Some of them fell far short of gold-medal expectations. Others tainted Olympic victory with illegal drugs or other underhanded methods. One thing is for sure--all of them left the games in lesser regard.
7- Russian 1972 Men's Basketball Team
The year was 1972, and two roundball squads from communist Russia and the Democratic United States were about to decide the fate of the Cold War with a heated game of hoops. The Americans--who not only excelled at the sport but who were also given credit for inventing the game--were heavy favorites, and since the sport's introduction into the summer games some 30 years prior, they had taken home the gold medal each time. However, this contest proved to be more challenging and with several seconds left in the game, the Americans found themselves ahead by only one point with the possession arrow pointing to the Reds. What ensued next is possibly the most infamous three seconds in Cold War basketball history, and it involved a questionable Ruskie timeout, two chances by said comrades to score the final basket (the second being more successful than the first), and a dejected American team's refusal of the Silver Medal on the basis of cheating.
6- Michelle Smith
When one considers the litany of skills the Irish possess, swimming rarely comes to mind. So when Ireland's Michelle Smith made a surprising Gold Medal run during the '96 Olympics, much of the world--including many on the Emerald Isle--were shocked. Unfortunately, with Smith's amazing and unusual results, the world was forced to frequently read and hear the cliche phrase about how she had made Ireland's collective eyes smile. However, maybe the Olympic drug testing committee should look into this eye-smilin' phenomenon as a possible side effect of doping, because this Irish swimmer's results were incredibly suspicious, especially considering her past times and performances. Eventually drug testers were sent to Mrs. Smith's home to perform a random test, and when the results were returned, they found alcohol levels in the urine to be so high it would be fatal if consumed by a human. Apparently Michelle attempted to mask her sample by adding whiskey to it, and as a result she was suspended for four years. And that was the only time that whiskey didn't provide a solution to an Irish person's problems.
5- Sergei Bubka
No one in the world could better use a stick to jump over another highly-placed horizontal stick than one Sergei Bubka. Except when it came time to compete in the Olympics. Then pretty much anyone could. Mr. Bubka was regarded as the most dominate pole vaulter to ever use a pole to vault over things, repeatedly taking first place in international competitions and breaking world records more than 30 times. Yet every four years when the ol' Greek Games rolled around, Mr. Bubka would fall flat on his face, literally. In '84, his country boycotted the games and his pole never left its sheath. In '88, he won one medal but was one miss away from complete elimination. In '92, he failed to clear any height in three attempts, and in '96 he was forced to bow out with an injury to his Achilles Heel. To this day when an Olympic athlete fails to perform or live up to expectations, it is commonly referred to as being "Bubkaed," or at least it should be.
4- Mary Decker Slaney & Zola Budd
Having not been able to compete in the 1980 Olympics due to a U.S. boycott, Mary Decker Slaney first saw Olympic Competition in 1984. Coming into the '84 Olympics, Ms. Slaney had dominated in track and field, setting U.S. and world records in every distance from 800 to 10,000 meters, and she was the heavy favorite in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, during the 3,000-meter, she experienced a run-in with a diminutive racer by the name of Zola Budd, resulting in a fall to the track and an Olympics-ending injury to her hip (said crash and the subsequent injury, followed by a chorus of boos for Ms. Budd can be seen here). In '88, she finished 8th and 10th in her events. In '92, prolonged foot injuries hampered her attempts to qualify, and in '96, with her best years behind her, she again came up empty. However, Mary did manage to serve a cold dish of revenge to Zola Budd in '85 when they met again for another 3000-meter race, the first time they'd opposed each other since the Olympics. Decker easily won the race and Budd finished 4th.
3- 2004 Dream Team
You set the bar pretty high when you refer to the team you play on as an amazing nocturnal fantasy. So when you then fail to perform to the lofty standards you've established for yourself, do not roll your eyes when someone cleverly refers to your team more accurately as "Nightmare Team." In 2004, a band of professional basketball players who claim residence within the United States confidently strolled onto the hardwood in Athens, Greece, expecting to win gold, and maybe the silver at the same time. Unfortunately, many other countries, some with populations 100 times smaller than the United States, decided they'd like to try and claim some of those precious metal medals for themselves, and ultimately they did, beating the Yankee hoopsters repeatedly. America's "Dream Team" whose most recognizable talent consisted of Allen Iverson, Timothy Duncan, and LeBron James, was beaten three times during the course of the Olympics, and as a result they received the least-liked of the medals: the bronze.
2- Dan and Dave
Riding the success of the recently-released Pump, Reebok took its marketing genius to the next level by selecting two Americans who were shoe-ins (pun intended) for the gold medal in Barcelona. Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson were heralded as the two best decathletes in the world, and as a result, Reebok "pumped" 25 million dollars into an ad campaign to promote the future success of these super sportsmen. However, when it came time to qualify against other measly American peons who didn't have shoe deals, O'Brien "no-heighted" on the pole vault resulting in a failure to qualify, and Johnson stress-fractured his left foot. Ultimately, Dave did receive a bronze medal in the decathlon, but with the pre-Olympic hype predicting a new platinum medal to be invented and awarded to the winner of this two-man competition, the "least-liked medal" was a huge disappointment.