patrick beckert, patrick beckert germany, patrick beckert skating
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Patrick Beckert of Germany during the men's 5,000 meter speed skating race at the Richmond
Olympic Oval at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Missed Olympic Moments

February 27, 2010 08:00 AM
by James Sullivan
A German skater missed a shot at Olympic glory this week when officials couldn’t reach him on his cell phone before his race. Olympic history is riddled with similar blunders.

Missed Call, Missed Race

A German speed skater got a hard lesson in preparedness in Vancouver earlier this week. After Italian Enrico Fabris pulled out of the 10,000-meter speed skating event, officials turned to the alternates to fill his spot. Unable to contact the first three, they told German team officials to call up Patrick Beckert, the race’s fourth alternate. Unfortunately Beckert’s phone was off, and by the time they reached him he had only 15 minutes until his race, and no chance of getting to the Richmond Olympic Oval on time.

Although he missed the 10,000m event, Beckert competed in the 5,000m earlier in the Vancouver Olympics, so his 2010 games were not a total wash.

Beckert’s missed moment recalls other incidents at previous Olympic games.

Stan Wright’s Legacy

During the 1972 Olympics, a scheduling snafu cost top American sprinters a shot at gold. On the morning of the opening day of competition, three sprinters—Eddie Hart, Rey Robinson and Robert Taylor, coached by Stan Wright—easily qualified for the quarterfinals of the 100-meter dash. According to Wright’s schedule, the three wouldn’t race again until 7 p.m., so they returned to the Olympic Village.

Relaxing in front of the television, the athletes observed what looked like a replay of their earlier events, only to realize they were watching the quarterfinal round. They rushed back to the stadium, but only Taylor arrived in time to make his race. He would go on to win silver, losing to Soviet Valery Borzov, and coach Wright would take considerable flack from the press. He blamed his error on using an outdated schedule, given to him a month earlier by U.S. officials.

Calendar Considerations

In 1896, the U.S. Olympic team nearly missed the games entirely. The team arrived in Athens 12 days early to acclimate, without realizing the Greek calendar differed from theirs. The difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars was 12 days, meaning the Americans arrived just in time for the start of competition.

The Greeks didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923.

Duke Kahanamoku

Hawaiian surfing legend and Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku nearly missed his shot at glory when he allegedly overslept prior to the 100-meter freestyle swim at the 1912 Olympics. Kahanamoku’s primary competition, the Australian champion Cecil Healy, convinced the judges to hold a special qualifying race for Kahanamoku in a noble display of sportsmanship. Kahanamoku qualified and went on to win the gold medal ahead of Healy, who took the silver.

Related Topic: Oversleeping in comedy

The dreaded, “uh oh, I overslept” moment is parodied in an episode of “Seinfeld” based around the New York City marathon. Elaine puts up an Olympic marathon runner from Trinidad and Tobago who is famous for sleeping through his big race. Jerry is determined to ensure that the runner, Jean Paul Jean Paul, makes the NYC marathon on time and avoids a repeat. Hilarious scenarios play out, and Jean Paul’s race doesn’t exactly go according to plan. 

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