Theoretically the Olympics have been around since the 8th century B.C., in which the games took place every four years held in Olympia in honor of the great god Zeus. With the games identifying as an event of pure sacrifice rather than a sporting celebration, you can only imagine how very different the Olympics are played in the present than in the brutal god worshiping past. As time past by, so did the games themselves, slowly fading into obscurity as the modern world sailed on. Appearing in 1896, the first modern Olympics were born with a minuscule 14 nations and 241 athletes. Nowadays, the competition has grown to the point where nearly every nation in the world is at least represented in something, be it archery, diving or modern pentathlon. Proven, in the 2012 London Olympics, when Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei all entered a female athlete for the first time, sparking a new era for female athletes and worldwide acceptance.
Yet with each games, comes more controversy. With boycotts, bribery, doping, death and terrorist attacks forming a new scare for the masses, disputes and altercations seem to constantly taint the competition more and more every four years, with even the winter Olympics unable to escape from its murky drawls. From the second the countries all bid to host the event, to the games itself, there is and always will be a scandalous stain that is difficult to clean away let alone sweep under the rug. So, to highlight the famous games dark and dubious past, here are 15 scandalous events that ever rocked The Olympics.
15. Dodgy Referees
With such a checkered past between The USA and the Soviet Union, nothing could have fueled the raging fire of the nearly desolate Cold War than the events of the 1972 Olympics men’s basketball final. Dubbed as one of the most controversial finals in Olympic history, the match has been surrounded by scandal ever since. With 7 gold medals under their belts already, the USA were already making waves during the tournament having just power vaulted their way through the last 8 games. Tipped to win their 8th gold medal, the game started with a bang, with both teams playing strong. With the USSR leading the Americans 49-48, the USA got a lucky break when one of their players was brought down, with 3 seconds to go. Awarded two free throws, the Americans sank the first, tying the game to 49-49, then joyfully netting the second, believing they had won. However, with the clock seemingly reset, the Soviets managed to win the game, sinking the final basket from afar, although in reality the time had actually expired 3 seconds earlier. With screams of match fixing and political warfare, the scandal most definitely added fuel to an already tense relationship. In fact still to this day, the Americans openly refuse to accept the silver medals, claiming that politics had gotten in the way of sportsmanship camaraderie.
14. Dorando Pietri Goes The Wrong Way
At only 1.59m tall, Italian born long distance runner, Dorando Pietri was at one point one of the most famous runners in the world. Known for finishing races in his work clothes, Pietri’s first major race came in 1906 after winning the initial qualifying marathon of the Intercalated Games in Athens. Leading the pack by 5 minutes, Pietri was running strong, however he later retired due to illness. Back with a vengeance, he returned 2 years later at the London Olympics in 1908. Famed for being the first Olympics to showcase the official marathon length of 42.2km (26m), the race was by far the number one event. Starting slow, Pietri began to catch up, increasing his speed and pace in quick movements. With only 2k to go, Pietri started to feel the strain with dehydration taking a major stance on his already forlorn body. Nearing the end, Pietri entered the stadium, however, dazed and confused he somehow managed to run the wrong way, falling over as officials tried to redirect him. With over 75,000 spectators cheering him on,he began to climb back up only to fall over again and again. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Pietri stood up one more time, managing to cross the finish line shockingly still in first place. However, as nearby teams began to filter into the stadium, the remaining athletes were unhappy with the treatment that Pietri had received with regards to helping him stand up. Disqualified and stripped of his medal, Pietri was removed from the race completely to a shocked and appalled audience. Thankfully all was not lost, with Pietri becoming an international celebrity due to his dramatic and eventful marathon race.
13. Women Competitors
With the modern Olympics beginning in 1896, the event sparked a whole new era in competitive sports play and the survival of the fittest. However, it took another 4 years for the ladies to be allowed, with Paris in 1900 being the first to allow such a scandalous thing to happen. Yet the road to equality was long, and with the only events being lawn tennis and golf on offer to the opposing sex, the women were rightly beginning to get frustrated. So, to conquer such an obvious display of sexism, the women’s world games were set up to offer female athletes a much more diverse range of sporting events. Conducted between 1922 and 1934, women were now able to compete in track, field, and even swimming! Abandoned in 1936 due to more women finally being able to compete in the actual Olympics, the growth of female athletes has grown ever since. A fact proven even more so during London 2012, when Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, countries famed for their stance on the rights of women, all held a sporting representative for the first time in the history of the Olympics.
