Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Athletes from Equatorial Guinea

It seems that at every Olympics there's one barely-prepared athlete whose stumble through his event catches the attention of the media. At the 2000 Sydney Games it was Eric "the Eel" Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who competed in his heat alone after the two other competitors (they were all there under a funding program) were disqualified for false starts. His tenacity made him a crowd favourite, though his time would only be considered good if he was in his nineties, and spectators were worried that he might actually drown.

IOC president Jacques Rogge later said he wanted to put an end to so-called "wild card" entries who were barely capable of completing the event, which was opposed by those who saw such novelty acts as somehow being the epitome of the competitive spirit. My concern is that such competitors might help to reinforce the notion of the last-place finisher as laughingstock -- or at least as a non-serious competitor to be patronized rather than respected.

Moussambani was expected to compete again at Athens, but problems with his accreditation made him ineligible. Now attention is turning to one of his compatriots as "the next Eel" -- as though Equatorial Guinea was a fount of laughingstock athletes. Thanks to the wildcard lottery for smaller countries, Roberto Caracciolo is competing in the 1,500-metre track event. Problem is, he trained for the 3,000-metre steeplechase. He's feeling the pressure, especially since, he says, he's mistakenly seen as a potential medal contender in Equatorial Guinea, where he has not lived since childhood.

Equatorial Guinea has sent 11 athletes to Athens. None have yet finished in last place.

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Late Results for Tuesday, August 17

Gymnastics: Somebody had to come in last in the women's team event, and in the end it was Australia, with 108.847 points. The winning team had 114.283 points. [Correction]

Swimming: In the women's 200-metre freestyle heats, Yuliya Rissik of Kazakhstan had the slowest time of 2:09.93; the winner's final time was 1:58.03. Sergey Pankov of Uzbekistan had a time of 2:13.06 in the men's 200-metre butterfly, well behind the winner's final time of 1:54.04. In the women's 200-metre individual medley, Louise Mai Jansen of Denmark was last; her time of 2:27.08 was nearly 16 seconds behind the winner's final time. And in the men's 4×200 freestyle relay, Hungary had the slowest time of the 16 teams entered: at 7:31.78, they were about 14 seconds back of the final winning time.

Standings to date: Uzbekistan's second last-place finish, combined with its relatively small Olympic delegation, vaults it into second place. Yay Uzbeks! Australia, Denmark, Hungary and Kazakhstan, with larger delegations, appear closer to the bottom of the board, in 29th, 23rd, 24th and 28th places, respectively.

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Another Change in the Standings

I've decided to break ties by factoring in the size of the countries' Olympic delegations: it's much more impressive, for example, that one athlete out of seven finishes last (as with Rwanda so far) than if one athlete out of more than nine hundred finishes last (as with France or Germany so far). Algeria, with a delegation of 80 athletes, drops to 18th place.

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Early Results for Tuesday, August 17

Comparatively few medals get handed out today, so there will be fewer last-place finishes to report. Here's what's available so far.

Shooting: Results for the target shooting events are available early because they only shoot during the daytime. Wusses. Anyway, in the men's 50-metre (free) pistol, we have our first tie for last place: both Chris Rice (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Friedhelm Sack (Namibia) scored 529 points and captured 41st place; competitors advancing to the finals had at least 560 points. In the men's double trap, Finland's Joonas Olkkonen brought up the rear in 25th place with a score of 118 points; the leader had 144 points before the final round.

Standings to date: Three more countries -- Finland, Namibia and the USVI -- with a last-place finish apiece.

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A Change in the Standings

I haven't seen any other fencing results that ranked competitors first to last the way I saw a chart that did so for the men's individual sabre on Saturday, so it may be that I misread a table showing world rankings or somesuch. (It's not like I know anything about these events; I'm as much a tyro as anyone else.) In any event, to include only one fencing event and not the others (because they use elimination rounds, like judo and boxing, there's no clear-cut last-place finisher) would not be fair to other competitors as they reach for the bottom, so I'm removing the men's individual sabre from the standings. Algeria is back in the pack in the tie for fifth-place.

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