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I'm looking for a word or an idiom expressing the fact that an agent (Athlete, Company, Country, etc.) suddenly ranks first, not because he performed better but because the former champion's performance slumped.

(Something other than winning by default/forfeit)

Here is the context:

Many think that soon enough the USA is going to produce more oil than Saudi Arabia. But others think that it's going to be because SA's production is going to decrease. It's like saying your country is going to bring renewable energies from 10% to 50% of the national energy mix. If you reduce overall energy consumption while keeping the same volume of renewables, then statistically you become a much more eco-friendly country.

See what I mean?

  • I do not see what you mean. You mentioned an idiom by default and then provided an example that did not even contain it. Also, you're missing the word more in much ecofriendly ==> much more ecofriendly – dockeryZ Jun 6 '14 at 0:04
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    I'm not 100% sure, but I think the O.P. means winning more by circumstance or coincidence than by default. Default implies a no-show of some sort. – J.R. Jun 6 '14 at 0:29
  • Possibly. I think default denotes that there's an absence of alternatives - for instance, in the case of a no-show. @J.R. you're probably right about the circumstance thing, but I'm not sure... OP can you please confirm? – jimsug Jun 6 '14 at 1:07
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    This sort of thing was briefly called 'doing a Bradbury' after the speed skating in the 2002 winter Olympics, where the winner - Steven Bradbury - was fourth of four until everybody else fell over in the last few seconds – mcalex Jun 6 '14 at 2:49
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In sports, a team which achieves a victory by virtue of luck or of a supposedly superior opponent's failures is often said to have backed into (or in to) the win or the playoffs or the championship. The idiom is common enough to have been extended beyond sports:

Not even Bob Dole’s dismal 1996 candidacy generated less enthusiasm in GOP ranks than McCain’s 2008 effort. In winning the nomination when he’d been counted out after the disintegration of his campaign structure, he showed more fortitude than skill. He was blessed by weak competitors, who eliminated each other and left him the last man standing. ... [Recent polls] have prompted speculation by GOP political practitioners that McCain can back into the presidency, as he backed into the nomination. —‘Can McCain Back In To Another Win?’, Robert D. Novak, New York Post, July 28, 2008

[Other factors]can also have a substantial impact on the fortunes of a new small business. [...] Blind Luck -- The Small Business Hall of Fame contains more than a few stories of people who backed into success because of their incredibly good timing. —John L. Duoba, ‘Are You Ready to Be Your Own Boss?’, Small Business News, July 03, 2012

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If by "winning" you mean "leading", and if you mean to say that the numbers don't necessarily tell the full story, then there is an expression (with some variations) that may apply:

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.
Statistics never lie but liars use statistics.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, who reportedly gave credit to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

These wry expressions underscore how some people will use numerical data to present a conclusion that may be factual from a strictly mathematical perspective, but in a way that is somewhat misleading. One example might be a resumé that says:

Our sales doubled in the two months when I was manager of the showroom.

when, in fact, the showroom had only sold one unit previously, and two more while the person was manager. When dealing with sales statistics, we don't usually imagine a single-unit increase when we hear the word "doubled" – but that word was chosen because it sounds more impressive than the actual results.

Such truth-bending happens quite often in politics. For example, a candidate running for reelection might boast, "Our city was once the worst city for crime, but now, we are no longer in the Top 10!" (In reality, though, the crime rate has gone up – but, because it went up even faster in 10 other cities, in terms of ranking, that city fell from #1 to #11.) Yet notice how the words were carefully crafted, so that the reality of crime being still on the rise is never even mentioned (until the opposing party runs their ad, which will probably skew the data in a similar manner, only in the other direction).

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If you're looking for the idiom -

Player A was the tortoise of the Aesop's tale, to player B's hare.

Everyone knows the tale where the tortoise at a steady slow pace won the race against a hare, who - leaving the opponent far behind, stopped to take a nap. In this case the analogy is quite clear: A sustains current pace, while B, formerly in the lead, loses due to slowing down.

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