The Olympics begin in two weeks, and as much as we admire all those amazing athletes from around the world, it’s extremely difficult to identify with them.
If my calculations are correct, Tyson Gay achieves a speed of 23 mph for his 100 meter sprints. You couldn’t get a bicycle up to that speed from a standing start.
So I decided to learn about the Olympians at the other end of the spectrum—those who failed to measure up. In short, I wanted to know about the worst Olympic performances in history.
Since television began covering the Olympics, we have seen a bevy of lachrymose profiles of athletes who overcame various impediments to reach the Games. Like monetary inflation, the more stories that appeared, the less value each had. But the sagas of the worst Olympians have it all: humor, pathos, and yes, inspiration.
I’m indebted to this site for listing all the worst performances in Olympic history (a 2.4 meter pole vault? What was he using, a toothpick?). A little digging turned up these fascinating tales of the “worst” Olympic marathoners:
Abdul Baser Wasiqi achieved notoriety for posting the worst marathon time in Olympic history. He completed the race in 4:24 in 1996. Crews who were preparing the stadium for closing ceremonies had to remove the tarpaulin from the track so Wasiqi could finish.
Wasiqi had injured his hamstring prior to the race, but as Afghanistan’s only Olympic participant, he was determined to finish.
John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania limped into the stadium in Mexico City in 1968 an hour after the winner. A cramp about halfway through the marathon caused him to fall, gashing his leg and injuring his knee. With a makeshift bandage, he completed the rest of the race. When asked by a commentator why he hadn’t dropped out, he famously said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; it sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Luvsanlkhundeg Otgonbayar of Mongolia was the slowest woman marathoner in Olympic history, finishing in 3:48 in Athens in 2004. But she was cheerful when it was all over. “Even if I finished last, it was all right, because I still finished and many people, even famous people, didn’t do that.”
Finally, we have Pyambuu Tuul of Mongolia, who finished last in the 1992 Barcelona marathon with a time of 4 hours flat. But Tuul had already gained an amazing victory. A cornea transplant had restored his sight in 1991 after 13 years of blindness.
If the tales of sports also-rans interest you, I recommend a visit to Runner-Up, a website that compiles them, and has the excellent tagline “Where Seconds Count.”