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While plenty of betting favorites won gold in the 2020 Olympic Games, many experienced stunning upsets by relatively unknown or uncelebrated opponents. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
Our pick of the Olympic lot
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics drawing to a close, many betting favorites in the competition won gold, while a considerable number did not.
VegasSlotsOnline News has looked at the most surprising upsets this summer and picked nine that are arguably the most stunning, with some heavy favorites ending up losing to relatively unknown or uncelebrated opponents.
We ordered our list using part math, part subjective magic. How large the favorite was who lost or how long the odds were on the underdog who won was half the equation. But pure odds and probabilities never tell the entire story at the Olympics. Thus, we also factored in other things like the impact the upset had on the games, the visibility or stature of the athletes and their events, and even the unlikely storylines behind the upsets.
pure odds and probabilities never tell the entire story
Regardless of the order, the Olympics always bring us inspiring tales of triumph. Let’s start in the swimming pool with the ninth spot on our list…
9. Finke finishes with an unbelievable burst
Robert, or Bobby, Finke placed first at the US Olympic Team Trials in both the 800m and 1,500m freestyle. But despite that, he was a longshot to win gold in the 800 in Tokyo. At +3,500 on DraftKings, he was tied for the tenth-best odds. The favorite was 2019 World Champion Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy at +140, with Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine and Jack McLoughlin of Australia both solid bets, as well, at +250 and +300 respectively.
Paltrinieri led for most of the race, while Finke was in fifth, comfortably with the rest of the pack. The pack caught up to Paltrinieri in the last 100 meters or so, though he still led. With just 25 meters left, Finke was still in a close fifth place but somehow found a burst of speed, passing everyone to touch the wall with a new American record.
Finke also won the 1500 for a double gold in his first Olympic Games.
8. Women’s tennis top seeds fall early
The women’s tennis singles competition was total chaos this summer. Going into the tournament, the top two ranked women in the world, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty and Japan’s Naomi Osaka, were naturally the two favorites to win. According to DraftKings, Osaka – the home country hero and world number two – was actually the favorite at +275. Barty, the top-ranked player, was +350. Only two other players were better than +1,000.
The final four consisted of the fourth, ninth, and 15th seeds, as well as one unseeded player.
But then, shockingly, Barty lost in the first round. After cruising through the first two rounds, Osaka got bounced in the third. In fact, most of the women with the best odds bowed out well before they were expected. The final four consisted of the fourth, ninth, and 15th seeds, as well as one unseeded player.
In the end, it was ninth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland who won gold. According to DraftKings, despite being ranked 12th in the world at the time, she was only +3,000 to claim the top prize at the Olympics. In the quarterfinals, Bet365 gave her the second-worst odds of the remaining eight players.
7. Marcell Jacobs wins 100-meter dash
Without the retired Usain Bolt in the field, the men’s 100m dash outcome was not a foregone conclusion. With that said, barely anybody expected the result we were given. There was certainly an odds-on favorite in the USA’s Trayvon Bromell at -120, according to Bet365 before the games began, but the competition still felt wide open. It wasn’t Bolt against children.
In a stunning outcome, it was Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs – he of +2,500 odds and one of the longest shots of those who were thought to at least have a chance – who won the gold medal. Bromell didn’t even make the final.
Jacobs also led the Italian team to the prestigious 4×100 gold, a race where favorite USA didn’t medal, as they botched a handoff in Heat 2 and didn’t make the final.
6. Hebert Sousa scores desperation knockout
Ukraine’s Oleksandr Khyzhniak was the odds-on favorite to win gold in the men’s boxing middleweight division. DraftKings had him at -175, with the Russian Olympic Committee’s Gleb Bakshi, who won the 2019 Worlds, coming behind him at +350 odds.
Khyzhniak is widely considered the best pound-for-pound amateur boxer in the world. He reached the gold medal match against Brazil’s Hebert Sousa, boasting a 62-fight winning streak. He hadn’t lost since failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Khyzhniak seemed destined for a gold medal.
And for the first two-and-a-half of three rounds against Sousa, who was +1,600 to win the gold medal prior to the tournament, Khyzhniak seemed destined for a gold medal. He absolutely dominated the fight, winning both the first two rounds on every judge’s scorecard as he just blitzed Sousa with a never-ending barrage of punches. The announcers were surprised to see him continue his aggressiveness in the third, as he had it locked up, but they heaped praise upon his incredible performance, and justifiably so.
Suddenly, with about 99 seconds remaining in the bout, Sousa connected with a left hook that sent Khyzhniak backward and onto the mat. Sousa instantly celebrated, assuming he had just won, and he was right. Khyzhniak got up fairly quickly, but he was clearly wobbly and the referee stopped the match.
Hebert Sousa went from just trying to finish respectably to winning gold by knockout.
5. Ahmed Hafnaoui surprises everybody from outside lane
During the last Olympics, Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui was just a young teenager. He was one of the best in the world for his age, and though he competed in some of the world’s top youth meets, he never won a major race.
