While his team-mates enjoyed the Albertville 1992 Opening Ceremony, Norwegian speed skater Johann Olav Koss was otherwise indisposed. He wasn't training, preparing or even unpacking in the athletes' village. No, as the 1992 Games were declared open, Koss was lying in a hospital bed with an inflamed pancreas, surrounded by anxious doctors.
As a medical student himself, Koss was all too aware of the gravity of his condition and that it was likely to take its toll on his skating performance. But he remained determined to compete.
Koss was driven by the knowledge that he was a genuine medal contender. He had been crowned world all-round champion in 1990 and won another world title in 1991. In normal circumstances, he would have approached the Albertville Games brimming with confidence.
Somehow he pulled himself out of the hospital and back onto the ice. Embarking on a gentle training regime, five days after surgery he was lining up to compete in his first event, the 5,000m. While he finished only seventh, it was a major triumph of courage in the face of adversity, and proved that, despite his setback, he could still mix it with the world’s best.
What came next was almost unbelievable. In the 1.500m final, the early lead was held by the Dutch skater Leo Visser who had clocked an impressive 1 minute 54.90 seconds. Koss entered the fray in the eighth heat and was faster over the first 300m, but then slipped slightly behind Visser's pace at the halfway mark. With 400m to go, Koss was still off the pace, but then he produced a formidable closing lap to take the overall lead by just 0.09 seconds.
There was, however, another challenger – Koss’ Norwegian team-mate Ådne Søndrål, who was fractionally quicker than Koss at all but the last split. Søndrål finished second, 0.05 seconds quicker than Visser, but 0.04 seconds slower than Koss. The three medallists were separated by less than a tenth of a second.
Koss' extraordinary recovery was sealed with a silver medal in the 10,000m. Two years later, fully fit, he won three gold medals in Lillehammer.