Last week, the travails of U.S. fencer Mariel Zagunis, accompanied by the notably early departure of Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska, led some of us to wonder if there was some sort of curse upon those who, like Zagunis and Radwanska, had had the honor of carrying their nations’ flags into the opening ceremonies. And, indeed, at that early juncture of the Games, it did seem that a trend had emerged of flag-bearers having disappointing performances.
Now, with the closing ceremonies soon to air on U.S. television, it is time to ask: So what about that supposed curse?
To answer that extremely important question, the deeds of all 205 flag-bearers were reviewed. Naturally, the majority represented small and/or developing nations which had little or no shot at putting anyone on a podium, so their results were set aside. But of those flag-bearers who either had a legitimate shot at glory or who represented countries with sizable Olympic contingents — or who simply had something ridiculous happen to them — the results were (drumroll, please)… mixed.
So maybe no curse, after all, but out of that group of 205, enough interesting things happened that it’s worth pointing some of them out (especially after doing so much research, he wrote with clenched teeth).
First, let’s start with some of the big names the first post mentioned as still having time to author their destinies:
Novak Djokovic, Serbia: No. 2 seed not only lost semifinal match to Andy Murray, he dropped the bronze-medal match to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, earning a spot on the Dreaded Fourth Place list (see below).
Maria Sharapova, Russia: Made it to the gold-medal match but probably wishes she hadn’t, as she suffered an embarrassing 6-0, 6-1 demolition by Serena Williams.
Let’s also give props to the flag-bearers who managed to win individual gold medals:
Mariana Pajon, Colombia: BMX star won just the second gold ever for her country.
Mijain Lopez Nunez, Cuba: The 120-kg Greco-Roman wrestler became just the third man to win multiple golds in his weight class.
Chris Hoy: Ahem, Sir Chris Hoy justified his knighthood by upping his career total to six gold medals in cycling.
Kirani James, Grenada: 19-year-old looks like a force for years to come after easy win in men’s 400.
Katie Taylor, Ireland: National hero sent countrymen into pandemonium by boxing her way to Emerald Isle’s first gold medal since 1996.
Usain Bolt, Jamaica: Um, yeah, pretty decent Games for him.
Saori Yoshida, Japan: Dominant force in women’s wrestling nearly untouchable en route to third gold.
Dorian van Rijsselberge, Netherlands: Took gold in windsurfing, but won’t be able to repeat his feat in 2016, because his sport is getting dropped. So cursed!
Flag-bearers who took gold in team events included Chris Brown, Bahamas (men’s 4×400 relay); Max Mirnyi, Belarus (tennis mixed doubles); and Valentina Vezzali, Italy (fencing). In addition, over a dozen other flag-bearers won silver or bronze medals, including some whose names we’re about to get to.
Without further ado, here are the flag-bearers who might give some credence to the Curse theory:
Luciana Aymar, Argentina: Field hockey legend compared by her coach to Maradona and Michael Jordan spent 35th birthday losing women’s final to the Netherlands; still in search of gold, Aymar is now backtracking on retirement talk.
Lauren Jackson, Australia: Basketball star settles for bronze after being second only to the U.S. in the previous three Games.
Markus Rogan, Austria: Bad enough this two-time silver medalist was the face of a 70-strong squad that failed to earn Austria a single summer medal for the first time since 1964, but swimmer also had to clarify comments that seemed to insult the intelligence of Winter Games uber-hero Hermann Maier.
Jianlian Yi, China: Former Wizard (as if that wasn’t curse enough) suffered a knee injury as his team went 0-5.
Kim Wraae, Denmark: Finished dead last in qualifying heats of both the two- and four-man canoe sprint events.
Alexandros Nikolaidis, Greece: Taekwondo silver medalist in the previous two Games lost in the first round, to a Turkish rival, no less.
Simon Whitfield, Canada: Already mired in controversy after criticizing female teammate’s coaches, two-time medalist in triathlon crashed his bike, breaking collarbone, and took event’s only DNF.
Yulis Mercedes Reyes, Dominican Republic: 2008 judo silver medalist took a 3-1 lead into the final period of his first-round match, only to get rocked, 7-0, by another flag-bearer, Tameem Mohammed Ahmed Al-Kubati of Yemen, who himself would lose, 14-2, in the next round.
Hesham Mesbah, Egypt: Sole Egyption medalist in ’08 not only lost his first-round match in the final second, he lost to an opponent who was noticed to be wearing pink underwear for the occasion.
Maxwell Amponsah, Ghana: Boxer had to withdraw before seeing any action, for the understandable reason that he was still recovering from a broken jaw.
Facinet Keita, Guinea: One of the biggest athletes in the Games at 297 pounds, Keita nonetheless found himself dwarfed, then squashed beneath, a 480-pound judo giant from Guam.
Peter Biros, Hungary: He and his water polo teammates had dominated the sport with three straight gold medals, only to get dismissed by Italy in the quarterfinals.
Ali Mazaheri, Iran: Boxer stormed out of the ring, later claiming “fix” was in, after he was disqualified in the first round for too much holding.
Shahar Zubari, Israel: 2008 bronze medalist finished 19th in windsurfing, part of country’s first medal shutout since 1988.
Irving Saladino, Panama: Defending Olympic long jump champ failed to get out of the qualifying round, fouling on all three attempts.
Kim Collins, Saint Kitts and Nevis: Third-place finisher at 2011 world championships kicked off team before setting a foot on the track in London; his team managers claimed that he failed to stay in contact with them, while an irate Collins claimed that he was being punished for merely spending too much time with his wife.
And finally, the Dreaded Fourth Place list:
Arman Yeremyan, Armenia, men’s 80-kg taekwondo
Chris Brown, Bahamas, men’s 400 meters
Amantle Montsho, Botswana, women’s 400
Fehaid Aldeehani, Kuwait, double trap shooting
Alekna Virgilijus, Lithuania, discus
Alessandra Perilli, San Marino, women’s trap shooting
Novak Djokovic, Serbia, men’s tennis
(1984-2008 data via United States Elections Project at George Mason University)