Ion Panturu and Nicolae Neagoe
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.
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.
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. Today, she's a coach in Russia's Olympic development program.
Dorthe Elisabeth Holm
Women's curling/Nagano, 1998
Before the 1998 games, Holm worked in anonymity in the duty-free shops at the Copenhagen airport. After the games, she still worked at the airport—even though people recognized her as vice skip of the country's national team. People used to laugh at her hobby; now, local rinks advertise "Curl & Fun," and Holm has upgraded to an administrative job with the Danish government. However, she still suffers the smirking question: "Do you sweep like that at home?"
New Zealand, Silver
Alpine skiing/Albertville, 1992
Coberger was the southern hemisphere's first winter medalist. Back home, she began to prepare for the following year's World Cup, but with little financial support from New Zealand, she was about $80,000 short of what she needed to compete. Her father issued a public cry for help, and the season was saved. But by 1995, Coberger had retired from competitive skiing, and is now a cop in her home-town of Christchurch.
Snowboard cross/Turin, 2006
Feted with front-page coverage, a $30,000 bonus, and an appearance on Star Dance (the Slovak version of Dancing With the Stars), Židek says his post-Olympic life was "perfect" at first. But "people in Slovakia don't think snowboarding is a real sport," he explains. So by the time he blew out his knee in 2008, he was virtually anonymous again. He has a point: state officials didn't even invite the 28-year-old star to Vancouver.