amazed at his win that he broke down in tears and said that he was able to win because of his mother. When no one believed in him, she did. (source)

9. Man o’ War was the undefeated champion in the history of horse racing when after his sixth winning race, he was defeated by a horse named “Upset.” This was the only time Man o’ War lost a race in his entire career. Also, this was the most unexpected upset in the history of horse racing.

Man o' war
Man o’ war before his final race in 1920 (left)/ The only time Man o’ War lost a race and the defeat was against Upset in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga in 1919 (right). Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

Man o’ War is considered as the greatest racehorse of the 20th-century. He started his racing career just after World War I and won 20 out of the 21 races he took part in. Throughout his career, he won  $249,465 in prize money, which is equivalent to $3,120,000 in 2018. Along with Babe Ruth, The New York Times honored him with the outstanding athlete of the year award.

The irony is that Man o’ War lost just one race in his career and that too to a horse named “Upset.” In 1919, the Hopeful Stakes and Belmont Futurity were the most important races for two-year-old horses in the US. Man o’ War had won both of them. So naturally, at the Saratoga Race Course, people were sure he would win.

But Man o’ War had a bad start and ended the race close to last. After this race, Man o’ War met Upset six times and won every single time. Some people believe that the unexpected win of Upset popularized the use of the phrase “upset” in sports which refers to the winning of an underdog against a favored champion. But that is not the case. The word “upset” was being used to describe such a situation for decades before this race. (source)

10. Pittsburgh Pirates were total underdogs when pitted against the New York Yankees who had won 10 out of the last 12 pennants while coming into the 1960 World Series. So, literally, everybody favored them. But then, the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history to win the championship.

On October 13, 1960, the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates played an amazing and exhilarating game. It was a game between the underdog Pirates and the well-trained and favorite Yankees. It was the seventh game of the series in which the lead change hands not one, but four times! And the winning point was a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski. This was the first and the only time when a winner-take-all World Series game ended with a walk-off home run. The game was also special as it did not feature a single strike, the only time this happened in the history of the World Series.

In the series, the Yankees won three blow-out games. The Pirates, on the other hand, were able to win four, albeit, close games. Winning four games made them the champions of the series. (source)

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