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Aug 15, 2010

Sport's hard luck stories

As harsh as his punishment was in the final round of the US PGA Championship, American golfer Dustin Johnson was not the first - and won't be the last - sportsperson to suffer from extreme misfortune.

Johnson was denied his place in the playoff at the final major of the year after incurring a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a barely recognisable bunker on the 18th hole.

Sport, though, is littered with victims of bizarre rulings, controversial decisions, bum calls or wretched luck.

Remember the despairing look on Australian walker Jane Saville's face when, while seemingly certain of a gold medal, she was disqualified in the shadows of the Sydney Olympic Stadium in 2000 for lifting?

Another example is Raelene Boyle, who was disqualified from the 200m semi-finals at the 1976 Montreal Games for two false starts - despite replays showing otherwise.

Australian triple jumper Ian Campbell was robbed in equally dubious fashion at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when the Soviet Union's Jaak Uudmae eventually won gold with 17.35m.

Campbell finished fifth with 16.87m but it's widely believed his huge third jump - when he was fouled for dragging his back foot - would have won him gold.

Campbell protested but officials wrongly raked the pit before impartial observers could arrive to make an adjudication on the legality of the jump.

How about Jeff Fenech in 1991?

While trying to become the first Australian boxer in history to win world championships in four different weight divisions, he punched Azumah Nelson's lights out only for the fight to be declared a draw.

Then there was Bill Harrigan's decisive penalty try ruling against St George Illawarra in the 1999 NRL grand final which handed victory to Melbourne.

Most neutrals agree it was the right decision but undoubtedly it was the bravest call in Australian rugby league history.

For bad luck, it's hard to go past Australian cyclist Shane Kelly at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Kelly was the world record holder and raging favourite to win the 1km time trial when he pulled his foot from the pedal and missed the start.

The Australian women's 4x200m freestyle swimming team learned the hard way not to celebrate prematurely when they were disqualified after Elka Graham and Petria Thomas jumped in the pool before the last team touched the wall at the 2001 world championships.

Socceroos fans are still crying foul after Italian "diver" Fabio Grosso infamously scuppered Australia's 2006 World Cup hopes.

Cruel blows, of course, are not restricted to Australian athletes.

Don't mention French captain Thierry Henry's handball in World Cup qualifying last year to an Irishman any time soon, while English soccer fans will forever be haunted by Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in Mexico in 1986.

Zola Budd - disqualified from the 1984 Olympic 3000m race for tripping American Mary Decker - and Serena Williams - thrown out of last year's US Open for abusing a lineswoman for pedantically foot-faulting her on mini match point - also have hard luck stories to tell.

Surely, though, Argentinean golfer Roberto de Vicenzo tops the lot for bad breaks.

In 1968, de Vicenzo would have featured in a playoff at the Masters had he not signed for a par on the 17th hole instead of a birdie.

That's right, he inadvertently signed for a WORSE score and suffered the ultimate consequences.

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