The 21 Countries With One Olympic Medal

Adam Nurkiewicz / Getty Images for IAAF
Adam Nurkiewicz / Getty Images for IAAF

Earlier today, we quizzed you on the countries that have won more than 100 Olympic medals. Now it's time for the other side of the equation. Twenty-one countries have won just one medal. Here are the stories of the national heroes who brought those medals home.

Afghanistan

Despite making appearances at 12 Olympic Games since 1936, Afghanistan has secured just one medal -- a bronze in Taekwondo at the 2008 Games. Rohullah Nikpai, who won the medal, was given a house by president Hamid Karzai and told reporters that he hoped the medal would "send a message of peace to my country after 30 years of war." The country has had a checkered Olympics history -- in 1996, one of their two athletes was disqualified for arriving late to a weigh-in and the other, a marathon runner, finished last after injuring his hamstring before the race. And in 1999, the country was ruled ineligible for competition because of discrimination against women.

Barbados

By finishing third in the men's 100 meters at the 2000 Summer Games, Obadele Thompson won the sole medal for Barbados. The country technically had won a second medal -- a bronze in the 4x400 relay team in 1960 -- but Barbadian runner James Wedderburn was actually competing under the West Indies Federation flag. Barbados is hoping that hurdler Ryan Brathwaite, who won the 2009 world championships, can bring the country another medal this summer. And Thompson seems to be doing well for himself -- he married American track star Marion Jones in 2006.

Bermuda

Clarence Hill holds Bermuda's sole medal for taking home the bronze in heavyweight boxing at the 1976 Games in Montreal. The country is also the smallest by population to have won an Olympic medal.

Burundi

In the country's first ever Olympics appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Games, distance runner Venuste Niyongabo won the country's first and only medal by finishing with the gold in the men's 5,000 meters. Niyongabo was actually competing in that event for just the third time ever and was supposed to go to the Olympics for the 1,500 meter race. He ended up forfeiting his spot in the shorter race to allow fellow Burundian runner Dieudonne Kwizera to compete.

Djibouti

Hussein Ahmed Salah took home the bronze for the men's marathon in the 1988 Seoul Games. He remains Djibouti's only Olympic medalist.

Eritrea

The African nation only made its Olympics debut in 2000, but had to wait until 2004 to get its first medal when Zersenay Tadese took the bronze in the men's 10,000 meters. Tadese will compete again this year, so it's possible Eritrea will double its medal count. This year's delegation also includes the country's first athlete outside of track and field: a cyclist named Daniel Teklehaymanot.

Guyana

Boxer Michael Anthony’s bronze at the 1980 Games remains Guyana’s only medal in 15 total appearances. This summer the country is sending six athletes, including star runner Aliann Pompey.

Iraq

After Iraq's Olympics debut in 1948, they sat out the next two games, including a boycott of the 1956 Games over Operation Musketeer. But Iraq roared back in 1960 when Iraqi weightlifter Abdul Wahid Aziz took home a bronze medal. Since then, Iraq has made scattered appearances in the Olympics but has yet to win another medal.

Ivory Coast

The country's lone medal was a silver won by Gabriel Tiacoh in the men's 400 meters at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Kuwait

Technically, Kuwait's first medal came in 1992, but the bronze was for taekwondo, which at that time was just a demonstration sport. But eight years later, shooter Fehaid Al Deehani took a bronze in double trap shooting. Kuwait almost didn't have a chance to add to their medal count this year, thanks to a 2010 IOC ruling that the country's athletes would have to compete under the Olympic flag -- not the Kuwaiti one -- because of political interference. The suspension ended earlier this month after the government pledged to stay out of the Olympic committee.

Republic of Macedonia

The nation that competes as the Republic of Macedonia has won just one medal -- Magomed Ibragimov's bronze in wrestling in 2000. But until 1988, athletes from Macedonia competed for Yugoslavia, taking in 12 medals, including two golds.

Mauritius

When Bruno Julie took a bronze medal in Bantamweight boxing in 2008, Mauritius ended a 24-year medal drought. Nicknamed the "Mauritian Magician” or the “Creol Crusher,” Julie was approached by other countries in the hopes that he would switch nationalities, but he has stayed loyal to Mauritius.

Netherlands Antilles

To date, the only medal from the Caribbean island nation was a silver in sailing won by Jan Boersma at the 1988 Olympics. But the country actually had a second silver for about an hour in 2008, when Churandy Martina placed second (behind Usain Bolt) in the Men's 200-meter. After the race, the third-place finisher, American Wallace Spearmon, was disqualified for stepping outside his lane. The U.S. coaches reviewed tape of the race and discovered that Martina had also moved out of his lane and said they would drop an appeal of Spearmon's disqualification if organizers stripped Martina's finish as well. The Netherlands Antilles team was furious -- sports minister Omayra Leeflang said at the time the move was "against the spirit of the Olympic" and many citizens viewed it as bullying by the U.S. Now that the Netherlands Antilles has been dissolved, athletes from those countries will compete as independent athletes.

