Molly Huddle (R) thought she had the 10,000m bronze at the 2015 athletics world titles, but her US team-mate Emily Infeld (C) had other ideas. (Reuters: David Gray)
At this year’s Giro D’Italia, Luka Pibernik reminded us all of the perennial need for maths skills in all kinds of racing.
Number one: remember exactly how many laps remain in the race.
Number two: maintain some spatial awareness, of how many metres are left to the finish, is anyone closing in on you, and how fast are they travelling?
These are simple questions, but it’s surprising how often sportsmen and women forget about one or both of them at a crucial stage.
If you get it wrong, it can be rather embarrassing. Aside from Luka’s loss of the plot, here are some other examples of premature celebration.
Ewan sits up too soon in Abu Dhabi
Before anyone gets lost in schadenfreude about the unfortunate mistake of Slovenia’s Pibernik, the most recent example before today’s effort was from an Australian.
Caleb Ewan is a young cyclist who is already one of the top sprinters in the world, capable of challenging and beating top performers like Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb and others.
He started 2017 like a house on fire, winning four stages at the Tour Down Under, so when he went to Abu Dhabi in February he was in a confident mood.
On stage two, he hit the front in the closing stages and sat up and started to celebrate, only for wily veteran Marcel Kittel to zoom down the outside and dud Ewan on the line.
Toupalik trips up with Cyclo-cross finish
Cyclo-cross is a crazy enough sport at the best of times. A race where you ride a bike around a difficult course, until the terrain gets too steep or too mucky, and you have to CARRY your mode of transport for a while.
At the 2016 Cyclo-cross world titles, Czech rider Adam Toupalik thought he had the under-23 race in the bag and started weaving across the road and raising his arms in the air in celebration.
Like Pibernik at the Giro, he only realised when the other riders went by him, that he had miscalculated the laps and still had one circuit to go.
He recovered admirably to take the silver medal.
Ovett gets it wrong twice in 5,000m
Back in 1980, British athlete Steve Ovett had just won the 800m title at the Moscow Olympics, and finished third to his compatriot Sebastian Coe in the 1,500m.
He ran in a 5,000m event at Crystal Palace in London after the Games — a super-confident Ovett was cruising in second place before making his move approaching the final turn.
He hit the front and took a quick look back before waving a finger in the air to salute the crowd. Irish runner John Treacy put a burst of speed on to keep Ovett honest, but halfway down the straight the Briton pulled away again.
Ovett started slowing down in the final 25m, but the Irishman wasn’t finished. He produced one last sprint near the line and just got up to win.
Having gone the early crow not once, but twice in the same race, Ovett only had himself to blame.
Huddle gets muddled at world titles
A more recent example of a tactical error in athletics came in the women’s 10,000m final at the 2015 world athletics championships.
American runner Molly Huddle was well behind the front-runners in the final straight, but she thought she had the bronze medal sewn up.
She slowed down and raised her arms as she came near the line and … you’ve guessed it, her US team-mate Emily Infeld kept going to the final stride to grab third on the line.
Huddle’s body language at the finish said she knew exactly what had happened, but she stood with her team-mates watching the replay before congratulating Infeld and walking off. Ouch.
McLeod’s laugher at Moonee Valley
With horse racing, it appears a simple matter. You start wherever you start, and if you get to the finish line first, you win.
Can you stuff that up? Well, poor Rhys McLeod could. The jockey was riding Mystic Outlaw in a 3,000m race under lights at Moonee Valley a few years back.
McLeod came round what would be the final turn on the next circuit, urging every effort out of his mount as Mystic Outlaw surged clear.
He waved as he crossed the line before starting to pull Mystic Outlaw up, but a few hundred metres later he realised his error as the field passed him, still going full clip.
McLeod received Bronx cheers from the crowd as he and Mystic Outlaw trailed over the line in last place.
Loughran picks the wrong spot to stop
All right, what happens if you get the number of laps right, but still misjudge the finish?
Irish jockey Roger Loughran was the culprit in 2005, in a 3,800m jumps race at Leopardstown riding Central House.
Loughran and his horse were just in front over the final fence, before being challenged again by Fota Island.
Loughran urged Central House ahead down the straight, and then suddenly with horses going full tilt either side of him, he inexplicably stood up in the irons and started pointing at the crowd and pumping his fist in celebration.
The others charged past him and Central House finished third. The difference in prize money between first and third was 39,200 Euros ($58,000). Oops.