Five Olympians Who Won Fame by Losing

Most athletes win fans by winning, but some take opposite route to celebrity.

ByABC News
July 30, 2012, 5:18 PM

July 31, 2012— -- intro: National pride sometimes trumps competitiveness at the Olympics. Some fans are just happy to see local heroes in the spotlight, whether they go home empty-handed or even hardly know the sport.

The tradition of spectacular failure at the Olympics dates back to the inception of the modern Games in Athens in 1896, when Great Britain's George Stuart Robinson's discus throw of about 82 feet set a world-record low that stands to this day. Here are five athletes throughout recent Olympic history who most needed to be comforted with the words, "Winning isn't everything."

quicklist: 1title: Eddie "The Eagle" Edwardstext: The first Briton to compete in Olympic ski jumping, Eddie the Eagle attracted greater celebrity the more he failed. After he ranked 55th at the 1987 World Championships, he qualified as the only British applicant for the ski jumping competition in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Edwards finished last in both the 70-meter and 90-meter events. His subsequent attempts to qualify for Olympic bids -- in 1992, 1994 and 1998 -- all failed.

The International Olympic Committee appeared to aim for that outcome: in 1990, it established what became known as the Eddie the Eagle Rule, which requires aspiring Olympians to place among the top 50 competitors or the top 30 percent of competitors in international tournaments prior to competing in the Olympics.

Although some athletes and Olympics officials bemoaned what they perceived to be a mockery of ski jumping as a sport, Frank King, the president of the Calgary Olympics organizing committee, included a nod to Edwards in his closing ceremony remarks: "At this Games, some competitors have won gold, some have broken records, and some of you have even soared like an eagle."

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quicklist: 2 title: Jamaican National Bobsled Teamtext: The four men of this tropical island nation's bobsled team also made their Olympic debut in Calgary in 1988.

Their underdog status endeared them quickly to fans and inspired the 1993 film "Cool Runnings." The Jamaicans had not practiced much before shipping off to Calgary, where they had to borrow sleds from their competitors to race.

Despite their poor showing in Calgary and in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, the team surprised skeptics with a 14th-place finish in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, beating out the United States, Russia and France.

The team failed to qualify for both the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

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quicklist: 3title: Eric "The Eel" Moussambanitext: This swimmer from Equatorial Guinea rose to fame for his freestyle 100-meter heat time of 1:52:72, more than twice that of the two other swimmers in that race. Miraculously, Moussambani won that heat, thanks to false starts that disqualified his opponents.

Moussambani qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney through a wildcard draw intended to boost participation in the Olympics by developing countries.

He had picked up swimming just eight months before, and had never seen, much less practiced in, an Olympic-size pool.

While he has not participated in the Olympics since, he was appointed coach of the Equatorial Guinea national swimming team in March.

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quicklist: 4title: Hamadou Djibo Issaka, or the "Sculling Sloth"text: Having begun learning to row last November in the backwater of a landlocked country dominated by the Sahara Desert, this Niger rower was the wildcard in the same program that brought Eric "The Eel" Moussambani to Sydney. Since his arrival in London, Issaka has often been labeled "the new Eric The Eel."

"I have no technique, I only have strength," he said this week, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Still, Niger's Olympic officials maintain public optimism that Issaka will be back in the water for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

On Sunday's men's single sculls, Issaka was out of breath as he finished nearly two minutes behind the winners. Two days later, he rowed even slower in a qualification race.

"Give him a big cheer for plowing on," the announcer said, according to the Associated 16887953

quicklist: 5title: The British Handball Teamtext: While their prospects for advancing are dim -- they face almost certain defeat against the Russians, who finished second in Beijing four years ago -- the British handballers have undeniably earned their place in the hearts of their countrymen.

The British national handball team did not exist seven years ago. But when London won its bid for the 2012 Olympics, the nation decided it needed a team in every sport for the Games it was preparing to host.

So U.K. Sport bought some advertisements: "Desperate to play in the Olympics but not quite good enough? Take a few years out of your life, learn handball and 2012 is yours for the taking," read one ad, according to The Guardian.

Thirty tall men and women were recruited to a fledgling team. To prove its seriousness, the British Handball Association quickly moved its headquarters to Denmark, whose team won three gold medals between 1996 and 2004.

In the throes of a financial crisis and spiraling recession, Britain pulled funding from the project in 2009. Many players had to work odd jobs --i n bakeries, as painter-decorators, as bathroom cleaners -- in order to support themselves as they continued their training.

"People were doing anything to get by," one player told The Independent, a British newspaper.

Their journey from Denmark to London now complete, the British handball team has inspired new interest in a sport whose rules few in Britain -- or in the United States -- are familiar. All that despite poor performances against the French, who trounced them 44 to 15, and the tiny new-entrant nation of Montenegro, which bested them 31 to 19.

The numbers did not appear to matter much to the British fans, who could be heard yelling "GB, GB, GB" throughout both matches as they cheered the losing 16887938