Five-ring Circus

Enough With the Winners. Here Are the Nine Types of Olympics Losers.

Nigeria's Moriam Seun Adigun (R) and Nigeria's Akuoma Omeoga wave after the women's bobsleigh heat 2 run during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 20, 2018 in Pyeongchang.  / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN        (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigeria’s Moriam Seun Adigun (R) and Nigeria’s Akuoma Omeoga wave after the women’s bobsleigh heat 2 run during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 20, 2018 in Pyeongchang. MOHD RASFAN/Getty Images

The Winter Olympics are done, and most of the athletes who came to Pyeongchang with high hopes are going home as losers. Is that too harsh? Too bad! Second place is the first loser! There are no participation medals in life! Go hard or go home! Oh, excuse me, I forgot to introduce myself: My name is Justin Peters, and I will be reading for the part of “Aggressive Coach No. 2.”

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the losers of this year’s Winter Games. We’ve heard a lot about this year’s Winter Games winners. The Olympics do a very good job classifying those winners into different levels, going so far as to hand out “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” medals to first, second, and third place finishers respectively. (I’m here to inform and entertain.) The losers, however, can seem like an undifferentiated mass. This is wrong. There are many different types of Olympics losers. If you would like to know those types, please continue reading—there might be a special reward for you at the end. (There will not be a special reward for you at the end.)

The sore loser. Nothing but total victory will do for this loser. Consider Canadian hockey player Jocelyne Larocque. After her squad lost to the Americans in the gold-medal game, Larocque removed her silver medal from her neck during the subsequent medals ceremony. Later, she apologized by saying that “my emotions got the better of me.” Sore losers’ emotions are always getting the better of them.

The happy-to-be-there loser. This loser didn’t expect to make it to the games at all. Freed from realistic expectations of victory, she is legitimately content to enjoy the Olympics experience.
Nigeria’s bobsled team was the first African bobsled squad to participate in the Winter Olympics. “After we qualified, there was this uproar within Nigeria, the Nigerian diaspora, non-Nigerian people. People were really excited that there was a winter effort and something positive happening for Nigeria,” team captain Seun Adigun told the New York Times. The Nigerians finished in 20th place out of 20 two-women teams. “This is gonna go down in history,” said team member Ngozi Onwumere. Sounds like someone was happy to be there!

The hard-luck loser. The loser who was almost a winner. I’m thinking of Swiss skier Lara Gut, who had all but locked down a bronze medal in the women’s super-G when part-time skier Ester Ledecka shocked the world and pushed Gut off the podium. Tough luck, Lara Gut!

The self-consciously inspirational loser. These losers come to the Olympics not to win, but to motivate others via the nobility of their failures. Pita Taufatofua, better known as the Shirtless Tongan, is the quintessential inspirational loser. This fellow only took up cross-country skiing last year, and nevertheless got good enough at it to finish a few spots above last place. Godspeed, sir.

The reliable loser. Many Pyeongchang losers fall into this category: objectively great athletes who always make the Olympics but never finish on the podium. The Pyeongchang Games were American biathlete Lowell Bailey’s fourth Olympics, and his sixth-place finish in this year’s men’s 4-by-7.5-kilometer relay was the highest he’s ever placed in any Winter Games. Bailey is one of America’s best biathletes, but when the Olympics come around he is always consigned to the middle of the pack. So it goes.

The loser in denial. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, this Olympics loser copes with the trauma by insisting she is actually a winner. American figure skater Mirai Nagasu is a prime example here. Right after finishing a disappointing 10th in the women’s individual event, she informed the media that “although I got zero points for my attempt at the triple axel, in my mind I went for it.” Whatever gets you through the day, I suppose!

The lone-wolf loser. This loser cannot control his emotions after defeat and lashes out at his own teammates as a means of coping. French skier Mathieu Faivre, aka Mikaela Shiffrin’s boyfriend, fits into this rubric. After finishing in seventh place in the giant slalom, Faivre implied that he didn’t think highly of his teammates—all of whom finished above him in the same event—and announced, “I’m here to race for myself only. Don’t expect miracles—eighth is my best place in the World Cup.” No one likes this sort of loser. France immediately sent Faivre home. See you in 2022, guy!

The “Wrong Way Corrigan” loser. This loser may well have been a winner if she hadn’t gotten lost in the middle of her event. I’m referring here to poor Teresa Stadlober, an Austrian cross-country skier, who was in second place in the women’s 30-kilometer cross-country event when she accidentally turned right off a slope when she should have turned left. “I took the wrong way and I did this twice. The second time I wasn’t sure anymore. I had a blackout. I don’t know why I took the wrong way,” she told the media afterward. Stadlober finished in ninth place. This is a very bad way to lose. Maybe the worst way.

The Lindsey Jacobellis loser. This loser is Lindsey Jacobellis. Lindsey Jacobellis always loses at the Olympics, and yet she refuses to see herself as a loser. Instead, she chooses to define herself by the many other successes she has had in her remarkable career. This is a good message for all you Olympics losers out there. Live by Lindsey Jacobellis’ example, and do not pay attention to people like Slate’s Justin Peters.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The Great Olympics Debate: Should We Rank Countries by Gold Medals or Total Medal Count?

Four Theories on Why the United States Is No Longer Having a Crummy Winter Olympics

In Praise of the Women of U.S. Hockey, Who Really Hate Canada and Really Deserved a Gold Medal