by Richy Craven
The Olympics is the pinnacle of athletic competition. Athletes train their entire lives for the chance to compete at the highest level and make their countries proud. Becoming one of these elite Olympians requires self-sacrifice, purpose and dedication to becoming the best. At least, most of the time it does. Every now and again someone will turn up at this clash of the titans with no more qualifications than the fact that they owned a passport and weren’t sane enough to realize that beginner’s luck doesn’t really apply at the Olympics.
1. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards
Eddie Edwards had (as well as very unimaginative parents) one dream: representing his country in the Olympics. This was a dream he was determined to realise no matter how much reality and common sense tried to tell him it was a bad idea.
Edwards was an above-average skier but didn’t manage to qualify for the 1984 Winter Olympic team. Deciding that he faced too much competition in the downhill event Eddie changed sports to ski jumping since there were no other British athletes suicidal enough to try it.
For those of you not familiar with winter sports ski jumping is the event where you strap two over-sized Popsicle sticks to your feet and speed down a mountain towards giant ramp, Wile-E-Coyote style, hoping the snow is deep enough to cushion your landing. It’s really not something you can just pick up in your spare time.
Nonetheless Eddie moved to Lake Placid to begin his training. Now straight away Eddie had some serious disadvantages (besides the craziness), He was overweight, weighing about 20 lbs. more than his next-heaviest competitor (it pays to be aerodynamic when you’re hurtling down a mountain towards a certain death). He was also incredibly far sighted and had to wear his trademarked thick-lensed glasses at all times. The glasses would constantly fog up, making him effectively blind: a slight handicap when you’re desperately trying to defy gravity. His training was also hampered by the fact that he had no sponsorship and had to cut costs by training in borrowed gear that was many sizes too big for him. Luckily Edwards managed to save some money by staying in a Finnish mental hospital. He claims that it was because it was cheap accommodation; we’re not entirely convinced.
Despite not being remotely qualified he was selected for the 1988 Winter Games by virtue of the fact that no-one else from Britain applied.
But even though he was overweight, blind, and under-equipped Edwards went on to win the…Ha ha! No, we’re just messing with you! He came last in both the 70m and 90m events because real life doesn’t play out like a heart-warming Disney movie.
The whole event was so embarrassing that the International Olympic Committee implemented the “Eddie the Eagle Rule” which pretty much forbade him or any lunatic like him from ever entering the games again.
There’s sucking and then there’s sucking so bad that an international committee unanimously passes an official rule just to stop you from ever coming back.
The Happy Ending:
Even though his performance could generously be described as “an affront to very nature of competitive sport” Eddie became a minor international celebrity and went on to become a stunt jumper and even released a successful song in Finland.
He remains an iconic British sportsman (notice we said “iconic” and not “talented”) and was even chosen by the Olympic committee to carry the Olympic torch at the 2010 Vancouver games.
2. Eric “The Eel” Moussambani
In an attempt to get developing countries more active in the Game the Olympic committee will sometimes hand out “wildcard” entries that allow smaller nations to send athletes that haven’t qualified in other international competitions. In 2000, one of these wildcard entries was Eric Moussambani who was to chosen to represent Equatorial Guinea in the men’s 100m freestyle swimming, despite not knowing how to swim. Yes, you read that right, Eric only started learning to swim 8 months before he was due to take on the very best swimmers in the world.
Even if you remove the “didn’t know how to swim a year ago” factor the odds were still stacked against Eric from the start. He had never seen a 50m swimming pool before going to Sydney, having done all his training in a 20 metre pool in a hotel. We’re guessing it’s pretty hard to get the full Olympic training experience when you have to swim around kids in floaties playing Marco Polo. As well as this Eric thought that he’d be swimming 50m and was only told when he reached Sydney that he’d actually be expected to swim twice that distance.
Things did not look good for Moussambani when he lined up against two other athletes for his first heat, them in their high-tech full body swimsuits and him in a pair of blue speedos. It seemed pretty inevitable that he would a) lose b) lose badly or c) drown.
