The adage “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is so overused that anyone who says it ought to be embarrassed. Ironically, however, it seems that several athletes haven’t gotten a good enough dose of the line. So many of them have celebrated their anticipated victories too early, most often with disastrous results. Nevertheless, the positive side of those heartbreaking moments is that they’re opportunities for other athletes to pull off the most unbelievable wins imaginable. But still, it’s undeniable that the prevailing emotion in such cases is the regret felt by the premature celebrators.
Here are ten premature sports celebrations that are likely to induce cringing but will also probably arouse uncontrollable laughter:
10. Eloy Teruel / Cycling: 7th Stage of the 2014 Tour of California
Eloy Teruel of Spain competed in the Men’s Omnium event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, so it’s reasonable to expect that the seasoned athlete won’t make any amateurish mistakes in competition. However, in May of 2014, during the seventh stage of the Tour of California, the rider for the Jamis team committed a terrible blunder: he thought that he had won the stage when there was really one more lap to go. Not minding his handlebars, Teruel disastrously raised his arms and beat his chest in victory. The announcers frantically tried to tell him that he hadn’t won yet, but apparently, Teruel couldn’t understand English very well. By the time he realized what was happening, the large pack of riders behind him had caught up.
Teruel ended up finishing the stage in 56th place.
9. Lindsey Jacobellis / 2006 Winter Olympics Women’s Snowboard Cross Final
It was the gold medal final of the Snowboard Cross event at the 2006 Winter Olympics, and with just a few feet to go in the race, Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States looked like a sure bet to take the gold. Her closest opponent, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland, was three seconds off Jacobellis’s pace, a huge lead in snowboard cross. That comfortable advantage was why on the second to last jump, Lindsey felt confident enough to attempt a method grab. The move is usually reserved only for exhibition snowboarding, which Jacobellis had competed in; however, in this race, it proved costly for her. She landed on the edge of her snowboard and fell, allowing Frieden to take the lead and claim the gold medal.
Afterwards, Lindsey explained, “Snowboarding is fun; I was having fun.”
8. Michael Ruffin / NBA Basketball: Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards (2007)
Michael Ruffin’s premature celebration is so epic that it takes up the most substantial text space of his Wikipedia page. The blooper took place on March 30, 2007, during an NBA regular season game between the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors. The encounter was quite important for the Wizards as their #3 seeding in the Eastern Conference was on the line, so it was certainly a relief for the team that they were up by three with only 3.8 seconds left on the clock. Things looked even better for Washington when Ruffin was able to intercept Toronto’s half-court inbounds pass. He then attempted to heave the ball into the air — both a common time-wasting endgame ploy and a celebratory victory motion. Well, the heave was nowhere near high enough to run out the clock, and the Raptors’ Morris Peterson ended up catching the ball and making an unbelievable 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. There, Toronto ended up stealing a 123-118 victory.
7. Loris Angeli / 2011 Italian Seventh Division Football Playoff: Dro vs. Termeno
Imagine yourself as the goalkeeper in a penalty shootout during a crucial game. As you guard against a game-changing goal, the penalty taker ends up hitting the crossbar, sending the ball flying upwards and away from the goal. Success, right? Well, not if you’re Dro’s Loris Angeli. He found himself in the said situation during a game whose winner would be promoted to the next level of Italian football. Understandably, when the ball hit the crossbar, he ran to his teammates to celebrate, his arms flailing in utter ecstasy. Unfortunately for him, as the ball hit the ground, it ever so slowly spun backwards until it crossed the goal line some ten or more seconds after it was kicked. Referees then scored the goal for Termeno, leading to their 5-4 win via penalty shootout.
Note: The decision to award the goal to Termeno was revoked on appeal, requiring the game to be replayed. The rematch was again decided by a penalty shootout, which Termeno won.
6. Adriana Pirtea / Marathon Running: 2007 Chicago Marathon
At the 30th edition of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, Adriana Pirtea of Romania was coasting to victory as she was 100 meters ahead of her closest opponent with just a few hundred yards to run before she reached the tape. Understandably, Pirtea relaxed and ran at a comfortable pace while exchanging high fives with fans and waving to the crowd. Little did she know that Berhane Adere of Ethiopia was making a very late surge to try and steal the victory. “The last 2K I sprint. I changed into track racing,” Adere later revealed.
