25 Epic Olympic Injuries You Won’t Believe Actually Happened

Posted by , Updated on May 23, 2024

As an athlete, dealing with injuries is often an unavoidable part of the journey. Some of these injuries may be minor and heal quickly, while others could be severe enough to end an athlete’s career or even result in death. The competitiveness at the Olympics appears to heighten both the likelihood and severity of injuries. To capture the gold medal, many Olympians are willing to take risks that others might avoid. Fortunately, many athletes manage to avoid injury and achieve success, but unfortunately, this isn’t true for everyone. Want to learn about the most extreme injuries? Take a look at this list of 25 Unbelievable Olympic Injuries That Are Hard to Believe Actually Happened.


Lazaro Borges's pole snaps while in mid-vault

pole vaultSource: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2185879/Crowd-gasps-horror-Cuban-pole-vaulters-pole-snaps-Olympic-Stadium.html

Cuban athlete Lazaro Borges had the worst luck during the pole vaulting competition. Launching himself 17 feet (5 meters) in the air, his pole snapped like a twig. The audience gasped as he went tumbling to the ground. Fortunately, he hit the mat and remained unharmed. The only thing he injured was his pride.


Nibali crash during road race

Vincenzo_NibaliSource: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-rio-cycling-nibali/cycling-italian-nibali-breaks-collarbones-in-crash-idUSKCN10H0R5

Cycling during the Olympics can be much more dangerous than you think. Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali tried to get ahead by the end of the race but eventually lost control on an insanely fast descent. His crashed, broke both his collarbones and, of course, didn’t finish the race.


Samir Ait gymnastic accident

samirSource: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/rio-2016/2016/08/06/french-gymnast-samir-ait-said-scary-injury-vault/88337384/

If you want to put your kids in gymnastics, maybe keep Samir Ait in mind. At the Rio Olympics, his leg snapped on the vault landing. The crowd gasped at the sound of his leg cracking, and emergency personnel attended to him immediately. As he lay there, you could see his foot and shin dangling in the opposite direction of the rest of his leg.


Annemiek van Vleuten's bike crash

Annemiek-van-vleutenSource: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/annemiek-van-vleuten-crash-injuries-olympics-cycling-road-race-a7180891.html

Again, cycling is a dangerous business. In this case, at the Rio Olympic games, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten took a sharp turn and fell off her bike, extensively injuring her face. She also had a concussion and three fractures to her spine. Her mother thought she might be dead, but fortunately, the 33-year-old made it out alive.


Ellie Downie neck injury during floor routine

Elissa_Downie_03Source: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/after-scary-fall-lionhearted-gymnast-ellie-downie-returns-help-team-gb

At age 17, Ellie Downie had already seen a row of success in gymnastics. At the Rio Olympics, she planned on continuing that until disaster struck. After completing the balance beam, she went on to the floor and performed a flip. She didn’t have enough control and landed on her head and neck. Wanting to finish, she picked herself back up but eventually walked off with medical assistance. Miraculously, she returned to complete two more competitions strongly.


Janos Baranyai's weightlifting accident

janosSource: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/2551448/Hungarian-weightlifter-suffers-horror-injury-Olympics.html

Lifting weights can lead to all sorts of injuries even for professionals like Janos Baranyai. The Hungarian Olympic athlete lifted 326 pounds (148kg) on his third lift and ended up popping his elbow out of socket. In pure agony, the weightlifter fell to the floor in shock, dropping the barbell in the process. No bones were broken and medical staff reattached the elbow.


Nancy Kerrigan's right knee injury

Nancy_KerriganSource: http://www.refinery29.com/2016/08/120575/tonya-harding-nancy-kerrigan-attacked-olympic-ice-skaters

Leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic games, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were quite the Olympic rivals on the ice. At the U.S. Women’s Championships in Detroit, Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband, hired a man to attack Kerrigan. He hit her in the right knee with a baton, putting her out of the competition. A media circus erupted and Harding almost got kicked out of the Olympics. No one is entirely sure how involved Harding was in the attack. Later at the Olympic games, Kerrigan won the Silver medal and Harding placed eighth.


Jae-hyouk's weightlifting accident

jae hyoukSource: https://www.inquisitr.com/291335/south-korean-weightlifter-sa-jae-hyouk-suffers-horrific-injury-while-competing-in-london/

At the London Olympics, Jae-hyouk tried to lift 375 pounds (170kg) and suffered the same fate of Janos Baranyai. As he lifted the weight, he dislocated his elbow and fell over in pain. Previously, he had won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, and his hopes were to obtain another.


