10 Greatest Losers in Sports History

Loser: Michael Edwards, who came to be known affectionately as Eddie The Eagle. Photo: Montage Communications/flickr


LACHLAN MCGREGOR lists the greatest sporting losses in history.

10. Dan Jansen, 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France: Speed Skating

Dan Jansen from Milwaukee in the US failed to get a medal in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games although he was favourite, because he was dealing with the recent death of his sister Jane.

In the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, Jansen entered both the 500 and 1,000 metre events as the best in the world, while also holding the world record for the 500m event. Jansen stumbled in the 500m, finishing fourth – more than a second off his world record time. He then faded on the final lap of the 1,000 metres, finishing in a devastating 26th place. This famous ‘choke’ stunned the world of winter sports. Fortunately enough for Jansen, despite the embarrassment at the ’92 games there was redemption in the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, where he claimed gold in the 500m.


9. Collingwood Football Club, 1977 VFL Grand Final: AFL

In 1977, before the league was named AFL in 1988, the VFL (Victorian Football League) produced arguably the greatest fail in the history of Australian sport.

The Collingwood Magpies had finished 1st at the end of the season, with 18 wins after losing just 4 games. Then there were the North Melbourne Kangaroos, who finished 3rd with 15 wins and 7 losses. Leading up the Grand Final, North Melbourne had a rather difficult run as they had to play more games and against more difficult opponents. Collingwood on the other hand had a much easier run to the Grand Final, advancing straight to the big game after just one semi-final.

Finally the game of the year arrived, and 108,224 spectators flooded the MCG to attend the match, with more than half supporting the unstoppable ’77 Collingwood team. The Magpies had a 27-point lead at three quarter time, and amazingly enough the Roos came back. But the match did not end in a win for either team; the score ended 76-76, Collingwood and North Melbourne recording the second of only three Grand Finals in VFL/AFL history to end in a draw.

A Grand Final replay was scheduled for the following week. The replay was attended by 98,366 spectators, 10,000 less than the first Grand Final. North Melbourne led throughout the entire match, and won by 27 points. The Kangaroos scored 151 points in the match, their highest ever score in the history of its club in a single game. The nation was shocked as the North Melbourne Kangaroos made history, dominating the powerful favourites, Collingwood. The 1977 Collingwood Magpies will forever be recognised as one of the greatest losers in sporting history.


8. Jana Novotna, Wimbledon, 1993: Tennis

In the final of the UK Grand Slam in Wimbledon, two powerhouse women in the world of tennis went head to head. It was Jana Novotna from the Czech Republic who was seeded 8th for the tournament, playing against the world number 1 from Germany, Steffi Graf.

Graf had won the first set 7-6, but Novotna rallied back to dominate the second set 6-1 and was on her way to victory. She was leading the final convincingly and had a promising 4-1 lead in the deciding set. In the sixth game of the set, Novotna lead 40-30 and was just five points from winning the championship. Novotna faltered on serve, double faulting with a chance to win the game.

From there she fell apart, missing a forehand volley and then an overhead into the net. One double fault followed another and within about 10 minutes Graf had won the deciding set 6-4, taking out the match two sets to one and winning the 1993 Wimbledon Championship. Jana Novotna choked at the crucial time when it looked like she had the championship in the bag, which will forever go down as one of the greatest and most famous losing moments in sporting history.


7. The Underarm Bowling Incident, Australia vs. New Zealand, 1981: Cricket

The underarm bowling incident of 1981 took place on the 1st of February 1981, when Australia was playing New Zealand in a One Day International, the third of five matches in the final of the World Series Cup, played at the MCG.

To prevent New Zealand from any chance of scoring the six they needed to tie, Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his bowler (and younger brother) Trevor Chappell to deliver the last ball underarm, along the ground. The action was legal at the time, but had never been done before in international cricket. This act was seen as unsportsmanlike and the Australian team was booed off the ground after winning the match. This was an important game for the New Zealanders as it was in the finals series for the cup.

Immediately after the tournament, underarm bowling was banned in limited overs cricket by the International Cricket Council. This moment has gone down in history as one of the most controversial and famous losing moments in the history of sport.


Trevor Chappell delivers the infamous underarm ball in 1981.


6. Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, November 1980, in New Orleans: Boxing

In June 1980, Panama-born boxer Roberto Duran convincingly beat American Sugar Ray Leonard, the Olympic golden boy of boxing at the time.

