Everyone thought Shaun White was destined for Olympics gold. No one thought that a series of falls would leave him with no medals at all.

What does it feel like to miss the medal as a heavy favorite? Peter Cipollone, former coxswain of the U.S. men’s eight crew team, recalled his own experience missing a medal opportunity everyone thought he would win. He wrote on Q&A site Quora:

In 2000, we were heavily favored to win. We imploded and finished 5th. That second week was very difficult. We were like ghosts haunting the greatest celebration of amateur sport on earth. We would go to parties–at least the ones where we could get in–and watch what seemed like absolutely everyone else having the time of their lives. We quietly wondered what might have been. We slept a lot and scrapped for tickets to other events. Grown men cried.

That was the worst moment of my sports career. For years afterward, our meltdown in Sydney was the the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep and the first thing on my mind when I got up. Thinking about it now still stings. My teammates are also my closest friends. For some, that was their last chance. We will never get that back and we all live with it every day.

But the Olympics is also full of comeback stories, tales of redemption and underdog victories, and Cipollone also described what it feels like to be the dark horse pulling out a surprise win:

From the moment we crossed the finish line, the difference between Athens and Sydney could not have been more stark. We had just achieved the dream of our youth, accompanied by all the expected things: going to the medal stand, seeing our flag go up, singing our national anthem, fighting back a tear or two, celebrating with our families and friends, getting back to our house and finding 200 emails waiting with subjects like “CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!” and “OMG” even though it was not yet 6am back home.

And then the second week began. NBC called. They wanted us on the Today Show. They liked us and invited us back later in the week. The Wall Street Journal asked if I would write an article about the experience. We did a top-ten list for Letterman. While we were waiting for the cameramen, wrestler Rulon Gardner picked me up with one hand.

Everywhere we went, it was a celebration. An official who looked quite like me introduced himself with stories of how random people were congratulating him and asking for his autograph. We got a picture together with him wearing the medal. People on the street would stop us and ask if their children could see the medal. That was the best.

With two days to go, I stopped sleeping. I had total fear of missing out. I visited with my friends from other countries. Who knew if we would ever see one another again? We just tried to experience as much of it as possible. We were not ghosts anymore.

Cipollone’s medal-winning race:


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