Kristen Maloney's several injuries

kristen maloneySource: http://old.post-gazette.com/olympics/20000723maloney3.asp, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB80CCbHKw4

Kristen Maloney had a 102-degree fever, a rod placed in her right leg, and surgery on her left shoulder, and she still competed in the 2000 Olympic games. While competing there, her injuries only worsened, and she ended up injuring her leg in the preliminary rounds.


Derek Redmond's tragic moment

Derek_RedmondSource: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/olympics-moment-derek-redmond-finishes-400m-dad-barcelona/

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Derek Redmond was looking strong, qualifying for the 400m semifinals. He had the fastest time. Unfortunately, he tore his hamstring. Rather than admitting defeat, he continued on toward the finish line with his father helping him along.


Liu Xiang's Achilles tendon injury

liu xiangSource: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/04/11/liu-xiang-china-hurdler-out-for-season/2074273/

After winning the 110-meter hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Liu Xiang became one of China’s best-known athletes. During that time, however, he ruptured his Achilles tendon which entirely threw him out of competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Many believe he won’t be coming back unless he makes a full recovery.


Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao epic fall on the ice

Zhang_Dan_and_Zhang_HaoSource: http://www.sfgate.com/sports/knapp/article/Courageous-Chinese-pair-s-fall-had-a-silver-lining-2541394.php

At the 2006 Winter Olympics, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao tried to be the first to complete a quadruple throw salchow. Instead, Zhang Dan hit the ice and slid toward the sideboards. Meanwhile, Zhang Hao slammed her knees hard against the ice. At first, it looked like they were done for, but soon afterward, they were able to re-do their routine, completing everything flawlessly.


Kerri Strug won on an injured ankle

kerry strugSource: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/07/19-years-ago-today-kerri-strug-won-the-gold-medal-on-an-injured-ankle

At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Kerri Strug tore two ligaments and sprained her ankle but that didn’t stop her from competing. Putting aside extreme pain, she completed her final vault, giving the U.S. Olympic team enough points for the gold medal.


Manteo Mitchell breaks his leg at the London Olympics

Manteo_MitchellSource: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/07/25/manteo-mitchell-4x400-relay-london-olympics-2012-western-carolina-indoor-world-track/2588395/

Never tell Manteo Mitchell to “break a leg” before an athletic event because he did just that at the London Olympics. As he ran the 4 x 400 relay, his fibula snapped, and he just kept running. His determination gave his team the silver medal.


Paul George suffers horrible leg injury

paul georgeSource: http://www.businessinsider.com/paul-george-leg-injury-team-usa-scrimmage-2014-8

Scrimmaging with the U.S. Olympic basketball team, Paul George hit the basket support like a hammer, breaking his leg in a violent and gruesome way.


Katie Glynn hit in the head with a hockey stick

katie glynnSource: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/09/sports/la-sp-on-katie-glynn-20120809

The last thing any hockey player wants to see is a hockey stick flying at their head. Unfortunately for Katie Glynn, that’s exactly what happened. At the London Olympics, Glynn played field hockey for New Zealand when she got smacked in the head with a hockey stick. She fell to the turf with her head bloodied. It didn’t keep her down, though. After being bandaged up, she got right back on the field.


J.R. Celski endures grisly skating accident

jr celskiSource: http://www.cnn.com/2010/SPORT/02/14/celski.bronze/index.html

At the U.S. Trials, J.R. Celski had a horrible speed skating crash, resulting in his left thigh being cut open by a skate blade. Once the blade was removed, blood poured out everywhere. He was fortunate he didn’t cut an artery. The cut was six inches wide, two inches deep, and needed 60 stitches.


Mariela Scarone's bloody face injury

mariela scaroneSource: https://deadspin.com/5933769/the-womens-field-hockey-gold-medal-match-was-even-bloodier-than-the-semifinals

When Mariela Scarone’s face got in the way of a hockey stick, things got bloody and quick. Still, her team ended up with the silver medal, which is more of a silver lining than most can hope for.


Greg Louganis injures head while trying to take a dive

greg louganisSource: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/12/sports/la-sp-plaschke-louganis-20130913

At the 1988 Summer Olympics, Greg Louganis performed a dive but ended up smacking his head on the diving board. The cut required five stitches and the scar is still there to this day. Believe it or not, he got back on the board later and scored the best dive of the day.


