The steeplechase jockey (who went on to become a
best-selling thriller writer) looked set to cap his glittering career in 1956
as he was riding the Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, to a famous victory in
the Grand National. After nearly four and a half miles of running around
Aintree, the horse was safely past the final fence, five lengths clear of the
field and just 40 yards from the finishing line.
Yet just as Francis was about to begin punching the air in
triumph the unthinkable happened: Devon Loch collapsed onto the turf, and
despite being cajoled to his feet refused to run another step. Second-placed
ESB quickly passed the hapless horse to win the race, and though many explanations
have been put forward for the astonishing collapse the truth is that the
animal's moment of madness was nothing more than the worst possible luck.
The American running star was one of the best female
athletes of all time - but perhaps also one of the unluckiest. She spent several
years dominating women's middle distance running, setting 17 world records and
winning several World Championship golds - but Olympic glory always eluded her.
Stress fractures stopped her from competing at the 1976
Olympics and the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games robbed her of an
When she turned up at LA for the 1984 Olympics she was,
against the odds, the hot favourite having overcome injuries that, "would
have had any lesser person seeking the comfort of a wheelchair," as
Brendan Foster once put it. Yet an infamous collision with South African-born
Zola Budd in the 3,000m final saw her fall to the track with a hip injury.
3. Football - Mistar
The Indonesian footballer is a surefire contender for the
unluckiest sportsman of all time - and perhaps even the unluckiest person of
all time. Mistar was with his team-mates preparing for a domestic cup tie in 1995
when the training ground was invaded by wild pigs, who trampled the luckless star
4. Cycling - Jonathan
The American cyclist gave up a budding career as a doctor in
order to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cyclist, and though he
enjoyed several notable victories in his career he will always be remembered as
one of the sport's most accident-prone riders.
That reputation started as he won the nickname "El
Gato" (The Cat) after landing on his feet after being thrown over his
handlebars on the opening stage of the 1999 Tour de France.
The very next day he was caught up in another crash,
slashing open his chin and being forced to retire. A year later he managed to
make it through to the second week of Le Tour before being involved in a smash.
In 2001, however, he seemed on course to make it through to
the finish line of cycling's most famous race - until a giant wasp stung him in
the eye. For most people, a simple cortisone injection would have brought down
the swelling and enabled him to see again - but the substance is banned in the
sport, and Vaughters was forced to retire from the race.
5. Football - Mike
Elwood of Mervue United
Mervue United's Kenny Farrell was attempting to clear the ball out of
defence in a tense match against Waterford, but his punt up field instead
caught team-mate Mike Elwood smack in the face.
Elwood fell to the floor, stunned by the blow - leaving the players and
crowd to watch in amazement as the ball ricocheted off his nose and arched back
towards the goal, dipping just under the bar beyond the reach of goalkeeper Ger
6. Golf - Greg Norman
In many ways the Aussie superstar is a lucky man: tall,
good-looking and loaded, he has enjoyed a life playing sport all around the
world and living in the lap of luxury.
But when it comes to his luck on the course, the cupboard is
dry. It all started in innocent fashion when he lost the 1986 Masters when Jack
Nicklaus produced one of the greatest final rounds in the history of the sport,
but things picked up speed thereafter: he lost the 1986 US PGA Championship
when Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole; he lost a play-off for the
1987 Masters when Larry Mize over-hit a chip on the 11th that was heading for
the water until it hit the pin and dropped into the cup; he lost the 1989 Open
Championship when a freakish bounce sent his perfect drive 330 yards into a pot
bunker (an unheard of distance back in the days of traditional wooden woods);
he lost the 1990 Nestle Invitational when Robert Gamez holed out from 170 yards
on the final hole; just a few weeks
later he followed up with another loss at the USF&G Classic when David
Frost holed a bunker shot on the final hole; and then, in 1996, he suffered
probably his cruellest ever slice of bad luck when he woke up simply unable to
play golf properly, and turned his seemingly unassailable lead into a defeat at
the hands of Nick Faldo.
Norman ended his career with two Major victories - but it's
impossible not to see that as a poor return for a man who spent 331 weeks as
world number one.
Speaking of bad luck in a sport where participants genuinely
put their lives on the line can seem a little trite, but there's no doubting
the fact that the English driver suffered a string of miserable misfortunes.
His promising early days at Lotus earned him a reputation as
a brilliant but doomed driver from the start, and became the butt of pit lane
jokes. When Mansell had signed for Williams for the 1985 season, McLaren's Ron
Dennis marked the move by screening a compilation video of Mansell's blunders at
the 1984 end of season F1 party.
Mansell almost provided the perfect riposte by winning the 1986
championship - but incredibly he suffered a blow out with 19 laps left of the
season while on course to collect the third place which would have guaranteed
him the championship.
A year later he missed out again, thanks to a loose wheel
nut that cost him a win at the Hungarian Grand Prix, a missed gear change at
the Italian Grand Prix that also cost him a win, and a qualifying accident in
Japan that forced him out of the final two races and let his team-mate Nelson
Piquet win the championship.
Years more ups and downs followed until Mansell finally got
a reliable, competitive car in 1992 which he drove to the championship with a
then-record nine wins.
The Englishman has continued to be dogged by bad luck even
in later life: just last year his £3 million private jet was wrecked when it was
caught in the exhaust of another plane,
and a few months later he crashed just 17 minutes into his Le Mans 24hr
8. Football - Michael
The German superstar has spent most of his career wearing
the number 13 shirt, apparently in an effort to prove that there is no such
thing as bad luck.
It hasn't worked.
In 2002 the midfielder finished second in the Bundesliga
with Bayer Leverkusen, and was runner-up in both the DFB Pokal Cup and the
Champions League with his club side. A few weeks later he was the driving force in the Germany side that reached the World Cup final, but he missed the defeat to Brazil through suspension after picking up a needless booking in the semi-final.
Six years later he managed an almost identical feat, this time in a
Chelsea shirt, as the Blues finished as runners-up in the Premier League, Champions
League and League Cup before Ballack captained Germany to defeat at the hands
of Spain at Euro 2008.
9. NFL - Buffalo
Making the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons is an outstanding record, but the Buffalo
Bills run from 1991-1994 will forever be associated more for the shame of
losing all four games than the achievement of making it to the season climax in
the first place.
To make things worse, the Bills lost the first of those
games by the narrowest of margins as they went down 20-19 against the New York
Giants. To make things worse, Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a
straightforward field goal attempt in the final second of the game that would
have brought them the title.
The Bills were hopelessly outclassed in their next three
Super Bowls, and are still yet to win the title in their history.
Bad luck in tennis can come in many forms. Ivan Lendl will
always rue the emergence of a German teenager called Boris Becker who denied
him a career Grand Slam; Tim Henman will always be a little sore about the rain
delay that cost him dear against Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2000; and
every top 10 men's player of the last decade or so must be at least slightly peeved
that their careers happened to coincide with those of both Roger Federer and
But none of that bad luck comes close to the horrific misfortune
of Monica Seles, the dominant player in the women's game for over two years until
she was cut down - literally - in her prime.
The Serbian-born star had won eight Grand Slam titles
between the 1990 French Open and the 1993 Australian Open and looked set to dominate
the game for years until a crazed Steffi Graf fan named Gunter Parche stabbed
her while on court in Hamburg in April. Seles was out of the game for over two
years, and though she added one more Grand Slam title (the 1996 Australian
Open) she never reached the heights she had reached so effortlessly earlier in
- Devon Loch