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

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Phillip Boit

Cross-country skier Phillip Boit of Kenya competed in the men's 15-km classical in Torino, where he finished 92nd out of 97. This is his third Winter Games, though; he drew attention in Nagano in 1998, where he finished last in a 10-km event. He's now one of a handful of African cross-country skiers, able to compete under the basic quota and not necessarily doing a bad job of it. More on Boit -- and how a guy from a running mecca in Kenya ended up on the cross-country ski circuit as part of a Nike sponsorship gimmick -- from Strata, the Deseret News and the BBC, all of which date from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Jamaican Bobsled Team

Any discussion of last-place finishers at the Olympics, particularly at the Winter Olympics, would not be complete without at least mentioning Jamaica's bobsled team, which drew worldwide attention at the Calgary Games in 1988. Along with Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards (who will be the subject of a later post), they were among the high-profile "novelty acts" from those Games that no doubt spurred a tightening of the qualifying rules -- and, by the way, who make a discussion of last-place finishes so problematic: it's hard to say you're celebrating the hard work of last-place finishers to someone who's got Cool Runnings running through their head.

But that's not to knock the team. They did considerably better in subsequent Olympics and other world competitions, beating other countries' more-established teams. It's claimed that Jamaica's strength in the sprinting events in the summer events translates well to bobsledding, where a quick start means a lot. Read more about them at the team's Wikipedia entry and this article on Eurosport.com; there's also this interview with Devon "Pele" Harris, a member of the first bobsled team.

Jamaica isn't at the Torino Games; their bobsled team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since they started.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Prawat Nagvajara

Prawat Nagvajara, who finished last in the men's 15-kilometre classical cross-country ski event this morning (see previous entry), is an associate professor of electrical and chemical engineering at Drexel University.

After seeing news coverage from the 1998 Nagano Games of Kenyan skier Philip Boit (who himself finished 92nd in Nagvajara's race this morning), Nagvajara, who is from Thailand, made it a goal to qualify for and attend the Olympics himself. At Salt Lake City in 2002, he was (as he was again this year) Thailand's lone athlete. He was lapped, and therefore disqualified, in the mass-start race in which he competed.

For these Games, his goal was to finish the 15K in under 50 minutes, which he didn't quite make.

At 48, he's one of the oldest athletes in Torino, and these will be his last Games. He has some interest in starting up a short-track speed skating program in Thailand, though.

More about Professor Nagvajara from the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Triangle, Drexel's student paper. Drexel has a page up to honour Professor Nagvajara; here's a press release the University issued last week.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chinese Figure Skating Coach: DFL in 1984

Nancy Toby points to the story of Chinese figure skating coach Yao Bin. Right now he coaches powerhouse figure skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, but in the early 1980s he was one half of the China's first-ever pairs figure skating team. As might be expected, it didn't go very well for Yao. From the NBC Olympics site's bio of Shen Xue:
Shen and Zhao's coach, Yao Bin, was a member of the first-ever pair that China entered in international competition. Bin and his partner, Luan Bo, made their international debut at the 1980 World Championships, where they finished 15th and last, and Yao says he remembers the audience laughing at their performance. Luan and Yao were also last at the 1981 and 1982 World Championships, and last at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. Since then, however, Yao has developed a powerhouse Chinese pairs program.
Laughing at the performance -- good Lord, how bad was it?

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Sunday, August 29, 2004

David Moorcroft in 1984

"Better DFL than DNF" -- that's what one of you said the saying was in the events you competed in. Finishing the race despite all odds is especially meaningful to some of us -- especially when those odds are tougher than usual. For example, an extremely slow marathon finish on a hot, humid day is all the more impressive when so many others fall by the wayside. Consider the case of David Moorcroft at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, who started and finished the 5,000-metre final despite a pre-race pelvic injury: his goal was simply to avoid getting lapped, and he achieved it. Thanks to Paul Goodfellow for the link.

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pyambu Tuul in 1992

In 1992 I remember reading a story about the last-place finisher in the Barcelona marathon that completely blew me away. I'm indebted to Robert Pera for finding an online account of the story of Mongolian runner Pyambu Tuul. It's quite possibly the most extraordinary last-place story I've ever heard.
At a press conference Tuul answered quietly and calmly. Through an interpreter he said, "No, my time was not slow, after all you could call my run a Mongolian Olympic marathon record." That was an excellent reply I thought.

He carried on. "And as for it being the greatest day of my life, no it isn't."

The reporters craned forward with their notebooks at the ready. Tuul said, "Up till six months ago I had no sight at all. I was a totally blind person. When I trained it was only with the aid of friends who ran with me. But a group of doctors came to my country last year to do humanitarian medical work. One doctor took a look at my eyes and asked me questions. I told him I had been unable to see since childhood. He said 'But I can fix your sight with a simple operation'. So he did the operation on me and after 20 years I could see again. So today wasn't the greatest day of my life. The best day was when I got my sight back and I saw my wife and two daughters for the first time. And they are beautiful."
Page down past the stuff about the swimmers to read this story in full.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Justin Wilcock

I have the best readers. From the comments, you've provided more information on what happened to American diver Justin Wilcock in the men's 3-metre springboard:
Justin Wilcock had some kind of back stress fracture that was apparently so painful that he almost dropped out. He did all of his dives despite not being able to turn his body much at all -- the 0 score was from a "failed dive", which is what an athlete gets for not completing all of the turns/somersaults stated up front.
And in another comment, a link to Justin's diary, where he writes about it. I suffer from chronic back pain myself, so boy I can empathize; actually, I'm amazed he was able to compete at all. That's character -- I couldn't have done it myself.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Alexander Penna in 2002

Matt posted a great link in the comments to this essay by a volunteer at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games describing the last-place run of Brazil's Alexander Penna in the 50-km classic cross-country ski competition. (Brazilian skier. Insert favourite joke here.) It's an absolutely riveting read and well worth your attention. I mentioned before that if there is a spirit of the games, it exists closer to the back of the pack than the front, and this is more evidence for it. Is it there only for the hopeless causes, or does it also exist for those who want to win, or even those who might have a fighting chance at it? Maybe our hearts are warmed by the fact that they're simply there, with no expectations to be crushed.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

A Baser Wasiqi in 1996

Much is made about the so-called spirit of the games; if it's real, it exists closer to the back of the pack than the front. A Baser Wasiqi of Afghanistan finished 111th out of 111 in the men's marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- about 1½ hours after the 110th-place finisher. Though workers were already prepping the stadium for the following night's closing ceremonies, marathon volunteers made sure he was welcomed at the finish line. This is the kind of story the media just eats up.

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Derek Redmond in 1992

Most last-place finishes lack the obvious drama or poignancy of Derek Redmond's last-place finish in his 400-metre heat at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where his father helped him finish the race.

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