Well, the Ethiopian’s ploy worked. With less than fifty meters to go in the race, Adere ran past a shocked Pirtea, who learned too late that she had been overtaken. “I didn’t realize what happened. Probably that was my mistake. I didn’t check. I never looked behind. I thought if somebody was coming, everybody would be screaming that somebody was there…. When I realized what had happened, I had tears in my eyes,” Pirtea painfully shared.
5. Ricardo Russo / Motorcycle Racing: 2012 Italian CIV Championship
Ricardo Russo is one of Italy’s top motorcycle riders, so it was a shocker when he committed one of the worst rookie mistakes in racing: thinking the race was over with a lap left to go. Russo was leading by three bike lengths on his Yamaha Team Italia FMI R6 by the time he reached the start of the final lap. To everyone’s surprise, he slowed down, released his grip on the throttle, and threw his arms up in victory. As if that weren’t embarrassing enough, Russo then proceeded to stand up on his bike’s foot pegs and did a double fist pump while several bikers passed him.
He ended up finishing the race in 14th place.
4. Meghan Rutledge / Women’s Moto-X Race at the 2013 X-Games
Could our surnames have a role in determining our fates? Take the case of motorbike racers Meghan Rutledge and Vicki Golden. A rut is defined as “a bad habit that’s difficult to change despite its being unproductive” while “golden”, of course, refers to “something with the quality of gold”. Now, consider what these competitors experienced at the Women’s Moto-X Race at the 2013 X-Games:
Significantly ahead of her closest competitor on her final lap, 18-year-old Meghan Rutledge of Australia was about to take the gold when she decided to do a celebratory fist pump on her last go on the ramp. That terrible decision caused her to lose control of her bike and take a spill on the course. That was all Vicki Golden needed to overtake Rutledge and… well… claim the gold. Not surprisingly, Rutledge broke out in tears after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
3. Cibona Zagreb Team / 2010 Liga ABA Basketball Final: Cibona Zagreb vs. Partizan Belgrade
Partizan Belgrade was aiming to achieve a four-peat at the 2010 Liga ABA final against Cibona Zagreb, but their bid seemed to be over after Zagreb hit a three in OT to give themselves a 74-72 lead with 0.6 seconds left to play. The entire Cibona team was understandably overjoyed as it celebrated the victory, but Partizan Belgrade had other ideas. Dusan Kecman hoisted a half-court shot that miraculously went in, leaving the Cibona Zagreb team members in stunned disbelief.
2. Alex Cujavante / Roller Speed Skating: 2010 World Roller Speed Skating Championships
Achieving victory in front of a home crowd during an international sporting event is one of the proudest moments an athlete can experience. For this reason, it’s fully understandable when sportsmen are overjoyed by such accomplishments. Colombian skater Alex Cujavante, for example, thought he had won gold at the 2010 World Roller Speed Skating Championships, so a short distance from the finish line, he raised his hands, blew kisses to the crowd, and cockily stopped pushing himself. Cujavante’s lapse in judgment was all South Korean Sang Cheol Lee needed to cross the finish line first and take the victory. Cujavante, meanwhile, was still busy celebrating when he noticed that the crowd had gone quiet.
Note: Cujavante wasn’t even awarded a medal as earlier in the race, he had committed an infraction, thus disqualifying him from the event altogether.
1. The Stanford School Band / 1982 College Football: University of California Golden Bears vs. Stanford Cardinal
It would be wrong to have a discussion about premature celebrations without mentioning “The Play” from the 1982 college football game between longtime rivals the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal. The encounter was a tense one, even more so than their other meetings where the possession of “The Stanford Axe” was always awarded to the winner of the annual matchup.
On this particular face-off, Stanford seemed sure to escape with a victory after the team took a 20-19 lead on a field goal, leaving only four supposedly meaningless seconds on the game clock. Stanford team members began their celebration, resulting in a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff. But still, a winning play by the Golden Bears seemed impossible. In fact, Cal announcer Joe Starkey had declared, “Only a miracle can save the Bears now!”
Well, Cal somehow pulled off a play with Kevin Moen running into an end zone filled with members of the Stanford school band, who had already begun celebrations after they thought an earlier tackle had ended the game. Victory for the Golden Bears!
The smashed trombone of Standford band member Gary Tyrrell can be seen on display at the College Football Hall of Fame — a reminder that no one should begin celebrating until the competition is really over and done with.
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