Was It All Downhill from There?

By Dokoupil, Tony | Newsweek, February 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Was It All Downhill from There?


Dokoupil, Tony, Newsweek


Byline: Research by Tony Dokoupil

Six countries have eked out only a single Winter Olympic medal each. But for their triumphant athletes, life after competition hasn't always been a victory lap.

Ion Panturu and Nicolae Neagoe

Romania, Bronze

Bobsleigh/Grenoble, 1968

Panturu (Neagoe could not be reached) fell into bobsledding in his early 20s, when he casually entered a national race--and won it. A decade later, he secured Romania's only winter medal--and a special tax-break that let him keep half his wages, a rarity in communist Romania. Panturu is perhaps even better known for a heartwarming blunder: 40 years ago, he left a World Championship medal on a New York bus. It was later discovered in Oklahoma--and returned just last week.

MartinA Rubenis

Latvia, Bronze

Luge/Turin, 2006

Following his triumph in Turin, Rubenis used his celebrity to draw attention to the crackdown on China's Falun Gong movement. He launched a 24-hour hunger strike on the steps of the Chinese Embassy--to the outrage of his mainly Christian countrymen. In an instant, he was transformed from "hero to antihero," according to a local filmmaker. His best shot at rehabilitating his reputation: a medal in Vancouver.

Lina Cheryazova

Uzbekistan, Gold

Freestyle skiing/Lillehammer, 1994

Cheryazova won gold with the only triple flip of the competition. But celebration turned to grief just minutes after the medal ceremony, when team officials informed her that her mother had died three weeks earlier--dragged into a machine at the tractor factory where she worked. A few months later, disaster struck Cheryazova herself when she sustained brain damage during a training jump, effectively ending her career. …

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Was It All Downhill from There?
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