Choke (sports)

Choke (sports)

In sports, a "choke" is the failure of an athlete or an athletic team to win a game or tournament when the player or team had been strongly favored to win or had squandered a large lead in the late stages of the event. Someone who chokes may be known as a "choker" or, more derisively, as a "choke artist." Choking in sport can be considered a form of analysis paralysis. The opposite of choking is to be clutch. A clutch player or team rises to the occasion under pressure rather than collapsing.


Examples of choking in sports


The South African national Cricket team has been a frequent choker at the ICC Cricket World Cup. Despite being consistently one of the best-performing nations at one-day international cricket since its return from isolation, the Proteas have never progressed beyond the semi-final stage at the World Cup, nor even won a game during the knock-out stage of the tournament.[1]Adding to the reputation is the bizarre manner in which three of their World Cup eliminations arose:

  • In 1992, a two-over rain delay at the end of their semi-final saw their target of 22 runs from 13 balls reduced to the unattainable 21 runs from 1 ball, after the application of the controversial "maximum scoring overs" rain rule.
  • In the 1999 Super Six Stage, Herschelle Gibbs dropped eventual centurion Steve Waugh in the first innings, then a shambolic run-out in the semi-final ended South Africa's second innings against Australia with the scores tied; Australia progressed on the basis of its superior run rate through the tournament.
  • In the Proteas' final game of 2003's group stage (which was effectively a knock-out match, as they had to win to progress to the super six), South Africa tied the rain-affected game against Sri Lanka which they could have won, after they misinterpreted their Duckworth-Lewis rain rule tables shortly before the match was called off.

South Africa's less bizarre World Cup chokes included upset losses against the West Indies in 1996 and New Zealand in 2011,[2] after both times finishing at the top of their group in the Group Stage (unbeaten in the case of 1996), then succumbing to the fourth-placed team from the other pool in the quarter final.

American football

Use of the term "choke" in this context is most frequently encountered in the United States, and appears to be of relatively recent origin, not becoming reasonably widespread until well into the 1960s. Since then, NFL teams popularly labeled chokers have included the Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo Bills in the 1990s for their four straight Super Bowl losses.

In a Wild Card playoff matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers On January 3, 1993, the Oilers blew a 32-point lead to lose in overtime, the largest in a playoff game in NFL history. This game is known to this day as The Comeback.

Association football

The English national team is well-known for choking during penalty shootouts in major tournaments. England has the worst record of major footballing nations in penalty shootouts; they have won only 17% of the shootouts they have been involved in, as compared to Germany's 83% and Czechoslovakia's 100%.

In the 1990 World Cup, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed penalties in the semi-final against Germany. In Euro 1996, the hosts England faced the same fate, losing to Germany in the semi-finals, with Gareth Southgate missing. In Euro 2004, David Beckham and Darius Vassell missed, sending England out in the quarter-finals against Portugal.

At the end of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Italy faced Brazil in the final, which ended 0–0 after extra time; Roberto Baggio took Italy's last penalty in the resulting shoot-out, but his kick went over the cross-bar and the Brazilians won the title.

The premier European competition, the UEFA Champions League, has a number of well-known chokes:

In the 2005 final, AC Milan lost on penalties having led 3-0 at half-time. The match was dubbed the "Miracle of Istanbul", with Liverpool scoring three goals in six minutes to draw level. Andriy Shevchenko saw his decisive penalty kick saved by Jerzy Dudek to settle the match.

In the 2008 final, John Terry missed a decisive spot-kick for Chelsea, slipping on the wet grass when a scored penalty would have won the cup. Manchester United went on to win the shootout, and a European Double for the season.


The University of Mississippi baseball team has gone 0-6 in NCAA Super Regional games at home after winning the first game in three different best-of-three series. [1] In reference to the University of Mississippi (aka "Ole Miss") baseball team's 39-year absence from the College World Series, OMAHA has also been coined an acronym for "Ole Miss At Home Again". [2] [3]

1964 Phillie Phold, from a 6 12-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds with 12 games remaining in the season, Philadelphia collapsed in a 10-game losing streak (the first seven played at home). The crucial series came when the now second-place Phillies traveled to St. Louis to play the Cardinals after their losing home stand. They dropped the first game of the series to Bob Gibson by a 5–1 score, their eighth loss in a row, dropping them to third place. The Cardinals would sweep the three-game set and assume first place for good. The "Phold," as it is known, is one of the most notable collapses in sports history.

In 1978, the Yankees were 14 12 games behind the Red Sox in July, and on September 10, after completing a 4-game sweep of the Red Sox (known as "The Boston Massacre"), the Yankees tied for the divisional lead. The Yankees ultimately overtook the Red Sox with the help of Bucky Dent's 7th inning three-run home run in a sudden death post regular season game played at Fenway Park on October 2, 1978.