Now an “old” teenager at 18, all he did this summer was win gold in the men’s 400m freestyle race in Tokyo. And he did so despite being the slowest qualifier in the finals and having to swim in lane eight as a result.
just the fifth Tunisian athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics
Ranked 16th in the world, Hafnaoui is just the third person to win Olympic gold from the eighth lane, and just the fifth Tunisian athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics. During the race, he was such an afterthought that the television announcers barely mentioned him, despite him being right there in contention, until the final length.
Hafnaoui was such a longshot that you can’t even find odds anymore of him winning before the games; the longest shot listed by bookmakers was at +10,000. Going into the final, he was +5,000 to take gold. The favorite before the preliminary heats, according to DraftKings, was Australian Elijah Winnington at +100, followed by teammate Jack McLoughlin at +275 and Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys at +350.
The Aussies finished seventh and second, respectively, while Rapsys did not qualify for the final.
4. Hidilyn Diaz becomes Philippines’ first Olympic gold medalist
Hidilyn Diaz was the second-favorite in the women’s 55 kg weightlifting competition. But the favorite, Liao Qiuyun, was so far ahead of everyone that Diaz may as well have not bothered showing up. At least according to the bookmakers.
Liao entered the competition at -800 odds to win the gold medal, while Diaz was miles behind – again, despite being tied for second-favorite – at +1,400.
And Liao had good reason to be a shoo-in for the top prize. She won gold at the 2019 World Championships as well as the 2019 and 2020 Asian Championships. She also holds the world record in both the clean & jerk (129 kg) and the total for both the snatch and clean & jerk (227 kg).
But in a stunner, the 30-year-old Diaz lifted a combined 224 kg, beating Liao by a single kilogram to score one of the most surprising upsets at the Tokyo 2020 games.
3. USA women’s soccer team stunned by northern neighbor
Like the gymnastics team, the US women’s soccer team was also the betting favorite to win gold. They came in at -334 to win Group G in the qualifying round and -165 to stand highest on the podium at the end of the tournament, according to DraftKings.
The team accomplished neither feat. The women lost their first match of the Olympic Games to Sweden and finished second in their group. That said, the top two finishers in each group made the medal round, so Team USA still had a shot to win gold.
But again, the team was the victim of an upset, losing to Canada in the semifinals, 1-0. USA bounced back to defeat Australia 4-3 to capture the bronze medal. Canada – whom bettors could find at +2,550 before the Olympics began – beat Sweden in the gold medal match.
2. Don’t tell Math PhD the odds
The women’s cycling road race produced easily the biggest statistical upset of the Olympics, not because of who didn’t win, but because of who did. The Netherlands riders were supposed to dominate, with Anna Van Der Breggen the favorite at +200, followed by teammates Annemiek Van Vleuten at +400, Marianne Vos at +500, and Demi Vollering at +700. Only one of them, Van Vleuten, grabbed a medal.
a 0.20% chance of taking gold
Coming out of nowhere was Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria, a doctor of applied mathematics who only became a pro cyclist four years ago and serves as her own strategist, nutritionist, and trainer. One had a to squint to find her listed at any sportsbook. One Twitter cycling fanatic happened to screenshot the odds at one European book, which listed Kiesenhofer at 501.00, or +50,000 to win. That translates to a 0.20% chance of taking gold.
She was so unexpected that Annemiek Van Vleuten did not even notice that Kiesenhofer had pulled away from the pack to win by over a minute. Van Vleuten celebrated what she thought was a victory when she crossed the finish line, only to break down in tears when she realized what had happened.
That said, the 38-year-old Van Vleuten still won her first Olympic medal.
1. “Twisties” force Simone Biles to withdraw from gymnastics competition
We have arrived at our most stunning upset of the summer, and it should come as no surprise that its central figure is Simone Biles, both because of who she is and because of why she didn’t capture gold. With four Olympic gold medals and 19 World Championships golds to her name, Biles was the favorite to win the all-around title in Tokyo.
Biles was also the favorite – to varying degrees – to win every individual event.
Before the games, BetMGM had the odds on Biles winning the all-around gold at -350, well ahead of second-favorite Tang Xijing of China at +375. Biles was also the favorite – to varying degrees – to win every individual event.
The USA women’s team was even more of a favorite to win gold at -650, immediately ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee (+500) and China (+600).
But after struggling on her vault, Biles withdrew from the team competition and eventually from the individual competition. At first, the reason given was just a vague “medical issue,” but later Biles said she was experiencing the “twisties” – a gymnast’s worst nightmare.
It is a scenario where the brain and body lose their connection to each other and the athlete’s muscle memory disappears. In Biles’s case, her brain lost track of where her body was in the air. It can be resolved through mental and physical retraining, but while it exists – and it can hang on for a long time – a sport like gymnastics is extremely dangerous.
Biles eventually returned to take bronze on the balance beam. Teammate Sunisa Lee ended up winning the women’s all-around gold. Team USA, without Biles, still won the silver medal.