12. Zika Virus
When Brazil was hit with a life changing disease that was transported by Mosquito bites, the whole world began to massively freak out. With Brazil already suffering a number of other problems with regards to money and time during their Olympic build up, the Zika Virus was just another stumbling block in the road. Although the virus may not be harmful for most, it is pregnant women in particular that seem to be at the biggest risk. Effecting women who are already pregnant, the Zika virus has shown on a variety of occasions that it can cause major birth defects, such as most famously, abnormally small heads (microcephaly). As the virus began to grow, the tickets began to shrink, with a number of high profile athletes even refusing to participate in the games. With big names such as golfing superstars Rory McIlroy and Jason Day dropping out, the loss was a huge blow to the star spangled spectacle of 2016.
11. Ara Abrahamian Pulls A Tantrum
Ultra successful Armenian-Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian, had already won two World Championships and a silver medal before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Gearing up to win the gold, Abrahamian was as determined as every other athlete to take home the highest prestige of them all. However, upon reaching the semi-final, things didn’t go quite to plan with Abrahamian losing out to eventual winner Andrea Minguzzi. Infuriated, Abrahamian and his Swedish coach Leo Mylläri instantly challenged the ruling, accusing the panel of corruption and foul play. Demanding a video review as well as forming a written complaint, the referees refused to listen and went ahead with their initial decision in awarding Abrahamian the bronze. However, as the medal ceremony began to take place, Abrahamian received his bronze medal then stepped off the podium only to place the gleaming trophy in the center of the wrestling mat, walking away from a jeering crowd. Discussing his actions in an interview later that day, Abrahamian stated that he was retiring from the sport due to corrupt officials and match fixing. Clearly disagreeing, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) later decided that Abrahamian would be stripped of his medal, claiming ‘a breach of the spirit of fair play’.
10. Angel Matos Boots The Referee In The Face
Upon receiving the gold medal in taekwondo during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Angel Matos became an instant national hero in his native country of Cuba. Achieving more and more success throughout the years that followed, Matos was tipped for big things during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. While fighting for the bronze medal, Matos and his opponent Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov were neck and neck. After receiving a slight foot injury, Matos underwent a ‘Kyeshi’, a medical timeout in which players are allowed one minute to gather themselves before deciding whether or not to continue. However, after taking longer than a minute, the referee ruled that he had taken too long and would therefore be disqualified and unable to continue due to a rule break. Angry, Matos saw red and within seconds kicked the referee in the face, pushed an opposing judge and spat on the floor of the arena. Banned for life, Matos and his then coach Leudis González were shunned by the taekwondo community, citing that his behavior was ‘a strong violation of the spirit of taekwondo and the Olympic Games’. Talk about being a sore loser.
9. Everyone Boycotts Russia
When Moscow won the bid to host the Summer Olympics in 1980, the Americans seemingly had other ideas. Unhappy with the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, then President Jimmy Carter lead a boycott, in which spurred 65 nations into snubbing the Soviet superpower. With countries such as Great Britain and Australia as their strongest allies among the embargo, the idea of promoting political messages through entertainment was an idealistic approach for the already war torn USA. However, when Carter tried to send legendary boxer Mohammad Ali on an African tour to gain support for the boycott, Ali returned a changed man, having been talked into going rather than the opposite. As Great Britain and Australia eventually ended up sending athletes to Moscow anyway, it was left to Canada, West Germany, Israel and most of the Islamic nations to help back the United States in their goal to embarrass the Soviet Union. And it certainly worked as 4 years later, the Russians got their own back as the Soviet Union and a number of other countries all boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in an angry retaliation.
