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Top 10 Underachieving Athletes from the 2012 Olympic Games

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIAugust 11, 2012

Top 10 Underachieving Athletes from the 2012 Olympic Games

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    Losing always sucks.

    But losing in front of a television audience after four years of tortuous training?

    We don't have a word to describe that kind of hurt.

    We do have a list to detail every athlete experiencing that indescribable pain—if that's any help.

    A clerical note before we start:

    This list compares what we would've expected of a given athlete on the eve of these Games versus how he or she actually performed. We're not taking into account how much media hype these Olympians received vis-a-vis their outcomes.

    Basically, don't expect to see Lolo Jones on this list.

John Orozco, United States, Gymnastics

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    Entering London, the book on 19-year-old American gymnast John Orozco read like this:

    Strong. Centered. Consistent. Not flashy, but solid on every event. Never too high, never too low. Mature beyond his years.*

    Orozco's performance in London was none of those things.

    He faltered early in the team competition and never seemed to recover, emerging as a sort of scapegoat for Team USA's lackluster fifth-place finish.

    Orozco tracked a similar path in the individual all-around, flailing on pommel horse—usually one of his stronger events—and finishing well off the medal pace despite a strong finish.

    Most surprising of all, Orozco struggled to contain his emotions. At times during his competitive meltdown, he looked on the verge of tears—reminding us that even mature 19-year-olds are 19-year-olds nonetheless.

    Orozco still has a bright future ahead of him and may rewrite his Olympic legacy in four years time, but 2012 wasn't the first chapter anyone expected.

     

    *You know how books are, always repeating themselves.

Liu Xiang, China, Track and Field

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    We could dedicated this space to every high-profile athlete who suffered an injury setback in London, but Liu Xiang's story is so poignant it merits a separate slide.

    Four years after an Achilles injury forced the 110-meter hurdler to withdraw from his opening race at the Beijing Games, China's biggest track star suffered an eerily similar fate in London.

    Coming out of the blocks in his qualifying heat, Liu—the 2004 Olympic champion and owner of this year's third-fastest time—crashed into the first hurdle before collapsing to the ground in agony.

    Once again, the culprit was his Achilles.

    Liu limped the remaining meters on his good leg, earning him universal admiration back home.

    But no number of heroic gestures could erase the fact that Liu hasn't finished an Olympic race in eight years.

    And at age 29, he may never again.

James Magnussen, Australia, Swimming

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    If you're a freestyle sprinter nicknamed "The Missile," you had better be fast.

    James "The Missile" Magnussen was decidedly un-fast in London—or at least a lot slower than he's been at past meets.

    The man pegged as Australia's next big swimming superstar was expected to dominate the men's 100-meter freestyle and lead his country's 4x100 freestyle relay team to a commanding victory.

    The 21-year-old did neither, swimming a blah first leg in Australia's fourth-place relay effort and losing to American Nathan Adrian by one hundredth of a second in the 100 free. And while you might consider fingertip losses more matter of fate than disaster, much more was expected of the man who set a textile record in the 100 free at Australian Olympic trials.

    Bigger picture, Magnussen's failures typified what was a nightmare meet for the longtime swimming superpower.

    London marked the first time since 1976 that Australia failed to win an individual Olympic gold medal in swimming, and top sport officials wasted little time launching a full-fledged investigation into the root causes of this national failure.

    Magnussen got the ball rolling with a bit of heavily veiled public contrition, telling The Toronto Star:

    "It is a pretty tough time to learn you are human."

Every Kenyan Who Ran the Men's 1,500 Meters

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    Kenya's Asbel Kiprop still has the fastest 1,500-meter run of the season.

    What he doesn't have:  A 2012 Olympic medal.

    The world and Olympic champ finished dead last in the event final, punctuating Kenya's stunning failure to medal in an event some predicted it might sweep.

    Kiprop at least had the excuse of a bum hamstring, but countrymen Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba, well, they were just bad.

    Kiplagat, a former Commonwealth Games champion and 2011 world silver medalist, finished more than six seconds behind his season's best while Chepseba, a ballyhooed prospect from the junior ranks, was almost ten seconds off his PB, set earlier this year.

    In a moment of modern pitchfork-ery, angry Kenyans flooded Twitter afterwards to voice their displeasure, with prominent network anchor Lulu Hassan posting, "We should form a commission of inquiry !what's with the dismal perfomance?"

    If you need a tutorial on commission formation, I think the Aussies have you covered...

    London marks the first time since 1992 that a Kenyan man hasn't medaled in the metric mile, and the first time since 1980 that Kenya hasn't placed an athlete among the top six finishers.

Jordyn Wieber, United States, Gymnastics

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    Look, I already hate myself a little bit for writing this slide. So don't go too wild with the backlash

    "She's a 17-year-old girl competing in front of millions!"

    "She got screwed by a half-baked rule!"

    "She bounced back from the disappointment of a lifetime to help her team win gold!"

    Trust me, I get it.

    All that said, Jordyn Wieber was supposed to be the star of this year's U.S. women's gymnastics team.

    She wasn't.

    In fact, she was one of just two American female gymnasts to leave London with only one medal. If you're the reigning world champion—and if mistake-free gymnastics is your competitive m.o.—failing to make the individual all-around final qualifies as a letdown.

    Reports surfaced in the aftermath that Wieber was suffering from a stress fracture in her leg that impeded her training and hampered her performance.

    And while that helps explain why the normally rock solid performer looked so shaky at times in London, it doesn't change the dispiriting truth:  This wasn't the Olympic meet Jordyn Wieber wanted it to be.

