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9 Olympic Flash-In-The-Pans

by: Howard Cosmell On  Monday, June 6, 2011

It’s hard to call any Olympic athlete a “flash in the pan.” First off, they clearly had a lot of success to get to the Olympic games. Secondly, the inability to achieve Olympic success doesn’t necessarily mean that one hasn’t achieved lot of success in other venues. However, there have been plenty of athletes that have failed to meet expectations set, either by failing to medal, or by failing to repeat their performances, despite a strong pedigree. So here are a few examples of athletes that achieved success, but not quite as much as they would have liked.

9. Kim Zmeskal

Zmeskal was the poster child for the Barcelona Summer Games, having graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the days leading up to the Olympics. In the years before, the Houston native had absolutely rocked the World Championships in both Paris and Indianapolis. However, the weight of the Olympiad may have proven too much for her. Her stellar performances were peppered with mental errors, stutter steps and slip ups. Sadly, after only scoring a bronze in the team category, it was revealed that Zmeskal had a stress fracture in her ankle. However, considering most of her errors were mental, that doesn’t fully explain her inability to live up to expectations.

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8. and 7. Dan and Dave

Again in Barcelona (the 1992 Summer Games seem to have been the year of the hype machine), high expectations were set for two gentlemen who were competing for America in the decathlon. The expectations here created not by experts or the athletes themselves, but rather by Reebok, which was looking to create some buzz around their newly-launched “Pump.” Seeing as how the decathlon is supposed to be an all-around test of athletic prowess, the shoe company asked which one would prove to be the world’s greatest athlete in Barcelona. It turns out neither. Dan O’Brien didn’t even qualify for the games after falling short on the pole vault in the qualifier, while Dave Johnson placed third for the bronze. While that’s no small potatoes, it’s hard to argue that any bronze medal winner is the world’s greatest athlete. He retired shortly thereafter and people went back to not caring about the decathlon.

6. Bode Miller

It’s hard to not root for party animal Bode Miller. The American downhill skier medaled twice in SLC in 2002, but his ways caught up with him in Torino, where he appeared out of shape in a 5th-place finish and even overslept to miss an early-morning course inspection. There are few personalities more marketable than Miller’s but without a level of success, he came across as a loud-mouth drunk that was more interested in parting at the games than competing in them.

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5. Michelle Kwan

Any athlete that is capable of getting to the Olympics is capable of being disappointed by not scoring the goal. So Michelle Kwan’s Olympic performances, no matter how “competent,” would always seem to fall short should she never get the gold. She fell short to the next entry on this list, as well as America’s Olympic sweetheart Sarah Hughes in 2002. Kwan has walked away known as the United States’ most decorated skater, but still without an Olympic gold. Which is a bit like being called “the most beautiful person in the world, except for their face.”

4. Tara Lipinski

I understand that calling a gold medal winner a “flash in the pan” could be construed as a little misguided. Although less than stellar athletes can achieve the highest levels of success given the right circumstances (see Redskins QB Mark Rypien), Lipinski’s fleeting fame just boils down to misfortune. After upsetting Michelle Kwan for the gold in 1998, just three months later she suffered a torn labrum and injured hip that forced her to retire.

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3. 2004 US Men’s Basketball Team

The Men’s US Basketball squad is supposed to win the gold. That’s just how it is. When the pros were allowed in back in 1992, expectations were set. After all, given the talent pool the US has to choose from, there’s no excuse for anything less than the number one spot. I guess the 2004 team didn’t get the memo. They lost three games, more than they had ever lost in a single year, let alone in a single Olympiad. They ended up with the bronze, which for any other team would have been a great achievement. But for the US team, it was an outrageous embarrassment.

2. Sergei Bubka

If winning a gold medal in your event can still qualify you as being a “flash in the pan,” then I’m sure a lot of athletes wouldn’t mind finding their way on this list. But Sergei Bubka (USSR/Ukraine) was perhaps the most dominant participant in any track and field event during his career, but he managed to score only one gold medal (in Seoul in ’88). Of course, it’s not like there are eight different pole vaulting events to choose from every four years, so if you have a bad go of it, there aren’t any other avenues to find your way to gold. He set and broke the men’s pole vaulting record a staggering 35 times during his reign, despite having only one gold to show for his dominance.

1. Stacy Dragila

Bubka isn’t the only pole vaulter that failed to repeat their success in the Olympics. Dragila took the gold in 2000, but, despite maintaining dominance following the 2000 games (she holds 8 outdoor world championships), but she was unable to even advance to the medal round in 2004, finishing seventh, not overall, but just in her group. Despite garnering another gold at the world championships in 2005, she never found her way back to the Olympics. Not exactly a sob story, but not the dominance one would have expected.




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