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London 2012: Winners (and losers) without medals

From London’s “prat on a zipwire” to “naughty” Korea, GlobalPost celebrates the Olympics’ podium-worthy performances in the non-sport category — and those that weren’t.

London, UK — It’s not all about medals. As any member of the International Olympic Committee would tell you, the games have far greater value.

Although you might think they’d be referring to their own salaries, they’d probably mean the Olympic spirit — the inspiration for human endeavor that extends beyond the tracks, pools and fields where records are broken, the courage that transcends simple victory or defeat.

However, since few outside the IOC really buy into such fanciful ideas (except during the few misty-eyed moments when one’s own countrymen are on the podium), the public requires winners to cheer and losers to ridicule.

With that in mind, GlobalPost has compiled a list of alternative Olympic champions and chumps to recognize some of the sideline stories sometimes lost under the dazzle of bronze, silver and gold weighing on athletes’ necks.

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Boris Johnson

Rotund of frame and tousled of hair, London’s eccentric mayor doesn’t exactly cut a sporting dash, but when it comes to publicity, he’s the Michael Phelps of the photo-op. Like the American record-breaker, Johnson sometimes fails (no prize for cozying up to Rupert Murdoch in the Aquatics Center).

Also like Phelps, he has a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Most important, he’s able to overcome adversity and emerge victorious. Only Boris, as everyone calls him, could turn the experience of being left dangling, piñata-style, on an Olympic venue zip wire into vote-winning gold.

Rumors are rifer than ever that Boris is looking to unseat fellow Conservative David Cameron as prime minister. Again like Phelps, Boris knows when to show modesty, in this case by declaring, “How could anyone elect a prat who gets stuck on a zip wire?”


The junk-food giant supersized its advertising budget to become an official Olympic sponsor, incurring the wrath of anti-corporate activists who accused organizers of selling their souls. It also angered nutritionists, who accused customers of short-selling their stomachs. How, they asked, could an event dedicated to ultra-healthy pursuits promote such unhealthy fodder?

In the event, McDonald’s may have wasted its money. Not because it generated unfavorable headlines, but because burger-hungry athletes willingly gave endorsements free of charge.

Shortly after he set a new Olympic record for the 100m sprint, Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, credited his performance to fast food from the Golden Arches. US swimmer Ricky Berens, among others, celebrated success

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by chowing down on Big Macs. Indigestion pills anyone? 

Headline writers

British tabloid editors are renowned for their love of excruciating puns. They found their muse in champion track cyclist Chris Hoy. As he chalked up successive medals, the front pages honored him accordingly: “Tears of Hoy,” “Our Pride and Hoy,” and “Medals Ahoy!”

The Daily Star out-punned the lot after Hoy won his sixth gold by managing to refer to both the cyclist and a classic 1970s guide to lovemaking: “The Hoy of Six.”

It must be noted that not all editors have been inspired. The author of this particular gem should perhaps be disqualified: “Trade at pubs in Tower Hamlets is both up and down and unaffected by Olympics.”

Olympic excuses

It’s been a great Olympics for blame-dodging. Athletes have broken several new world records for half-baked excuses.

Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm cited excessive use of Facebook and Twitter for her failure to win the 100m backstroke. French basketball player Nicolas Batum put a poor performance down to being tired from standing too long during the opening ceremony. American flyweight boxer Rau’shee Warren went for the double whammy of loose headgear and lost contact lens.

Meanwhile, ejected from the games after testing positive for marijuana, American judo competitor Nicholas Delpopolo offered what was actually a quite well-baked excuse: He claimed he’d accidentally eaten a drug-laced brownie.

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British cynicism

Visitors to Britain during the Olympics could be forgiven for thinking they’d boarded the wrong plane. Instead of the usual dour reception, they found smiles and sunshine as — having spent the past seven years complaining about hosting the games — Britain surprised itself by actually enjoying them.

A substantial medal haul helped. So did Mitt Romney, whose echoing of concerns about Olympic preparations already expressed by the British annoyed everyone into reversing their views.

Fear not, though. With much of the recession-inducing Olympic price tag of $14 billion still to be paid, cynicism can expect a swift return.

Internet ticketing

Despite world-wide web inventor Tim Berners Lee’s appearance at the opening ceremony, the internet had a lot to answer for when it came to last-minute ticketing for the 2012 Olympics.

Instead of relying on the tried and trusted service usually provided by shifty men with rows of tickets pinned inside their jackets, London’s Olympic organizers instead sold extra seats on a website so frustrating to use that most people gave up and started hunting for Rio 2016 tickets instead.


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That said, the internet did provide a conduit for Twitter exasperation over US broadcaster NBC’s Olympic coverage.

The channel proved a more popular piñata than Boris Johnson after imposing four-hour broadcast delays. The network’s inane commentators stoked more fury, as did its almost exclusive focus on American-centric sports and heavy-handed editing.

It may be unfair to single out NBC, however. North Korea’s state broadcaster also heavily edited footage and delayed broadcasts to maximize audiences, although there were no complaints from viewers. However, North Korean television is controlled by a Stalinist state that stifles dissent, unlike NBC, which would surely never attempt to silence critics… Oh, wait… 

North Korean pride

Talking of North Korea: When the South Korean flag was accidentally raised next to a North Korean player ahead of an Olympic soccer match, the North’s team stormed off the field in anger. It’s a shame they didn’t see the funny side, because — apart from the fact the two countries are still technically at war — it was a little bit funny. Not as funny as the time a spoof “Borat” anthem about prostitutes was played to celebrate a Kazakhstan medal win, but still funny.

North Korea also failed to see the joke when an Australian free sheet printed an Olympic medal table that labeled one Korea “nice” and the other “naughty.” No place on the podium for guessing which was which, but “naughty” Korea’s official news agency responded with an entertaining tirade that damned the publication as a “rogue newspaper.”