But then something incredible happened. Both of the other athletes false-started and were disqualified. Eric stood confused on his podium as the Olympic officials frantically debated about what to do. Eventually the judges declared him the winner but said that he would have to swim against the clock so that they’d have an official lap time for him
What happened next is embarrassing and inspiring in equal measure. Eric started off strong but he’d never swum 100m in his life and he soon tired. If you watch the video you can hear the concern in the commentators’ voices as they slowly realise that they might be providing commentary on the first case of an Olympic swimmer drowning. They weren’t used to talking for such a long time and desperately tried to fill the nearly two minutes it took him to complete his swim.
Eric eventually managed to finish but he clocked the slowest time in Olympic history, 1 minute and 52 seconds. To put this in perspective the world record is under 47 seconds.
The happy ending:
Eric’s determination to finish made him a celebrity at the games and a hero in his native Equatorial Guinea. After Sydney he continued to train and actually managed to bring his time down to a respectable 57 seconds. Unfortunately a visa mistake meant that he could not partake in the 2004 games but his persistence was rewarded when he went on to become the head coach of his country’s national swimming squad. We’re guessing his first order of business upon taking the job was “building a damn 50m pool!”
3. Phillip “Cool Runnings” Boit
When you think of Olympic sports that Kenyans excel at, cross-country skiing is probably not the first thing to come to mind. This didn’t stop Philip Boit, the first Kenyan ever to participate at the Winter Olympics.
Like pretty much everyone else on this list, Boit had no previous experience in skiing prior to taking part in the Olympic Games. He was part of a project whereby Nike sponsored two African middle distance runners to see if their speed could translate into skiing prowess, presumably because even Nike executives get bored sometimes and they have entirely too much money at their disposal.
Rather predictably, the contender from Kenya didn’t have much experience with three-foot snowdrifts and came last in the cross country skiing event at the 1988 games.
The happy ending:
The medal ceremony had to be delayed because the athlete who came first in that race, Bjørn Dæhlie, refused to take the podium until Boit had finished.
When Boit did eventually cross the finish line it was to a huge hug and congratulations from Bjørn who had admired the fact that he hadn’t given up. Boit was so touched that he named his son after him.
4. Prince Jefri “Nepotism” Bolkiah
As we mentioned earlier, the Olympics hands out wildcard entries to smaller or developing nations in an attempt to get them to take part in the games. Now, due to the lack of organized sporting competitions in these countries it can be difficult to pick and athlete to represent them. If you’re Equatorial Guinea and you’re taking part in swimming then obviously you pick someone who’s never seen an Olympic-size pool before and if you’re Brunei you pick the Sultan’s youngest brother because that might keep the moron out of trouble for a little while.
In 1996 Prince Jefri, or to give him his full title His Royal Highness Pengiran Digadong Sahibul Mal Pengiran Muda Jefri Bolkiah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien (we bet whoever’s job it is to call out the names at the Olympics hated this guy) took time out of his busy schedule of embezzling billions of dollars and luring women into his personal harem to go compete in the Olympics despite having absolutely no history of competitive shooting.
Still, out of everybody on this list, Jefri should have had the best shot at not embarrassing his country. His brother was one of the richest men in the world so he could afford the best equipment and training that money could buy. In fact, Jefri was worth so much that he could have paid all the other athletes to stay home that year.
Unfortunately for Jefri “not embarrassing his country” was never his strong suit and the one thing he couldn’t buy was talent. He finished 49th in his first Olympic games and, even having access to the best trainers that money could buy for four whole years, only managed to come 45th in the 2000 games.
The happy insane ending:
Remember when he said that he took part in the 2000 Olympics? It’s worth mentioning that he represented Brunei despite being exiled from the country at the time. Jefri was his brother’s finance minister for a while and used his position to embezzle nearly 15 billion dollars from his brother. To put that kind of money into perspective, that’s supranationally more than this year’s Olympics will cost Great Britain. For the kind of money he could have staged his own Olympic Games where he was the only competitor.
When he was found out the Sultan exiled him for ten years, but apparently this didn’t extend to stopping him from entering the Olympics because, sure, what’s 14.8 billion between brothers?
Richy Craven is basically a machine that turns whiskey into terrible life choices, he also writes occasionally. You can read more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or on Twitter.
Richy is our resident Olympics
expert maniac, who counted Ominous Signs from London’s Olympics Preparation and Our Favorite Parts of the Olympics Opening Ain’t What You Think. –>