The Worst Play in Sports History

Even if you haven’t seen the lists, you know they exist. ESPN counted down the 25 most memorable sporting moments of their first 25 years. The Times, back when their website was free to view, counted down 50 moments of their own at about the same time. And with the criteria for finding a moment on the list being how memorable these moments are, they are not only moments of great achievement, but are also often shrouded in controversy…as was the incomparable Simon Barnes’ beautiful, morally ambiguous pick for the “greatest” moment in Olympic history – Ben Johnson’s infamous race in Seoul.

Regardless of the list, though, there is one moment that is constantly overlooked. Despite the fact that very few sports fans are likely to have seen the moment itself, most are sure to have read about it and even seen some of the game in question re-created, yet The Times, ESPN and everyone in between still haven’t included it on their lists.

This may, of course, be because no-one wants such a horrific play to be memorialised in such a fashion. These lists are often compiled to commemorate greatness – a Lance Armstrong-style streak, a Usain Bolt-style world record, or a ‘Miracle on Ice’-style upset – along with moments of great inspiration and moments of memorable controversy such as Johnson or Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’.

It’s rare that sporting lists include those moments where a sportsperson performs at their worst. When they make a play or two that will be deemed to have been critical in their team’s loss. But it’s time that we make an exception for what simply must be regarded as The Worst Play in Sports History, which occurred as recently as 1994.

Sportspeople make mental errors all the time on sporting fields. Indeed, some of the most famous ‘brain freeze’ moments of all-time have come on the sporting field. Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final, the South Africans inexplicably forgot how to run between the wickets in the fatal last play of the the ’99 World Cup Semi-Final, and Chris Webber is still wondering why the hell he called time-out on that fateful Monday night. But still nothing beats this moment. Zidane’s headbutt didn’t finish the match – there was still a penalty shootout afterwards – and neither did Webber’s call. But the Worst Play in Sports History was one brain-freeze so damaging that one player literally prevented any chance for his team to catch up by choosing to end the game with them losing by the smallest-possible margin. And it was a World Cup Final at that.

The culprit?

Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

Inexplicably, Krum’s play has not become ingrained alongside the aforementioned moments in the average sports fan’s psyche, so permit me to revisit the conclusion of the Quidditch World Cup Final of 1994. That day, Krum completely outclassed his Irish opponent Aidan Lynch. Early in the match, Krum performed the Wronski Feint, a move that sees a Seeker nose-dive towards the pitch, faking that they have seen the Golden Snitch which scores its catcher’s team 150 points and simultaneously ends the game. Not only did Lynch fall for Krum’s Feint, he fell for it so badly that he didn’t seem to realise that he was plummeting towards the pitch at ridiculous speed despite the fact that he couldn’t see the Snitch itself, and thus he crashed into the pitch at full-speed while Krum pulled up at the last moment.

It was as if Krum had Lynch on a string, and it continued to be so even after Krum was brutally struck by a Bludger. As was stated by Muggle reporter J.K.Rowling:

“The Irish Beater Quigley swung heavily as a passing Bludger, and hit it as hard as possible towards Krum, who did not duck quickly enough. It hit him hard in the face…Krum’s nose looked broken, there was blood everywhere.”

At this moment, Lynch saw the Snitch, however even with his blood streaming behind him*, Krum was far too good for Lynch. The two Seekers dove towards the Snitch that was close to the ground, and for the second time in the match, Lynch “hit the ground with tremendous force”. A composed Krum, though, was then seen “rising gently into the air, his fist held high, a glint of gold in his hand.”

It was then that commentator Bagman bellowed the news that was heard around the world:  “IRELAND WIN! KRUM GETS THE SNITCH – BUT IRELAND WIN – good Lord, I don’t think any of us were expecting that!”

When Krum caught the Snitch, Bulgaria was losing by 160 points, meaning that by catching the Snitch, his team lost by 10. Rowling reported that Krum “looked surlier than ever” immediately after the match, and “his team-mates were around him, shaking their heads and looking dejected.” And well they might have. There never seemed any doubt that Krum would catch the Snitch at the end of the match, so dominant was he over Lynch, so his choice to do so at this stage appears to either be a result of his stupidity**, his arrogance***, or his Bludger-induced concussion.

Incredibly, even the Harry Potter Wiki doesn’t openly criticise Krum’s play, only stating that he caught the Golden Snitch “to end the match on his own terms.”

But it’s time to see this moment for what it really was. For whatever may have caused Krum’s actions, and whatever one thinks of the man himself, there is simply no question: his catch of the Golden Snitch in 1994 was clearly The Worst Play in Sports History.

* As of 1994, there was no blood rule in Quidditch. This clearly implies that diseases transmitted through one’s blood stream were not yet an issue in the Wizarding world.
** Rowling reported hearing Ron Weasley saying that Krum was an “idiot” for making the play.
*** Rowling reported hearing Harry Potter himself claiming that Krum knew that Bulgaria “were never going to catch up, the Irish Chasers were too good … he [Krum] wanted to end it on his own terms.”
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