Try, try again: Olympians famous for losing

Fourth-Place Medal
Try, try again: Olympians famous for losing
Try, try again: Olympians famous for losing

Let's start by saying no Olympian is actually a loser. (They qualified for the greatest competition in the world, right?) But these elite athletes (and human beings) do mess up. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, it becomes a classic Disney movie. Sometimes, it goes viral. Sometimes, it involves booze.

Always, it’s memorable. Here are some who underperformed in the Games but overachieved in fame:

The Jamaican bobsled team

There’s not much ice in Jamaica (unless, of course, you have a tray in your freezer). That was just the first of many challenges for these bobsledders, who famously trained with a go-cart: The 1988 team crashed in Calgary; and, following a 12-year Olympic hiatus, this year's Sochi-bound team used equipment bordering on “illegal,” according to their pilot. But the Jamaicans' perseverance makes us root for them more. (And watch “Cool Runnings” every time it’s on TV!)

Lolo Jones

She’s fast. She’s famous. But the hurdler did not medal in the Beijing or London Games. Her fans say one little stumble tripped her up. Or she was so, so close to snagging the bronze! Excuses aside, Jones — a track and field star from Des Moines, Iowa — may be more successful in the publicity arena. (Check her prolific Twitter feed if you don’t believe us.) She did, however, just make the U.S. bobsled team. How will LoLo fare in the snow, though?

Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall

The modern Pentathlete caused the disqualification of the Swedish men’s team at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Why? He reportedly drank two beers to calm his nerves before the pistol shooting portion of the competition — and failed an IOC drug test. The Swedish team had to return their bronze medals, and Liljenwall’s penchant for brews lives on in infamy.

                         [ Related: Ligety chasing gold eight years after first success ]

Dan Jansen

During the 1988 Winter Games, the skater faced tragedy: His sister, Jane, died of leukemia on the day of his first race. The devastated Jansen competed anyway — and uncharacteristically fell in both of his heats. But in the 1994 Olympics, his last chance to medal, Jansen rebounded in a massive way: He won the 1000-meter event, the gold—and the world’s heart.

McKayla Maroney

During the London Games, the American gymnast won the silver medal in the vault finals—and was shortly after photographed with her eyes narrowed and lips pursed. The second-place sassiness went viral and became the biggest web craze of the 2012 Olympics. When Maroney visited the White House, President Obama posed next to her, mimicking her famous “unimpressed” expression. How’s that for a consolation prize?

                       [ Related: White unafraid to show all sides in documentary ]

Eddie the Eagle

Michael Edwards — better known as “Eddie the Eagle” — was the first competitor ever to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping during the 1988 Games. He finished last in both of his events but became a symbol of the quintessential, endearing underdog. Now, Edwards remains one of the most famous names in Olympic ski jumping. He travels the world to give motivational speeches.

What to Read Next