Duran had insulted Leonard before the match, held in Quebec, Canada to decide the WBC Welterweight World Title. In a rematch five months later Leionard turned the tables, using his speed to frustrate Duran. In the eighth round, after taunting Duran in the seventh, Leonard hit him with a vicious right uppercut. Duran turned around and walked to his corner, saying “no mas” which means “no more” in Spanish. Duran had quit the match before it had finished, losing the Welterweight World Title he had won just five months prior. This act of giving up will always be remembered as one of the biggest and famous losing moments in sports history.


5. Jean Van de Velde, the 1999 British Open: Golf

In the 1999 British Open, Jean Van de Velde seemed on his way to an improbable upset as the first Frenchman to win the Open since 1907, when he teed off on the final hole of the final round, ahead by three strokes. Rather than play safely after his drive from the opening shot drifted into the rough, Van de Velde went for the green with a 2-iron. His shot sailed right, hit a grandstand and ricocheted back into knee-high rough. he aimed for the green again, only to hit his ball weakly into a creek.

He ended up in a playoff, losing to Paul Lawrie of Scotland. Jean Van de Velde had blown his three-shot lead and went into the history books as one of the biggest chokes of all time.


4. The 1986 Boston Red Sox, World Series: Baseball

Boston’s fatalistic fans dared to hope with the Sox leading 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth inning during the seventh and final game of the World Series, with the bases empty and one out away from their first World Series title in 68 years.

Ray Knight singled on a two-strike pitch to score and put the New York Mets within just one run. Bob Stanley’s 2-2 pitch to Mookie Wilson was too far inside, escaping the grasp of catcher Rich Gedman to allow Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run for the Mets. Wilson, facing a full count, fouled off a couple of pitches before hitting a slow roller that went through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing Ray Knight to score another run, this time the winning run. The Mets, after trailing 3-0, scored eight times in the late innings to win the seventh game.

The Boston Red Sox had lost the World Series after having a promising lead, ending in yet another tragic season end for the team. This famous choke is the most famous losing story in the history of baseball.


3. The 1992 Houston Oilers, January 1993 NFL wildcard playoffs (1992 season): American Football

The Oilers, considered the best team in the league at the time, led the Buffalo Bills 35-3 early in the third quarter. At this stage of the game everyone including the fans and commentators had written off the Bills, saying Buffalo didn’t stand a chance and that Houston had this game wrapped up.

Bills kicker Steve Christie recovered his own onside kick after a touchdown run by Kenneth Davis, and the Bills scored four plays later to make it 35-17 with half of the third quarter remaining. Backup quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half, but it was Christie’s field goal in overtime, after an interception, that sent the Bills to their third consecutive Super Bowl (all ending in losses). The win is the largest comeback in NFL history and unfortunately for the Oilers, it was also the biggest choke in NFL history.


2. Greg Norman, 1996 Masters: Golf

Going into the final of the 1996 Masters in Augusta, Australia’s top golfer Greg Norman led Englishman Nick Faldo, his playing partner that day, by six shots. But Norman had a history.

A decade earlier he led all four major tournaments, but won only the 1986 British Open. At the ninth hole, Norman’s wedge fell short of the hole and rolled back 30 yards (27 metres). He bogeyed that hole and it was all downhill from there. He made three consecutive bogeys, followed by a double bogey. In 20 minutes and over six holes, Norman had given up his giant six shot lead. He lost by five strokes to Faldo.

This was another choke in a major tournament by Greg Norman, but this one was his biggest given-up lead which is why it is one of the most famous losses of all time in the long and large history of sport around the world.


1. Eddie The Eagle: Skiing

Michael Edwards, better known as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, was a British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. At the time, Edwards was the best ski jumper in Britain. However, by finishing last in both the 70m and 90m events, he became world famous for losing, recognised as a “heroic failure”.

His legend began in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, where Edwards’ lack of success endeared him to people around the globe. The worse he performed, the more popular he became. He subsequently became a media celebrity and appeared on talk shows around the world. The widespread attention that Edwards received in Calgary was embarrassing to some in the ski jumping establishment. Many athletes and officials felt that Edwards was “making a mockery” of the sport.

Shortly after the Olympics finished, the entry requirements were strengthened in order to making it nearly impossible for anyone to follow his example. Eddie the Eagle became world famous for losing and he embraced it. He did not qualify for any of the following Olympic Games’. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is the world’s most famous loser in sports history.


Leave a Reply