In the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees led the Red Sox 3-0 and were ahead in the final inning of the fourth game, but ultimately lost the series in seven games. This was the first such comeback in the history of Major League Baseball (and only third overall in North American team sports).

In 2007, the New York Mets held a 7 game lead in the National League East division with 17 games to play over the Philadelphia Phillies on September 12. The Mets proceeded to go 5-12 in their last 17 games which enabled the Phillies to win the division on the last day of the regular season. This lead is currently the largest lead blown that late in the season for a team that missed the playoffs in baseball.

In 2011, both the Red Sox (9 games) and Atlanta Braves (8 12 games) had significant leads in their respective Wild Card races during the first week of September. Both teams proceeded to lose their leads over the final 3 12 weeks of the season, culminating in both of their eliminations in the final game of the season. The Braves capped their slide by losing in the 13th inning to the Philadelphia Phillies (allowing the St. Louis Cardinals, who had won earlier in the evening, to win the National League wild card, who later went on to win the World Series), and the Red Sox followed suit about 30 minutes later by blowing a 3-2, 9th inning lead against the last place Baltimore Orioles (allowing the Tampa Bay Rays, who won their game about 5 minutes after the Red Sox' loss in Game 162 became final) to win the American League wild card). The Red Sox' lead is the largest September lead ever blown by a team that missed the playoffs in baseball.


In the NHL, choking is a common term during the playoffs, the term has been commonly used to teams who have fallen victim of a "three-game deficit comeback", in which a team who has a 3-0 series lead,and then loses the next 4 to lose the entire series. It has occurred 3 times, most recently in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Boston Bruins gave up a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals and then gave up a 3-0 lead in Game 7, losing both Game 7 and the series to the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-3. Prior to that, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up a 3-0 the quarterfinal round to the New York Islanders in the 1975 Stanley Cup playoffs to lose 4-3, and in 1942, when the Detroit Red Wings lost a 3-0 lead vs the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Finals.


Jean van de Velde only needed a double-bogey 6 to win the 1999 British Open. Instead he scored a triple-bogey 7 on the 18th hole and entered a play-off which he lost. [4]

Rory McIlroy led the 2011 Masters Tournament from the start of the tournament until midway through the final round, but ended up setting the all-time record for the worst fourth round by a professional golfer in Masters' history, falling out of the top ten at the tournament. One journalist has stated that the 2011 tournament at Augusta will be remembered more for the collapse of McIlroy on the final nine holes of the final round than it will be for who won the tournament. [5]


In the 2004 French Open, Guillermo Coria played Gastón Gaudio in the final. Coria lead 2 sets to 0, easily beating him, and lost the next two sets. Coria was within a point of winning twice in the fifth set, and he collapsed to eventually lose, 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6.

In the 1993 Wimbledon final, Steffi Graf played Jana Novotná. After Novotná lost the first set, she won 10 of the last 12 games, leading 4-1, serving at 40-30. She hit the worst 2 serves of her career, and went on to eventually lose 7-6, 1-6, 6-4.

National Rugby League

The National Rugby League (NRL - Australia) has seen many chokes in its history but since the competition re-united in 1998 after the ARL and Super League War, the Parramatta Eels have been serial offenders.

The Eels led the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18-2 with ten minutes remaining in the 1998 Grand Final qualifing match, but lost this game. In 1999's Grand Final qualifier, the Eels were leading the Melbourne Storm 16-6 at half-time, and lost. In 2001 the Eels lost the Grand Final to the Andrew Johns led Newcastle Knights. In 2005, the Eels were the minor premiers and lost a Grand Final qualifier to the North Queensland Cowboys 29-0.

Australian Football League

The Colliwobbles: Between 1959 and 1989, the Collingwood Football Club, which was the league's most successful club to that point (13 premierships, while the next-best had only 10), lost all eight Grand Finals it appeared in, many of which they were favoured to win. Rival fans jocularly claim that the losses are caused by a fictional disease called "the Colliwobbles", a term still used today. Most notable among the losses were the 1966, when the St Kilda Football Club won the only premiership in its long and unsuccessful history, 1970, when Collingwood blew a 44-point half-time lead against Carlton to lose by ten points.

Port Adelaide's consecutive finals failures (2001-2003): Port Adelaide was the best-performing team over this period, finished third on the ladder in 2001, then as minor premiers in 2002 and 2003; however, they failed to convert any of these finishes into a Grand Final appearance. The team was widely branded as chokers, and coach Mark Williams was criticised for lacking a "gameplan to win finals". This ended in 2004, when the club again finished first won its first AFL premiership. Williams, in his post-match speech, stated "Allan Scott, you were wrong!" (Scott being one of Williams' highest-profile detractors).



See Also

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