Paula Radcliffe

Arguably the greatest long-distance runner, male or female, in British history, Paul Radcliffe ran her last competitive race in the London Marathon in 2015. Although 41 years old and competing as a ‘fun’ runner, her finishing time of 2:31.46 was comfortably inside the qualifying standard for Rio 2016, had a fifth Olympics been on her agenda. Nevertheless, Radcliffe called time on a long, illustrious career, during which her distinctive, head bobbing running style had become a familiar sight on the track, and on the road, around the world.

Radcliffe won the London Marathon three times, in 2002, 2003 and 2005 – on the second occasion setting a world record for the women’s marathon that would stand until 2019 – the New York Marathon three times, in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and the Chicago Marathon once, in 2002. She also won the gold medal in the women’s marathon at the 2015 World Championships in Helsinki, leading from start to finish to beat defending champion Catherine Ndereba in a championship record time of 2:20.57.

However, for all her success elsewhere, the Olympic Games did not prove a happy hunting ground for Radcliffe. On her first appearance, in Atlanta in 1996, she finished fifth in the 5,000 metres and on her second, in Sydney in 2000, finished fourth in the 10,000 metres, fading out of contention for a medal on the final lap.

Radcliffe contested her first Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004, where she started overwhelming favourite. However, plagued by a knee abscess and the side effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs she took to treat it, she dropped out, tearfully, after 22 miles. Remarkably, five days later, Radcliffe also ran in the 10,000 metres but, once again, dropped out with eight laps remaining. She tried again in Beijing in 2008 but, handicapped by a leg injury, trailed in twenty-third and was forced to withdraw from her home Olympics, in London in 2012, with degenerative foot injury.

Boston Red Sox

The World Series of Baseball was inaugurated in 1903 and by the end of World War I the Boston Red Sox had already won the championship five times. However, on Boxing Day, 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the talismanic George ‘Babe’ Ruth, a.k.a. ‘The Bambino’, to arch rivals the New York Yankees, leading to a popular superstition, which became known as the ‘Curse of the Bambino’.

Boston Red Sox did not appear in the World Series again until 1946 and, when they did, committed a series of fielding error that led to a play, known for all time as ‘Slaughter’s Mad Dash’, which allowed Enos Slaughter to score the winning run in the decisive seventh games against St. Louis Cardinals. In 1967, the Red Sox defied expectations and achieved what became known as the ‘Impossible Dream’, by reaching the World Series, where they once again faced St. Louis Cardinals. The World Series once again went to the seventh games, which the Cardinals won 7-2.

Eight years later, in 1975, the Red Sox once again appeared in the World Series, this time against Cincinatti Reds, but their luck did not improve. In the sixth game, at Fenway Park, catcher Carlton Frisk hit an oft-replayed game-winning home run, in the twelfth innings, to extend the series to seven games, but the Red Sox lost the decisive seventh game 4-3. In 1986, a fielding error by first baseman Bill Buckner handed game six to the New York Mets and the Red Sox lost the decisive seventh game, yet again, despite leading 3-0 at the bottom of the sixth innings. Finally, after a championship drought of 86 years, the Boston Red Sox won their sixth World Series, beating their old rivals St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 in 2004.

Louis Oosthuizen

Born in Mossel Bay, South Africa in 1982, Lodewicus ‘Louis’ Oosthuizen turned professional in 2002 and won his first event on the European Tour, the Open de Andalucia de Golf, in March, 2010. The following July, he entered the Open Championship at St. Andrews, having missed the cut in seven of his eight previous appearances at major championships. However, Oosthuizen defied expectation, shooting 65-67-69-71 for a total of 272 – the second lowest in St. Andrews’ history – to win the Open Championship by seven strokes.

Strangely, though, it was after his maiden major championship victory that Oosthuizen started to develop a ‘nearly man’ reputation. Since his wide-margin win at the ‘Home of Golf’, he has finished outright second or tied second in all four major championships, including the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2015, at least once apiece.

Oosthuizen began his run of ‘seconditis’ in the Majors at the Masters Tournament in 2012, where he finished tied with Bubba Watson after 72 holes, but lost on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff after Watson hit a remarkable recovery shot from the trees on the right of the tenth fairway. Three years later, he finished tied second in the US Open at Chambers Bay after shooting 77-66-66-67 – thereby tying the record low score for 54 holes, 199 – and the aforementioned Open Championship at St. Andrews, losing out to Zach Johnson by a single stroke in a four-hole playoff.

More recently, Oosthuisen has also finished tied second in the PGA Championship twice, losing out by two strokes to Justin Thomas at Quail Hollow in 2017 – thereby completing a career ‘Grand Slam’ of runner-up finishes – and by the same margin to Phil Mickelson at Kiawah Island in 2021. The following month, he was tied for the lead in the US Open at Torrey Pines after 54 holes, but eventually finished tied second again, by a single stroke, after John Rahm holed birdie putts from 25 feet and 18 feet on the final two holes.

Jean Van De Velde

On July 18, 1999, French professional golfer Jean van de Velde stood on the cusp of winning the Open Championship. He led by five strokes at the start of his final round and, although that lead was cut to three strokes, he still only needed a double-bogey six on the eighteenth, on which he had scored a par four and two birdie threes in his three previous rounds.

To the consternation of BBC commentator Peter Alliss, Van de Velde elected to take driver off the tee and struck a wild tee-shot so far right that he missed the water hazard and ended up in front of the seventeenth tee. His two-iron approach shot was equally wild, richocheting off the grandstand into deep rough some way short of the green. Electing to hack out left off the flagstick, towards the front of the green, Van der Velde advanced his ball only as far as the water hazard known as the ‘Barry Burn’.

Having removed his shoes and socks and waded into the hazard, he eventually decided against attempting to hit his ball – described by Alliss as ‘pure madness’ – and took a penalty drop instead. Even so, he pitched his fifth shot into the bunker short of the green, thereby needing to get up and down to force a three-way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. That he did, but only after holing a slippery six-foot putt. Paul Lawrie eventually won the the four-hole playoff, having started the day ten shots off the lead. Reflecting on his meltdown, Van de Velde remained philosophical, saying, ‘Things happen for a reason. You find out what you’re made of. It’s a game. It’s nothing more.’