Talgat Ilyasov's awful elbow injury

IlyasovSource: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3749697/2016-Rio-Olympics-Horrific-dislocated-elbow-injury-ends-Australian-wrestler-s-Rio-campaign.html

After being ruled out of the 2004 Olympic games due to a spinal injury, Olympic wrestler Talgat Ilyasov was excited to return to the Olympic mats in 2016. Unfortunately, his career ended suddenly when he suffered a horrible injury during his first bout at the Rio Olympics. While wrestling with Sohsuke Takatani, Ilyasov dislocated his elbow. He was in horrible distress, carried off the mat, and ultimately retired from the sport.


Adrienne Nyeste had a bad fall at the Sydney Olympics

gymnasticsSource: http://www.businessinsider.com/11-of-the-worst-olympic-falls-and-blunders-2016-8/#american-diver-greg-louganis-suffered-a-pretty-gruesome-head-injury-at-the-1988-olympics-in-seoul-louganis-hit-his-head-on-the-diving-board-on-his-way-down-to-the-water-and-needed-stitches-afterwards-but-he-still-went-on-to-win-gold-9

Hungarian gymnast Adrienne Nyeste swung around on the bar at the Sydney Olympics and just as she was making a full revolution, slipped and flew upside-down across the mat. She landed head first. For thirty heart-stopping seconds, she lay motionless until she finally got back up.


Andreas Tobas buckled during a gutsy performance

men gymnasticsSource: http://www.businessinsider.com/german-gymnast-andreas-toba-injures-knee-still-competes-2016-8

In gymnastics, Andreas Tobas tried to do a front flip with two twists on the floor, but his right knee buckled. Falling to the floor and grabbing his right knee, he called for help. It seemed like it was over for him until he decided to go do the pommel horse like a boss.


Andranik Karapetyan's elbow gave out on him

karapetyanSource: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/armenian-weightlifter-andranik-karapetyan-suffered-elbow-dislocation

Elbows are clearly not the most dependable body part during the Olympics. This was especially the case for Andranik Karapetyan, an Olympic weightlifter, lifting a 169 pound (77kg) weight and dislocating his elbow in the process, ruining his chances at a medal.


Ervin Zador and the blood in the water match

WaterPoloSource: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/2016-marks-60th-anniversary-water-polos-blood-water-match

Back during the Cold War, things were relatively heated between the U.S.S.R and Hungary. During the 1956 Olympic games when they faced off against each other in water polo, a brawl broke out. A Russian player struck Ervin Zador in the face, causing him to bleed all over the water. Even more violence broke out and the game since has been named “The Blood in the Water” match. Hungary won 4 to 0.


Nodar Kumaritashvili's fatal luge accident

nodar kumaritashviliSource: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-1318020/Coroners-report-tragic-death-Nodar-Kumaritashvili-slammed-Georgian-committee-father.html

In a horrific accident before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nodar Kumaritashvili fell off the luge track and slammed into a steel pillar, killing him. The coroner claimed he died of head and torso injuries due to a lack of experience. Both the Olympic Committee and his father came out against the report, saying it wasn’t because of a “lack of experience.” Kumaritashvili’s death has led to many questions regarding athlete safety and efficiency of equipment used.

Photo 25. anonymous, Pole Vault Sequence 3, CC BY-SA 3.0, 24. K.J.Schilstra, Annemiek-van-vleuten-1315867586 cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0, 23. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 22. McSmit, Vincenzo Nibali (Tour de France 2009 – Stage 17), CC BY-SA 3.0, 21. Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, 2015 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships – Vault – Elissa Downie 03, CC BY-SA 4.0, 20. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 19. Gianluca Platania, gianluca at Flickr, from Torino (Turin), Italy, Nancy Kerrigan, CC BY-SA 2.0, 18. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 17. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 16. Parliament Speakers Limited, Derek Redmond, CC BY-SA 3.0, 15. Eckhard Pecher (Arcimboldo), Osaka07 D5M Xiang Liu, CC BY 2.5, 14. David W. Carmichael, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao at 2010 Olympics, CC BY-SA 3.0, 13. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 12. Piet.Wijker, Manteo Mitchell, CC BY-SA 3.0, 11. joshuak8, Anthony Tolliver defending Paul George, CC BY-SA 2.0, 10. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 9. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 8. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 7. Alan Light, Greg Louganis (4226269508), CC BY 2.0, 6. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 5. Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, 2015 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships – Uneven bars – Loan His 07, CC BY-SA 4.0, 4. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 3. Photo via Twitter (Fair Use: No Free Images Available), 2. Massimo Finizio, WaterPolo, CC BY-SA 2.0 IT, 1. Wikipedia Commons.com (Public Domain)