Niger

Light welterweight boxer Isaaka Daborg won Niger's only medal with a bronze in 1972. Now the country is hoping to take home another boxing medal -- their sole competitor this summer, Moustapha Hima, is competing as a welterweight.

Paraguay

Although the country’s only medal came in 2004, when the men’s soccer team won the silver, Paraguay still made quite an impact on the 2008 Games. Paraguayan javelin thrower Leryn Franco was instantly noticed for her beauty (she was a former swimsuit model, after all) and became one of the most-searched athletes on the internet despite placing 51st in her event. Franco will be back this year.

Senegal

Since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Senegal has attended every Summer Games and even four Winter Olympics. But the only medal came in 1988, when Amadou Dia Ba won a silver in the men's 400 meter hurdles.

Sudan

After 48 years of attending games, Sudan finally broke through in 2008, when Ismail Ahmed Ismail took the silver medal in the men’s 800 meter race. The medal, which came amid decades of conflict in the country, was widely hailed for shedding a positive light on the country. South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan last year, is not sending a delegation to the London Games.

Togo

When Benjamin Boukpeti nabbed a bronze medal in 2008 for the K1 slalom kayak event, he made a surprising promise: he said he'd actually go visit Togo. Despite being the country's only medalist, Boukpeti had actually only been to Togo once. He has dual citizenship in France (his mother is French), but decided to compete for Togo in 2008 when it became clear he might not make the French team.

Tonga

Tonga won its first – and so far only – medal at the 1996 Atlanta games when Paea Wolfgramm placed second in super heavyweight boxing. The country tried to compete in its first Winter Olympics in 2010, but luger Fuahea Semi failed to qualify. Semi later became the center of a scandal when he changed his name to Bruno Banani in a marketing deal with a German underwear company of the same name.

United Arab Emirates

After competing in seven Olympics, the UAE finally won its first medal in 2004 with a gold in men’s double trap, a shooting competition. The medalist, Ahmed Al-Maktoum, is also a member of the Dubai ruling party and had previously won several domestic squash competitions.

Virgin Islands

Over 10 Summer Games and six Winter Olympics, the Virgin Islands have amassed one single medal: a silver in men’s finn class sailing at the 1988 Seoul Games won by Peter Holmberg. Holmberg would also go on to win the America’s Cup in 2007 and now consults on sailing events.

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

40 Years Later: 20 Facts About the 'Miracle on Ice'

The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Steve Powell/Getty Images

On February 22, 1980, the Soviet War in Afghanistan was almost two months old, making the Cold War as tense as ever. On that same Friday, a hockey team comprised of American college players defeated a dominant Soviet Union group made up of professional athletes—dubiously designated as students, engineers, or soldiers to maintain their then Olympic-required amateur status—in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Jim McKay, the venerable host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and its respected Olympic telecast anchor, was tasked to put into words what the viewers had just seen; the 59-year-old settled on, “That may be the greatest upset in sports history.” He added that it was the equivalent of an all-star football team of Canadian college boys beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had just won their fourth Super Bowl in six years. Forty years later, that comparison holds up.

1. The U.S. beat the Russians in a surprise upset in a hockey game 20 years earlier.

Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The game was dubbed the Miracle on Ice. The USA went on to win the gold medal
Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980.
Steve Powell /Getty Images

The Americans won the men’s hockey gold in 1960 thanks to a surprising semifinal win over the defending champion Soviet Union. After that, the Soviets dominated and took home the next four gold medals, going 27-1-1 and outscoring their opponents 175-44, making the 1980 victory a much bigger shock.

2. The U.S. head coach was the last player cut from the 1960 team.

Bill Cleary agreed to join team USA only if his brother Bob could play. The Clearys got their wish, and as a result, there was not enough room for Herb Brooks. Brooks would go on to play at the '64 and '68 Olympics, and he later earned a spot on the Olympic team as head coach after leading the University of Minnesota to three national championships in the 1970s.

3. Herb Brooks kept telling his players that one of the Russians looked like Stan Laurel.

Boris Mikhailov #13 of the Soviet Union sits on the boards during Game 1 of the 1972 Summit Series against Canada on September 2, 1972 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Boris Mikhailov
Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images

Insisting that Boris Mikhailov resembled the thin Englishman in the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy was an attempt to get the U.S. players to not take the Soviet Union squad so seriously.

4. The USSR beat the U.S. 10-3 less than two weeks earlier.

In a February 9th exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the Russians expectedly dominated. Combined with the Soviets’ 6-0 victory over a team of NHL All-Stars one year earlier, it looked like a fifth consecutive gold medal was inevitable.

5. The Russian head coach was hospitalized the day before the game.

Viktor Tikhonov had dealt with the flu throughout the Olympics, and was taken to the hospital on February 21st without any of his players knowing. Tikhonov did not believe in antibiotics.

6. The night before, the starting U.S. goalie and one of the Russian players enjoyed an arcade game together.

Jim Craig and Sergei Makarov played Centipede at Lake Placid's Olympic Village video arcade against one another. The two communicated with “nods and laughs.”

