Not many people can say that they had an Olympics nick-named after them, or that their husband went to prison for the sake of a medal, or that they were the first Black woman to win gold in the Winter Games. 

When Jean-Claude Killy dominated the 1968 Alpine Skiing events in Grenoble, the media called it ‘The Killympics.’ When figure skater Tonya Harding’s husband hired someone to club competitor Nancy Kerrigan in the knee to keep her off the ice for the 1994 Olympics, Kerrigan took home the silver and Tonya’s husband was sentenced to two years in prison. In 2002, Vonetta Flowers who was initially a track and field athlete ended up bringing team USA to victory along with Jill Bakken in the two-woman Bobsleigh event, as the first Black woman to take home gold in the Winter Olympics. 

In 1988 the Winter Games in Calgary received a visit from the Caribbean – the Jamaican Bobsled team made its debut and although they came far from winning any medals, they continued to compete throughout the years. The team also inspired the film Cool Runnings. 

There were also those who defeated the odds. Team USA, composed almost entirely of amateur players, beat The Soviet Union who was the favorite to win in what was coined ‘The Miracle on Ice’ during the 1980 Lake Placid games in the height of the Cold War. Team USA then beat Finland in the final and won gold, and the USSR won silver after beating Sweden. In 1988, speed skater Dan Jansen competed in the 500-meter race just hours after his sister’s death. Although he was the favorite to win, he fell during the race but later took home the gold in 1994. Austrian skier Hermann Maier who crashed in the 1998 Nagano Games was thought to be paralyzed, only to come back a few days later and win two gold medals in the Super-G and the Giant Slalom. He was awarded the nickname ‘The Herminator.’ 

The Herminator wasn’t the only winter Olympian with a nickname: Ski jumper Michael Edwards was known as ‘Edie the Eagle’, Italian skier Alberto Tomba was known as ‘La Bomba’ (the bomb), Franz Klammer as ‘Kaiser Franz’ or the ‘Austrian Astronaut’, and snowboard protege Shaun White ‘The Flying Tomato’ – just to name a few.

Words and image selection by Columnist, Sofia Bergmann.
See our Winter Olympic Archive Collection here