Unlucky Olympians

The Courier reviews the top blunders, misfortunes and unlucky performances in past Olympic Games

Courtney Strait
5th March 2018
South Korean fencer Shin Lam's Olympic dreams were shattered after a timekeeping error. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Lindsay Jacobellis- by Courtney Strait

For one of the most decorated female snowboarders in American history, Lindsay Jacobellis has had an unlucky (and some would say unintelligent) time during the Olympic Winter Games. Overall Jacobellis has had an illustrious career in the sport of snowboard cross, earning ten gold medals in the X Games and five gold medals at the World Championships. Despite this impressive dominance, in the Winter Olympics Jacobellis has earned just one silver medal in four appearances at the Games.

While any normal person would be thrilled to earn silver, Jacobellis was involved in one of the most unlucky / iconic moments in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy that cost her the prized gold medal.

As the competitors lined up for their final run in the snowboard cross event, Jacobellis was the heavy favourite to claim a victory for the United States. Jacobellis avoided collisions, maintained speed and was showing great promise throughout the race. With one jump left between her and the finish line, Jacobellis was lengths ahead of the competition and was a shoe-in for gold. When she vaulted into the air for her last jump, Jacobellis celebrated proactively by attempting a flashy snowboarding trick called a grab. Trying to “share her enthusiasm with the crowd,” Jacobellis landed unevenly and fell backwards, giving the second place snowboarder from Switzerland, Tanja Freiden, just enough time to surpass her and steal the gold from her grasp.

This year in Pyeongchang, Jacobellis’ misfortunes have continued. After a wild collision at the finish line, Jacobellis crossed with three other athletes. She finished the race .03 seconds from earning a bronze medal, and was less than a half second from earning gold.


Derek Redmond- by Rebecca Johnson

Derek Redmond and his father produced one of the most heartbreaking Olympic moments at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Redmond had been in decent form before the 1992 games, he and his team mates won gold in the 4x400m in the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, beating the odds to place Team USA second.

In the 400m races at the 1992 games, Redmond sailed through his first round and quarter final round before disaster struck in the semi-final. 250 metres into the race, Redmond collapsed to the track floor after tearing his hamstring. Although he was severely injured, he was determined to finish the race.

Redmond collapsed to the track floor after tearing his hamstring

As Redmond hobbled around the track, his father came down from the stands to help his son finish the race, producing one of the most iconic and heartbreaking scenes at an Olympic games as father and son crossed the finish line together. Redmond was subsequently disqualified from the race as his father had helped him to finish, and official Olympic records state that he didn’t finish the race. Following on from this incident, Redmond was forced to retire from his athletic career two years later.

However, Redmond’s heartbreak has inspired a number of people by demonstrating that sheer determination can lead to achievement, no matter how big or small a goal is.


David Beckham- by Dan Haygarth

Stuart Pearce’s decision to leave David Beckham out of his London 2012 football squad ranks with Fredo in The Godfather: Part II and Lando in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the most devastating betrayals ever witnessed. Pearce’s choice to take Ryan Giggs (fair), Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards as his three over-age players instead of the former England captain made very little sense on a football basis and was particularly heart-breaking when Beckham’s role in securing the Olympics for London was considered.

Granted, the Olympics is about elite sport and you shouldn’t be selected purely because you’re a good bloke, but Beckham’s talent had not diminished completely during his time at LA Galaxy. His two loan spells at AC Milan in 2009 and 2010 had been resounding successes, while his time with PSG in 2013 proved that Beckham could still cut it in the European game and that his selection would’ve been of great benefit to Pearce’s side.    

Britain’s listless campaign was incredibly underwhelming and ended after a loss on penalties to South Korea in the Quarter Finals. With Beckham’s charismatic leadership, passion and experience, it could have been a very different story.

David Beckham remains a footballing icon, while Stuart Pearce is now West Ham assistant manager. There’s a reason for that.


Elise Christie- by Tom Shrimplin

When it comes to bad luck in sport, no one can be more emblematic of sheer misfortune than the British short track speed skater Elise Christie.From her first appearance the 2010 European Short Track Speed Skating Championships onwards, Christie has been a fierce competitor who has medalled in many events, even winning two overall European titles in 2015 and 2016, and an overall gold in the 2017 World Championships.

However, her Olympic career has been in one word, calamitous. In her first Winters Olympics in Vancouver, she finished but failed to get in the top 10 in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m races.

Her second chance for Olympic glory came in 2014 at Sochi, and now with some success and experience under her belt there were high hopes for her to win a medal. Yet it was not meant to be as she was disqualified from all three of her events.

Her Olympic career has been in one word, calamitous.

Four years and now as the current world champion, Christie was expected again to be a medal-winner. However, her misfortune continued. Despite breaking an Olympic record in a 500m heat and again in the semi-finals, she crashed out in the final taking fourth place.

In the semi-final for the 1500m, she again crashed, being disqualified for the collision and injuring her right ankle. Finally, in the 1000m she crashed again. In clear pain she then managed to take second place on the second attempt to qualify for the semi-finals. Yet to cap off another tragic Olympics, in rather controversial circumstances she was disqualified for causing two collisions.

Despite all the heartbreak Christie is hoping to compete in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, so here is hoping that it is fourth time lucky for the speed skater.


Shin Lam- by Mark Sleightholm

For a sport so entwined with medieval combat, fencing is surprisingly reliant on modern technology, and every second counts in an Olympic semi-final. South Korea’s Shin Lam experienced the full brutality of the clock at London 2012, when a timekeeping error meant an extra second was added on to her match.

As the timer ticked down to zero Shin stood to go into the final, but the clock was then reset to show a single second remaining, and Shin’s opponent, the German Britta Heidemann, scored a hit that put her above Shin.

Shin and her coach protested the timer change, with Shin sitting on the piste in tears for fear that leaving the piste would be accepting defeat. She remained there for well over an hour, before the judges reached a final decision that Heidemann’s hit was in the legal time.

Literally a second away from the final, Shin now had to play for the bronze medal, with that match delayed due to her protest. Shin came back out immediately to play for the bronze, but ultimately lost this match and left the fencing arena empty handed.

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