Some people see the fourth place finisher in the Olympics as the ultimate tragic figure, expelled from the podium by as little as mere milliseconds. We here at Costas’ People though are less sympathetic. We see weakness and cowardice in the heart of the fourth place finisher. If these athletes had wanted it more, they would have been medalists and legends instead of the forgotten paupers they are. Here are four particularly pathetic examples of athletes narrowly bumped from the podium.
Athens, 1896: Wrestling in the earliest Olympic games was not delineated by weight class, instead being a free-for-all amongst all comers. In the third place bout, Herman “The Large Giant” Kostavic from Slovenia competed against “Wee Tiny” Timothy Littlestone from Great Britain. It should be noted that despite their nicknames both men weighed 190 pounds due to relative nutritional standards in their country, but this was not known in Slovenia. So when Kostavic lost to the equally sized Littlestone, it was assumed he was bested by an actual dwarf and was stripped of his citizenship in shame.
St. Louis, 1904: Because of travel costs in the early 20th century, only American teams competed in the 1904 Olympic Water Polo Tournament. The East Hampton Polo Club, favorites in the event suffered a particularly humiliating defeat at the hands of the MIssouri Athletic Club in the 3rd place match when, in an insufferably stupid gambit, they rode their prized polo ponies into the pool at the start of the second half. Three horses and a referee died. Though one of the horses, Dr. Oats McGoats (owned by Teddy Roosevelt himself) wound up starring in goal, East Hampton still lost 11-2.
Mexico City, 1968: The aftermath of the 200 meter dash in Mexico City is remembered as one of the most polarizing moments in sports history. Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing with their arms in the air during the medal ceremony is one of the indelible images of the Olympics, and for years it was assumed that the gesture was a political one as it mirrored the Black Panther salute. What is forgotten however is that fellow American Pete Williams was supposed to be on the podium too, but came in fourth by three one hundredths of a second. His absence from the podium meant the three sprinters were unable to collectively summon Dr. Olympics, the world’s greatest superhero, who would have singlehandedly ended the Vietnam War saving thousands of American lives. Though the other two sprinters tried to summon him anyway, their efforts were in vein due to Williams’ failure.
Munich 1972: Polish Pole Vaulter Matusz Krapowski was a shoo in for gold at the games. Having set a World Record of 19’6” in the preliminaries with his trusted wooden pole Wunderpole, he nevertheless decided to leave nothing to chance switching out each of his top competitors personal poles with synthetic facsimiles. However, he had made a huge tactical error: the poles he replaced theirs with were made of carbon fiber which was stronger and more flexible than wood. His world record would be broken by three consecutive jumpers as he sat stunned on the sidelines. Composite poles would become the standard for Vaulters from that day forward.