8. Cheating By Clicking
Swedish military officer and part time horse rider, Karl Bertil Sandström, competed in a number of Olympics throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. Taking home the silver medal in 1920 and 1924, Sandström was a popular and highly respected man in the military and in equestrian. Sporting a case of ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’ syndrome, Sandström was determined to get that precious gold medal that he had forever lusted after. Raring to go at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Swedish officer had been training hard. However, like the previous attempts, Sandström achieved yet another silver medal, placing him third for the third time in a row. Content with his prize, Sandström didn’t argue, however shortly after he was awarded the medal, the mighty equestrian was hastily disqualified. Accused of clicking, a form of communication with horses which is illegal in equestrian, Sandström was instantly removed from the standing, forced to return his medal and head back to Sweden with his tail between his legs.
7. Fred Lorz Hops A Ride To The Finish Line
Born in New York City, Frederick Lorz was an American long distance runner, world famous for the wrong reasons. Bricklayer by day and runner by night, Lorz was known to run through the night, preferring the quiet nights and peaceful tracks. As an amateur runner, Lorz had no previous marathon running experience, competing in much shorter distances. Nevertheless, Lorz saw an opportunity, and managed to earn a spot in the 1904 Olympics in St.Louis by placing in a special five mile race organised by the New York Times. With the marathon made up of Boston Marathon runners, middle distance runners and Lorz type runners, the race was a far cry from the athletes we see today. As the marathon began, Lorz started well, however after nine miles he began to feel the strain. Stopping due to exhaustion, Lorz was determined to finish, so much so he arranged for his manager to pick him up and drive him for the next eleven miles. The car broke down, forcing Lorz to continue on foot, in which he managed to find his way back to the Olympic stadium and be declared the winner. Stunned at what had just happened, Lorz initially went along with the farce, greeting fans and accepting congratulations. However, after admitting the truth through speculation, Lorz was banned for life only to be reinstated then banned for a second time years later.
6. Boris The Cheat
Hailing from the capital city Kiev in the Ukraine, Boris Grigoryevich Onishchenko was an established and respected pentathlete, who competed at the 1968, 1972 and 1976 world summer Olympics.Winning medals previously in his last two campaigns in Mexico City and Munich, Onishchenko was on course to win again. However, after the first event, the Soviets found themselves lagging in fourth place, hopeful that the next event would put them back on top. With fencing next on the list, Onishchenko stepped up to the bar, having previous experience as a quality fencer. Facing the British national team in a tense match, Onishchenko was the clear favorite to win, however, as the British team captain began to voice certain complaints with regards to Onishchenko’s weapon, the game was stopped. With accusations that the sword was rigged, the weapon was changed with Onischenko still going on to win. However, as the weapon was inspected, it was later found to have been illegally tampered with, in which the sword would register a touch without actually making any contact. Instantly disqualified and shamed into retirement, the world media dubbed him ‘Disonischenko’ or ‘Boris the Cheat’. Told off by the Soviet leader, and punished with a fine, Onishchenko was last seen working as a taxi driver. Don’t cheat kids.
5. Russian Doping Scandal
When a report was released not long before the 2016 Rio Olympics, which revealed that the Russian Olympic team had been involved with urine swapping, test cover ups and doping scandals, the world was undoubtedly shocked. With a full expose, detailing the exact going-ons inside and outside of the Russian camp, the publication even accused the Russian government of being in on it. Claiming that a large number of Russian athletes at the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi had also been under the influence, citing cocktails of drugs drank with alcohol as the main culprit, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were forced to listen. After an investigation and careful probing into the matter at hand, it was announced that Russia would still be allowed to compete in the Olympic games, however the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had other ideas, swiftly banning them from all events. Speaking to the media, the president of the IPC stated, ‘the anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised’. With Russia keen to host the summer Olympics in the near future, it can be certain that such a scandal has undoubtedly ruined their chances.