7. It was one of Al Michaels’s first times announcing a hockey game.

Al Michaels speaks at media day for Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on January 31, 2006
Al Michaels
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Even though he had never called a hockey game before, Michaels got the play-by-play assignment for the 1972 gold medal hockey game on NBC because nobody else wanted to do it. In 1980, doing that one broadcast made him the undisputed hockey veteran at ABC, as well as the only one who knew what offside and icing were.

8. Al Michaels memorized the Russian names by playing table hockey.

He played against his broadcast partner and former NHL goalie Ken Dryden in their hotel room, announcing their contests and naming his little men after the players on whichever team the U.S. was about to face.

9. Ken Dryden had the busiest February 21st of all.

Dryden, who served as color commentator for the game, would later be teased by his children for not coming up with one of the most memorable sports calls of all time like Michaels, but it’s possible that he was a little bit tired. On Thursday afternoon, while Viktor Tikhonov was in a hospital bed, Dryden went up to Toronto to take the Canadian Bar Exam (which he would pass). That night, as the most famous game of Centipede of all time was taking place, he was back in Lake Placid, having dinner with Herb Brooks, answering a slew of questions Brooks had about the Russians. Dryden was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and to Canadian Parliament in 2004.

10. The game was shown on tape delay in the United States.

ABC tried desperately to have the opening face-off moved from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time, and agreed to pay the International Ice Hockey Federation $125,000 to make it happen (even though they considered it extortion). The IIHF, however, couldn’t get the Soviet Union to agree to the time change despite offering them $12,500, because they did not want the game moved from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Moscow time. Since all of this happened in 1980, the outcome was not known by most Americans when they watched the recorded broadcast that started in primetime. McKay on air was upfront about the game not being live, and said the network received mail from viewers writing that they did not want the ending to be spoiled.

11. Parts of the game were cut out of the original broadcast.

The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

ABC had scheduled footage for both the hockey game and men’s slalom from 8:30 to 11, with 8 to 8:30 devoted to the animated special The Pink Panther in: Olym-Pinks. To make room, minutes of the game were dropped.

12. Jamie Farr was the only celebrity in attendance.

Farr played Klinger on M*A*S*H, which was in its eighth season. The 7700 seat Lake Placid Olympic Center was sold out, and tickets with a face value of $67.20 were allegedly scalped for as much as $600.

13. It wasn’t the gold medal game.

The Americans and Soviets advanced to the “medal round” with Finland and Sweden. A win earned a country 2 points, a tie 1 point. Going into the big match, the U.S. had tied Sweden, and the USSR beat Finland. After the U.S. shocked the world, the Russians took out their frustrations on Sweden two days later and beat them 9-2, so if the U.S. lost to Finland in their next and final game, the Soviet Union would have won the Gold again, with 4 points to the Americans’ 3.

14. The starting Soviet goaltender was taken out of the game after the first period—and it shook up the team.

It looked like the USSR was going to finish the first period up 2-1, but a last second score by Mark Johnson gave the U.S. a lot of momentum. This upset Viktor Tikhonov so much that he benched Vladislav Tretiak and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin, who, after shutting out the Americans in the second period, would allow two goals in the third. The move shocked the Russians at the time—defenseman Sergei Starikov said, “It felt like a big hole had been put in our team.” Tikhonov himself looked back on it and admitted, “It was my worst mistake, my biggest regret."

15. Al Michaels did not rehearse his famous question.

The word “miraculous” was swimming in his mind as the final seconds ticked away, which led to him asking if we believed in miracles. Hours later, after working the Finland/Sweden game that transpired while most of the country watched the game whose nickname he was mostly responsible for on delay, he had forgotten what he said.

16. Some of the Soviet players took the loss in stride.

The first Russian Mark Johnson shook hands with after the game had a smile on his face. When Johnson and Eric Strobel ran into Valeri Kharlamov and Boris “Stan Laurel” Milkhailov in a waiting room before taking a urine test, Milkhailov said, “Nice game.”

17. The U.S. team sang "God Bless America" after winning, but didn’t know all the words.

The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The team got tripped up after “land that I love,” hummed through the lines they didn’t know, and picked it up again for the big finish.

18. Players from both countries later played in the NHL.

Thirteen of the 20 members of the U.S. squad went pro, Including defenseman Ken Morrow, who, after winning the gold medal, joined the New York Islanders and won the Stanley Cup in each of his first four seasons. Jim Craig’s arcade buddy Sergei Makarov was one of five players from the 1980 USSR team to join the National Hockey League in the 1988-90 season. Makarov won the Rookie of the Year award at the age of 31, which led to the league enforcing a rule starting the following season that you had to be 26 or younger to win.

19. There was a made-for-TV movie about the game starring Steve Guttenberg.

The 1981 ABC film Miracle on Ice mixed actual game footage with written scenes. Guttenberg portrayed goalie Jim Craig, Karl Malden played Herb Brooks, and Jessica Walter—known by some today as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development—played Herb Brooks’ wife, Patti.

In 2004, Disney released the film Miracle, which starred Kurt Russell as Brooks.

20. The Lake Placid Olympic Center Rink was renamed Herb Brooks Arena in 2005.

Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. men's hockey team to a silver medal. One year later, he passed away after a car accident.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

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