Dating back to ancient Greece, the Olympics have long been a theater for humanity’s greatest feats and have inspired some of the most historic athletic achievements. But on the flip side, The Games have also seen its share of great defeats. From a miscalculation to a dramatic stumble or fall, heartwrenching mishaps in the quest for gold have all become commonplace on the Olympics’ grand stage. In honor of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, here are a few of the biggest disasters in Summer Olympic history.
2004 Olympics: Men’s U.S. Basketball Team Downgrade to Bronze Medal
Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion feeling bummed with bronze.
Heading into Athens in 2004, the U.S. men’s basketball team had won the gold medal at three consecutive Olympic Games. The 2004 team saw an exodus of established superstars, as the mantle passed to the upcoming generation of stars (including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony). The younger players proved overmatched, and lost their first game of the tournament to Puerto Rico by a record 19-point deficit. The team would later see their gold medal hopes dashed after crippling defeats to Lithuania and Argentina. However, the squad managed to secure bronze medals and redeemed their failures with a dominant showing at the 2008 tournament in Beijing.
1984 Olympics: Mary Decker – Favorite for Gold, Trips and Falls in the 3,000 Meters
On the morning of August 11, 1984, American runner Mary Decker was the greatest 3,000 meter runner in the world. Heavily favored to win the gold medal at the summer Olympics in Los Angeles, with Zola Budd and Maricica Puica as her only real competitors, Decker looked to win her first gold medal. The race started out with the three runners preforming to expectations, except for a slight bump between Decker and Budd at 500 meters. Budd knew that she had to put some distance between herself and Decker before the final stretch to have a chance to win, so at about the halfway point, she made her move. Unfortunately, she and Decker were too close, and Decker’s spike clipped her heel, forcing Decker to the ground with a hip injury. Decker was inconsolable, knowing she had lost her only chance at Olympic gold. She blamed Budd for the fall, and only years later acknowledged her fault in the matter.
1988 Olympics: Roy Jones Jr. Robbed of Boxing Gold
There are many people who would argue that Roy Jones Jr. is pound for pound the greatest boxer of all time. As a 19 year old in his only Olympics, Roy Jones Jr. displayed that greatness when he took Seoul by storm in ’88. His quickness knew no equal; his power caused headaches for opponents. He destroyed the competition and did not lose a single round on his way to the finals. At the Games, Jones ran up against a hometown boxer, South Korea’s Park Si-Hun. Jones massacred Si-Hun, dominating the action and landing nearly three times as many punches as Si-Hun. After the fight, the judge and Si-Hun both congratulated Jones, but when the time came for the official decision to be announced, Park Si-Hun had been declared victorious. The decision stunned the crowd and the boxing community. An investigation revealed that three of the judges had been bribed by South Korean officials, but the IOC refused to award Jones with the gold medal. The early controversy would not stop Jones from becoming one of the greatest boxers in history.
1972 Olympics: Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson Miss Heat
Redemption Time: Eddie Hart finishes the last leg of the 400m relay to win gold for the U.S.
Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson burned holes in the track when they raced the 100m, but their world-record breaking speed could not save their Olympic hopes. Hart and Robinson easily qualified in their first heats, so they decided to go back to the Olympic Village in Munich to relax before their next races. Their coach, unknowingly using an old schedule, assured them they would have plenty of time to rest before the next races. Robinson and Hart turned on their television and saw warm-ups for 100m heats. The two sprinters then looked at a current schedule and noticed their race was about to begin. In a gut-wrenching turn of events, neither sprinter made it to the track on time, and both were disqualified. Hart later said, “I saw my race on an ABC monitor. It was a nightmare.” In some measure of retribution, Hart ran the final leg of the men’s 100m relay against rival Valery Borzov of Russia and defeated him to win gold.
2000 Olympics: Women’s All-Around Gymnastics Competitors Get Vaulted Off Horse
World-class gymnastics requires precision down to the centimeter. If a gymnast makes even the smallest of errors, he or she will likely lose their chance at gold. The same is true of the apparatuses the gymnasts operate on. In 2000 in Sydney, the equipment got in the way of destiny. Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina was the overwhelming favorite for gold in the women’s all-around. She possessed unnatural body control, moved gracefully, and displayed brilliance on the uneven bars (she won solo gold in the event in ‘96 and ‘00). Before the event, Khorkina complained about the vaulting horse, but officials didn’t listen. When Khorkina attempted her vault, she failed brutally, and the distress of the mistake subsequently led to her fall on the uneven bars, ruining her chances for gold. Later in the competition, Australia gymnast Allana Slater also complained, and officials discovered that the horse, which was supposed to be set at 125cm, was set at 120cm. The officials allowed anyone who vaulted earlier to retry, but it was too late for Khorkina. American Elise Ray and England’s Annika Reeder also had dream-shattering falls on the vault.