4. Jesse Owens Makes A Statement
In 1936 the world was still reeling from the catastrophe of WWI, yet something else was brewing in the midst of an exhausted and battered Germany. Using the games as an act of propaganda, designed to spur the people into supporting the image of the strong and united Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler had the world where he wanted it. Camouflaging its racist ideologies and plans for world domination, Hitler’s aim was to lure audiences and athletes alike into a false sense of what Germany had become. With the media falling for his charms, the event was written up like a spectacle, gloriously praising the peaceful and tolerant Germany, yet for many the truth was obvious to see, with the USA and Great Britain even attempting a boycott. However, Hitler’s wish for total admiration failed, as it was a young African American man that instead stole the limelight from the seething future Führer. Participating in school athletics from a young age, James Cleveland Owens excelled in track and field. Going on to set a number of records, Owens was selected to represent the USA at the Berlin Olympics. With Hitler hoping for a German domination, Owens had other ideas, skillfully winning four gold medals in front of an angered Adolf Hitler. With reports that Hitler had suggested that all black men and women be excluded from future games due to their different physiques from those ‘of civilized whites’, it was later claimed that Hitler had even refused to shake the gold medalist’s hand. However these accusations are often disputed.
3. Nancy Kerrigan Gets Clubbed
With the modern games not a patch on the barbaric and brutal going-ons of the Ancient Olympics, the 1994 attack on Ice Skater Nancy Kerrigan seemed to come straight out of the pre Olympics textbooks. Born in Massachusetts, USA, Kerrigan took up figure skating at a young age, winning her first competition at the tender age of nine years old. Enjoying only moderate success, Kerrigan started to push herself, regularly competing in worldwide competitions winning two bronze medals in the World Figure Skating Championships in 1991 and the 1992 Winter Olympics. Gaining international fame after the last games, Kerrigan began training for the next Olympics. However, in 1994 Kerrigan was clubbed on the right knee by a police baton, forcing her to withdraw from the upcoming U.S championships. Dubbed as ‘The Whack Heard Round The World’ , it was later revealed that the attack was planned by rival Tonya Harding‘s ex husband, who intended to damage Kerrigan so badly it would have been impossible for her to compete.
2. The Story Of Stella Walsh
Going down in history as one of the most shocking stories to have ever graced the Olympics, the story of Stella Walsh reads more like a movie than a real life event. Born in Eastern Europe, Stanisława Walasiewicz, also known as Stefania Walasiewicz, then eventually Stella Walsh, was a Polish track and field athlete, representing Poland in two major Olympics. Moving to America at a young age,Walsh excelled in athletics throughout school. Winning a competition to represent the USA in the American Olympic team, Walsh was later denied due to her not being able to obtain an American citizenship. Choosing to represent her native country of Poland, Walsh won the gold medal in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Becoming a popular figure in Poland, Walsh was often voted the most popular Polish sports star and awarded a variety of achievement medals. Continuing her success, Walsh attended the following Olympics in Berlin, in which she was beaten by the American Helen Stephens, yet still managed to take home the silver. Due to the incredible time in which they ran their races and the unbelievable strength that both women carried, it was suggested that the pair were actually male posing as female in order to compete, with Stephens even forced to withstand a genital inspection. Going onto further success, Walsh was even inducted into the U.S Track and Field Hall of Fame. Sadly in 1980,Walsh was tragically killed during an armed robbery. As doctors performed an autopsy it was revealed that Walsh did indeed possess a chromosomal disorder, in which her genitalia was never truly verified, aiding some to believe that her achievements should be erased.
1. Black Panther Salute
Probably one of the most iconic photographs in the Olympic games if not the world, the black unity salute will go down in history as one of the biggest political statements ever witnessed through photography. With the 1968 Mexico Olympics coming at a time when the civil rights movement in the USA was in full swing, US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made the most of an all-mighty opportunity. Coming in first and third respectively, the pair opted to receive their medals without shoes, only wearing black socks to represent black poverty. As the famous notes of the Star-Spangled banner played around the stadium, both Smith and Carlos raised their arms, each adorned with a single black glove and bowed heads. With Smith raising his right hand in support for the black power movement and Carlos raising his left for black unity, the idea was to help the fight against racial discrimination. Recalling the incident, Smith later claimed ‘If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight’. Booed as they left the stadium, the whole world was outraged, however due to that one brief moment of solidarity, a whole new era had begun.