Novak Djokovic, Serbia, Tennis

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    Novak Djokovic's country went through hell in the 1990s—war, ruin, international infamy.

    His people want a way forward.

    Serbia needs heroes.

    Djokovic has always embraced the burden of his nation's aspirations, competing in Davis Cup and Olympic competitions with steadfast regularity and manifest zeal.

    In a news conference prior to the Games, Djokovic told the media:

    "This is more than just playing for yourself, it's playing for your country and it feels like playing a team competition in a way, everyone staying together and helping each other. You're wearing the shirts of your country and hopefully we can bring a lot of success to Serbia."

    All of which makes his play in London that much more disappointing.

    The world number two finished fourth in men's singles and failed to win a doubles match for the second consecutive Olympiad.

    Running into confident hometown favorite Andy Murray in the semis was perhaps a stroke of bad luck, but his loss to Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match left little doubt:  Djokovic had come up small in a competition he venerates above almost any other (save, perhaps, Wimbledon).

    Hard to sugarcoat that.

Jesse Williams, United States, Track and Field

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    Jesse Williams' tweet the morning after the men's high jump final read like a digital dispatch from the front lines of every crushed Olympic dream.

    Slept 4 hours last night still in shock about yesterday and how it turned out.God give me strength :-)

    — Jesse(@Jessehj1) August 8, 2012

    More than three days later, Williams hasn't tweeted since.

    I suppose he'll need some time to digest all that's gone wrong the last two months.

    In early June, the reigning high jump world champ posted what was then the second-best mark of the season. Williams, it seemed, was well positioned to become America's first gold medalist in the event since 1996.

    Then came U.S. Trials, where the NC State alum finished just fourth and only made the Olympic team because third-place jumper Nick Ross didn't have the London "A" standard needed to qualify.

    From that shocking near-miss, Williams never seemed to recover.

    In London, he finished tied for ninth. Worse yet, his height in the final was a bar lower than his best jump in qualifying.

    Afterwards, Williams told The Register-Guard (Eugene,OR), "It hurt. I couldn't believe it was over."

He Chong, China, Diving

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    We open on the Olympic Village cafeteria.

    The Chinese diving team sits down to lunch.

    Wu Minxia: Chen Ruolin, may I see your gold medals?

    Chen Ruolin: Of course! Here are my gold medals!

    She pulls two gold medals from her knapsack.

    Chen Ruolin: Luo Yutong, can I see your gold medal?

    Luo Yutong: Of course! Here is my gold medal!

    He pulls a gold medal from his knapsack.

    Luo Yutong: He Chong, can I see your gold medal?

    He Chong: You mean my gold medal from 2008?

    Laughter errupts.

    Luo Yutong: Of course not, silly! We want to see your gold medal from 2012.

    He Chong: I didn't earn a gold medal in 2012.

    Entire cafeteria falls silent.

    Luo Yutong: I...uh...but...

    He Chong: I finished third in the men's three-meter springboard, this despite the fact that I won the event in 2008 and at each of the last two World Championships. Because of my failure, China did not sweep the diving events as expected.

    Wu Minxia: I understand. What is the reward for a third-place finish?

    He Chong: A medal made of bronze.

    Wu Minxia: Oh....

    Further silence.

    A dove flies through an open window and lands on He's shoulder. The dove gives He a knowing look.

    He smiles, finding solace in the unspoken bond between man and beast.

    The dove pauses a moment and then gouges its beak into He's neck.

    He screams in agony.

    Further silence.

    Wu Minxia: These mashed potatoes are pretty good...

     

    End Scene


Mariel Zagunis, United States, Fencing

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    For years, Mariel Zagunis has carried the flag for U.S. fencing.

    In 2004, she became the first American fencer in a century to win gold. Four years later she repeated the feat, winning her second consecutive Olympic title in women's sabre.

    And for all that metaphorical flag-carrying, Zagunis was given the privilege of carrying an actual flag—the American flag, at London's Opening Ceremony.

    It was a watershed moment for Zagunis and American fencing, but her performance didn't match the implied hype.

    Zagunis was upset in her semifinal match against South Korea's Kim Jiyeon and followed that dud with a head-scratching loss in the bronze-medal round.

    The 27-year-old was also rather ungracious in defeat, prompting Washington Post columnist Mike Wise to file a scathing critique of her post-match demeanor.

    Wise's words drew the ire of fellow American fencer Tim Morehouse, which in turn led Wise to defend himself on Twitter, which in turn...

    Well, you know how these things go.

    It got ugly.

    Point is, Zagunis had about as negative an Olympic experience as a flag-bearer can have.

    She didn't win. She didn't medal. And she left a whole host of angry talking heads in her wake.

Rebecca Adlington, Great Britain, Swimming

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    These were unquestionably one of the most successful Summer Games in Great Britain's history, but if we had to nitpick at Team GB, we'd start in the pool.

    And we will.

    The Brits won just three medals overall and no gold, with hopefuls like Ellen Gandy, Liam Tancock and Hannah Miley all coming up empty.

    And although leading aquatic lady Rebecca Adlington won two of those three medals, her performance was perhaps the biggest letdown of all.

    As a 19-year-old in Beijing, Adlington won gold in both the 400 and 800-meter freestyle events.

    This time around, "Becky" took double bronze.

    Her loss in the 800 free was a particularly acute disappointment, both because she won the event at 2011 Worlds and because the event winner was American 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, a virtual no-name before U.S. Trials.

    The loss left Adlington searching for answers, as she told the BBC:

    "I have not finished on what I wanted to do

    [...]

    I don't know what happened on Friday regarding my time; it was not the fastest I have swum all year, and that's a question I want to ask and understand why."

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