David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports, Volume 2: 250 Anecdotes — Overconfidence, People with Handicaps

Overconfidence

• Overconfidence cost Dan O’Brien a shot at an Olympic gold medal in 1992. As a world-class decathlete, Mr. O’Brien appeared to be a cinch to win a medal at the Olympics in 1992; however, first he had to qualify at the United States Olympic Trials. There he made a crucial error. In the pole vault competition, athletes need not compete at lower heights. They can start competing at a higher height, but of course they must clear the first height at which they begin to compete. Mr. O’Brien did not compete at 14 feet, 5 1/2 inches, or at 14 feet, 9 inches, or at 15 feet, 1 inch, or at 15 feet, 5 inches. Instead, he waited to start competing until the bar was set at 15 feet, 9 inches. Unfortunately, on his two first attempts, he slammed into the bar. Only three attempts are allowed, and Mr. O’Brien was so rattled by his first two misses that on his third attempt he went under the bar! This gave him zero points for the pole vault and kept him from making the Olympic team. However, Mr. O’Brien is made of tough stuff. He trained for four more years, made the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, and won the gold medal in the decathlon.

• In 1969, the Boston Celtics were coached by center Bill Russell, whose knees were so worn out that he could not practice. Nevertheless, the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals, where they faced the Los Angeles Lakers. The series went to seven games, and the seventh game was held in Los Angeles. The Lakers were immensely confident that they would win, and nets suspended from the ceiling held 5,000 balloons in anticipation of a big victory celebration after the Lakers won. The balloons were never released as the Celtics held on for a 2-point victory and their eleventh NBA championship in thirteen seasons.

People with Handicaps

• Jean Little, the author of Little by Little, had major problems with her eyesight. She was cross-eyed with weak eyes, and to read a book—one of her favorite activities—she had to have her face so close to the page that her nose touched it. One day, she planned to attend a basketball game at which some of her friends would play. Unfortunately, some of their players were either away or ill, so they were short-handed for the game, meaning that they would lose by default despite being a superior team with superior players. However, Ms. Little volunteered to go on the court as a player since all she had to do was to stand there while the other women actually played the game. When Ms. Little arrived in uniform, the referee actually looked through the rulebook to see if there was a rule against allowing a “blind” player on the court. She couldn’t find any such rule, so Ms. Little was allowed to play. At halftime, her team was ahead, but near the end of the game the score was tied because no one had to guard Ms. Little, who simply stood on the court. However, the ball came directly toward Ms. Little, who managed to grab it. Of course, everyone stopped playing because they were wondering what the “blind” woman would do with the ball. One of the players on Ms. Little’s team yelled, “Jean, throw it here.” Ms. Little threw the ball in the direction the voice was coming from, the player on her team grabbed the ball, and shot a last-second shot that went through the hoop. Because of Ms. Little’s assist, her team won the game.

• Aimee Mullins was born without fibula bones in her legs, and her parents decided to have her legs amputated rather than have her use a wheelchair the rest of her life. She learned to use prosthetic legs and became a track sprinter at Georgetown University—despite being disabled, she competed against able-bodied athletes. During the Big East Championships, she ran into a problem. The weather was hot, and her perspiration lubricated the silicon sleeves that held on her sprinting legs. In fact, during the 100-meter race, one of her legs almost fell off. She begged her coach, Frank Gagliano, to take her out of the 200-meter race, but he told her, “So what if your leg falls off? Ya pick it up, ya put it on, ya finish the godd*mned race! Now get out there and run!” Ms. Mullins was stunned then, but she says today, “I had proposed to him the worst-case scenario—my leg coming off, me falling in front of thousands of people—and he made it seem so simple. You pick up and you still go on—advice you can use pretty much anywhere in life.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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