This article provides a comparative analysis of news narratives of ‘disappointment’ in Canada and New Zealand in response to the 2000 Olympics. The theoretical framework draws on Luhmann’s distinction between cognitive and normative orientations to expectations, contingency, and disappointment. The analysis examines how disappointment was thematized similarly as a decline in relation to past performance, but explained somewhat differently in the two countries. In New Zealand, disappointment was explained in more normatively inflected terms. Although various causal factors were mentioned, the explanatory frame was dominated by claims that athletes lacked a competitive attitude and the ‘will to win’, and this was generalized to New Zealand society and the educational system in particular as indicative of a broader loss of moral values. The Canadian response, on the other hand, was framed in more cognitively oriented terms. Athlete blaming was quickly dismissed as misplaced, and attention was directed to the lack of government funding and organizational problems in the ‘sport system’ as the principal reasons for disappointing results. In both cases, however, these explanations of disappointment were not fully exclusive of one another; each continued to contain subsidiary elements of the other, which indicates how the normative and cognitive remain mutually implicated.