Monday, August 23, 2004

Olympic Heroic Failures

Olympic Heroic Failures
By Andy Hampson, PA Sport

(*) Eric Moussambani set a new standard for Olympic heroic failures with his struggles in the swimming pool in Sydney four years ago. Competing in the 100 metres freestyle, `Eric the Eel' won the hearts of the world as he just about managed to stay afloat to clock the slowest time in Olympic history. The Equatorial Guinea swimmer was the only competitor in his race after both his opponents were disqualified for false starts. He had learnt to swim just eight months earlier and at times could barely keep his head above water but he battled on to earn a hero's reception and a place in folklore. Eric the Eel became an instant celebrity, in much the same way as Dorando Pietri did some 92 years earlier.

(*) Italian runner Pietri had the winning line in sight when he reached the stadium in the 1908 marathon in London. But disorientated and exhausted, he staggered off in the wrong direction. He was redirected but he kept collapsing and was eventually carried over the finishing line by sympathetic officials. It was all in vain as the unfortunate Pietri was later disqualified for receiving help.

(*) Due to its energy-sapping nature, the marathon has understandably produced several of the Olympics' heroic failures. Tanzanian John Akhwari gallantly finished last in Mexico City in 1968 after limping into the stadium with his blooded knee bandaged after a fall.
``My country did not send me 7,000 miles away to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it,'' he later said.

(*) Haitian Dieudonne Lamothe came in 78th and last in Los Angeles in 1984. He said nothing at the time but revealed after the fall of Haitian dictator ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier that national officials had threatened to kill him if he did not complete the race.

(*) Another noble marathon loser was Afghanistan's Abdul Baser Wasigi from Afghanistan, who found organisers had started clearing the track for the closing ceremony when he finally reached the Atlanta stadium in 1996.

(*) Britain have an outstanding distance running gold medal hope in Paula Radcliffe this summer but there was a time before athletics' golden girl cracked the art of winning that she seemed destined for a career of glorious defeats. Never was this more apparent than in Sydney when, after leading the 10,000 metres for 24 laps, she was passed by three of her rivals in the final 400m and finished out of the medals.

(*) Across town, canoeist Paul Ratcliffe could sympathise with her plight. Ratcliffe, one of Britain's best hopes for gold, looked all set to win the K-1 slalom when he somehow managed to capsize metres from the finishing line.

(*) Likewise, Australian Jane Saville suffered heartbreak as she strode round the stadium on her way to victory in the 20 kilometre walk. With just 200 metres to go she was met by an official and told she was being disqualified for a stepping violation.

(*) She had at least reached the stadium however, which is more than can be said for American sprinters Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson in Munich in 1972. Hart and Robinson had both been timed at 9.9 seconds in the US trials for the 100m and were regarded as the only men capable of beating the great Russian Valery Borzov. All three won their morning first round heats but Hart and Robinson were missing as the second round got under way in the afternoon. It emerged that their coach, Stan Wright, was working from an 18-month-old preliminary schedule and thought the races were in the evening.


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