10 Of The Biggest Upsets At The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Date IconLast Updated: 28 Sep 2022
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10 Of The Biggest Upsets At The Tokyo 2020 Olympics
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The 2020 Olympic Games was one in which the underdog came to the fore. Reputations were made and broken in Tokyo and some in quite stunning fashion. It’s been an Olympic Games to remember for some and one to forget for others, so here is our review of the biggest upsets from Tokyo 2020.

1. Anna Kiesenhofer - Cycling

Anna Kiesenhofer

There is only one place to start when it comes to upsets this summer and that is in women’s cycling where Anna Kiesenhofer caused one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.

The Austrian, who was a huge 500/1 chance at the start of the women's 137km road race, slipped the field from an early stage and moved so far clear that her rivals simply forgot that she was ahead of them.

When heavily favoured Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the finishing line, she was convinced that she had landed the gold medal. However, Kiesenhofer had crossed the line 75 seconds earlier and, in doing so, gave Austria its first Olympic cycling medal since the inaugural 1896 Athens Games.

2. Naomi Osaka - Tennis


Naomi Osaka is one of the most recognisable names in world sport, so much so that the Japanese star was chosen for the first leg of the torch relay in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games.

However, Osaka didn’t have the impact on the women’s tennis tournament her supporters expected thanks to a shock third-round exit to World No. 42 Markéta Vondroušová.

The two-time US Open and Australian Open winner is considered to be the world’s top female player on a hard court, the surface on which she has won all of her major titles.

However, Osaka was comprehensively dumped out of the tournament, 6-1, 6-4, by her lowly-rated Czech rival who went on to take home a silver medal.

3. USA - Basketball


The US men’s basketball team travelled to Tokyo having not lost any of their last 25 matches at an Olympic games, a run that stretched back to Athens 2004.

So it was a major shock when France inflicted an early defeat on the tournament’s hot favourites despite having knocked the USA out of contention in the Basketball World Cup two years ago.

Evan Fournier’s three-pointer in the final minute put France ahead before Les Bleus went on to win 83-76 in the opening game for both teams at the Tokyo Olympics.

4. Kurt Walker - Boxing


Kurt Walker pulled off one of the biggest upsets of Olympic boxing history when he stunned Uzbekistan world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov in the last 16.

The Irish featherweight controlled the first round before hanging on to land a 29-28 decision from four of the five judges in the Kokugikan Arena. Former Irish Olympian Andy Lee described the win as “the best performance by an Irish boxer in a long, long time” on RTE.

Walker wouldn’t have been able to compete at the Olympics had they been held as originally scheduled last year because his prematurely-born daughter needed months of hospital care.

However, the 26-year-old from Lisburn couldn’t go on to win a medal after losing to American rival Duke Ragan in their quarter-final bout despite having done what he thought was enough in the final two rounds to secure a place in the semi-final.

5. Russia - 3x3 Basketball


The sport of 3x3 basketball was making its Olympic debut in Tokyo and it served up one of the biggest basketball shocks in recent history when Russia turned over 1/10 shots Serbia in the men’s semi-final.

Although Russia lost out to Latvia in the gold medal game, they will forever be remembered as the side that stunned Tokyo fans with a remarkable 21-10 defeat of No.1 seed Serbia in the men's semi-final, a game in which their star shooter Alexander Zuev outscored the entire Serbian team (11-10).

6. Kanoa Igarashi - Surfing


It was a great summer for Japanese surfer Kanoa Igarashi who took the silver medal in the men’s competition for the host nation. The 23-year-old took some notable scalps on his way to the final but none bigger than double world champion and sixteen-time winner on the WSL Championship Tour, Gabriel Medina in the Olympic surfing semi-finals.

Two early waves gave Medina a lead that looked insurmountable but, with less than 8 minutes to go in the competition, Igarashi unleashed a huge aerial trick, surprising even himself with a monster 540 degree spin, for an individual wave score of 9.33 out of 10.

7. Canada - Soccer


The Canadan women’s soccer team didn’t just cause one upset in Tokyo, they caused a string of them on their way to a 33/1 stinger for Olympic soccer punters.

Canada had never reached the final of a World Cup or Olympic tournament and they hadn’t beaten the USA in 20 years of trying but a VAR-awarded penalty in the 74th minute of their semi-final contest changed that.

Canada, inspired by legendary captain Christine Sinclair, prevailed over red-hot favourites Sweden in the final thanks to a dramatic penalty shoot-out win.

8. Teddy Riner - Judo


Teddy Riner went into Tokyo 2020 as a red-hot favourite to equal Japanese judoka Tadahiro Nomura’s record of winning three Olympic judo golds.

However, Riner, who has dominated his 100kg division in the past ten years, suffered a shock early defeat in his bid to make history, Riner was beaten by Russian Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-finals and one of France’s best-known Olympians had to settle for a bronze medal.

9. Lamont Marcell Jacobs - Men’s 100 metres


With three-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt out of the way, the men’s blue-riband event was wide open for the first time in years. Wide open, but not wide open enough for anyone to give 26-year-old Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who only broke the 10-second barrier for the first time in May, a shot at gold.

However, the European indoor 60m champion carried the momentum from his fast start all the way to the line to register a time of 9.80 seconds, which was faster than Bolt's win in Rio 2016.

10. Mieke Gorissen - Women’s Marathon


A 28th-placed finish in the women’s marathon wouldn’t ordinarily make the news headlines but Mieke Gorissen’s performance in Tokyo doesn't have a conventional back story.

At 38-years-old, it’s safe to say that Gorissen is something of a late bloomer, indeed it was only three years ago that she started to even use a coach.

Gorissen was competing in her first major international competition in Tokyo and the maths and physics teacher from Belgium was competing as an amateur.

The hugely likeable Limburger summed up her achievement perfectly afterwards: “Am I 28? That’s impossible!”