Although they were favored to win gold at the Olympics, some Americans failed to even medal. In an especially cruel twist, two sprinters didn't even make it to the quarterfinals at the 1972 Games in Munich.
1. Overhyped Decathlete Dave Johnson Settles for Bronze at 1992 Barcelona Games
In 1992, American decathletes Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson starred in a $30 million Reebok ad campaign that made them sensations. But neither earned gold at the Olympics in Spain. O'Brien, the decathlon world champion, failed to make the U.S. Olympic team. Just before the Games, gold-medal favorite Johnson suffered a painful stress fracture in his right foot – an injury he kept secret lest he give competitors a psychological edge. “It hurt so much I could hardly walk on it,” Johnson said. He settled for the bronze.
2. Scheduling Mix-up Costs U.S. Sprinters at 1972 Munich Games
American sprinter Eddie Hart was heavily favored to win the 100-meter dash. Teammate Rey Robinson also was expected to earn a medal. But neither made it to the start line of the quarterfinals because of a scheduling snafu. U.S. track coach Stan Wright, working off a dated schedule, gave them the wrong start time. "I don’t know if I really understood what pain was, but that day I found out," Hart recalled. "That hurt. There was no recourse, no second chance, no appeal.”
3. Mary Decker’s Fall at 1984 Los Angeles Games
In one of the more iconic photos in Olympic history, American middle-distance runner Mary Decker cried in pain after colliding with South African Zola Budd halfway through the women's 3,000-meter final. The heavily favored Decker, who had lost a chance to medal during the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, led most of the race. But then she tangled with the barefooted Budd, fell and hurt her hip, and did not finish. Budd, competing for Great Britain, finished seventh. Decker's response when Budd attempted to apologize after the race: "Don't bother."
4. Jim Ryun’s Protests Rejected at 1972 Munich Games
Ryun, the world-record holder in the mile, was favored in the 1,500-meter run after winning silver at the Olympics four years earlier. But he fell during his first qualifying heat after colliding with another runner. Spiked in both ankles during the race, he filed a protest, saying he was fouled, but it was rejected. "I felt I was running a very smart race from the standpoint of not getting in traffic,” he told reporters, “and the next thing I knew I was on the ground trying to recover my senses …”
5. Marion Jones Disappoints at 2004 Athens Games
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, sprinter Jones earned three gold medals and two bronze, making her the first woman to medal five times in a single Games. She was expected to medal in Greece, too. But facing doping allegations, Jones placed fifth in the long jump, her only individual event, and her 4 X 100-meter relay team fumbled the baton in the finals and failed to place. In 2007, Jones admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of her Olympic medals.
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6. NBA Stars Falter at 2004 Athens Games
With a roster that included veteran NBA stars Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and rookies LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade, the U.S. men’s basketball team seemed like a good bet for the gold medal. But the Americans finished preliminary play with a 3-2 record, losing to Puerto Rico and Lithuania. The United States edged No. 1 seed Spain in the quarterfinals but lost 89-81 in the semifinal to eventual champion Argentina. The Americans settled for the bronze, prompting this headline in the Los Angeles Times: “U.S. Had Lots of Stars but No Real Team.”
7. Ryan Lochte Caught in a Lie at 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games
Lochte, one of the more decorated U.S. Olympic swimmers with 12 medals, was suspended for 10 months by USA Swimming during the 2016 Games after he and three teammates admitted lying about being robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station. Witnesses and surveillance video showed the intoxicated swimmers had vandalized a restroom, leading security guards to draw their weapons. Before the incident, Lochte was part of the gold-medal-winning 4 X 200-meter relay team; afterward, he finished fifth in the 200-meter individual medley—an event in which he was expected to medal. Charges made by Brazilian authorities against Lochte were eventually dropped.
8. Lolo Jones Stumbles in 100-meter Hurdles at 2008 Beijing Games
With just two hurdles left to go, the heavily favored Jones stumbled and finished seventh. Teammate Dawn Harper won the event, and Jones wept. “It’s the hurdles. You have to get over all 10 and if you can’t, you’re not meant to be the champion,” she told the New York Times. Four years later, at the Summer Olympics in London, she failed to earn a medal. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Jones competed for a U.S. bobsled team that finished 11th.
9. A Women’s Soccer Shocker at 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games
The Americans, the World Cup champions and three-time defending Olympic champs, were heavily favored. Their star-studded lineup included Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe. But a shocking loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals on a penalty shootout eliminated the Americans—the earliest exit for a U.S. team in six Olympics. Solo, who stalled for time before the final shootout kick by switching out her goalie gloves, stirred controversy afterward, calling the Swedes "a bunch of cowards" and stating that "unfortunately the better team didn't win."
10. Gymnast McKayla Maroney Slips at 2012 London Games
Heavily favored to win gold in the vault, Maroney nailed her first attempt, but the 16-year-old slipped during her second, landing on her rear and settling for silver behind Sandra Izbasa of Romania. Maroney’s disappointment showed on the podium, as she made a face with pursed lips that quickly became a viral meme with the saying "McKayla is not impressed." During a visit to the White House with her teammates in the fall following the Games, Maroney posed with President Barack Obama—each made “The Face."