With over 200 countries participating, the Olympic Games are regarded as the world’s chief sports competition. Whether it’s at the Summer Olympics or the Winter Olympics, every four years, audiences around the world get to see the finest athletes around the world compete for one of the outstanding distinctions there is—Olympic gold. The Olympic creed states that the most important thing isn’t to win but to just take part. Basically, just get out there and have fun.
Unfortunately, not every Olympian abides by the Olympic creed. The Olympics are incredibly competitive and some athletes and countries will do whatever it takes to come in first place. There was cheating at the very first Olympics in 1896, and there have already been accusations of cheating for the upcoming Winter Olympics in February. The Pierre de Coubertin medal, a medal awarded by the ICO to athletes, countries, sports promoters, sporting officials, and others, is one medal the people on this list didn’t even come close to winning.
They’ve tried a variety of tactics in their quest for glory. Doping, using underage gymnasts, and even using one’s identical twin sister are just some of the ways athletes and countries have tried to win. And while they may have won, their medals were later stripped. It would have just been better for them to take silver or less than face the public humiliation. Here are 15 infamous Olympics cheating scandals that prove the Olympics isn’t all fun and games.
15. Jim Thorpe Was Caught Being A Pro Athlete In The 1912 Summer Olympics
The late pentathlete Jim Thorpe is considered to be one of the most gifted athletes in the world of modern sports. He was named the greatest athlete from the first 50 years of the 20th century by the Associated Press and has a town named after himself in Pennsylvania. As a member of the Sac and Fox nation, he became the first Native American to win a gold medal for his country. But there was a reason why he was so good in the 1912 Summer Olympics. It was because he was already a pro athlete.
During the Victorian era of the Olympics, only amateur athletes were allowed to participate. Thorpe played two seasons of semi-professional baseball prior to the Olympics, and when this fact was discovered, he was stripped of his medals. Decades later, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated his medals, but they haven’t reinstated his record-breaking results from 1912.
14. Madeline And Margaret De Jesus Switched Places During The 1984 Summer Olympics
In The Parent Trap, teenage twin sisters switch places in an attempt to get their divorced parents back together. In the 1984 Summer Olympics, twin sisters and track and field athletes switched places in an attempt to win a gold medal. During said Olympics, Madeline de Jesus injured her hamstring in the long jump event and was unable to compete in the 4×400-meter relay.
Luckily for her, her twin sister was also a track and field athlete and just so happened to be in Los Angeles at the time. Madeline had Margaret run for her in the second leg of the qualifier and the Puerto Rico team continued on to the second round. But before the finals, the chief coach of the team discovered the trick and got angry. After he publicly revealed the ruse, he pulled his entire team from the event.
13. Ben Johnson Was Caught At The 1988 Summer Olympics
Doping is nothing new to the Olympics, especially in track-and-field events. And there’s a reason why the men’s 100-meter event from the 1998 Summer Olympics is infamously known as the “dirtiest race.” Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the 100-meter event with a time of 9.79 seconds, beating his previous record of 9.83 seconds from the 1987 World Championships in Athletics in Rome. But he didn’t celebrate for long.
Just two days later, he was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for roids. He later claimed that it wasn’t cheating if everyone else was doing it. The second-place finisher Carl Lewis, who had tested positive during the trials earlier that year, was given the gold medal. Britain’s Linford Christie received silver, but while he tested positive for pseudoephedrine, he blamed the results on ginseng tea and the ICO cleared him of all charges.
12. Marion Jones Was Caught At The 2000 Summer Olympics
Former track and field athlete Marion Jones is perhaps the most infamous athlete when it comes to doping scandals. Throughout her athletic career, even from as far back as high school, Jones was accused of taking steroid. While she frequently denied any wrongdoings, allegations continued to follow her through two Olympics and several championship competitions.
It all came to a head following her historic performance at the 2000 Summer Olympics, where she became the first woman to win five track-and-field medals at a single Olympics. In 2003, she was suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs in a federal investigation concerning illegal steroid use launched against a laboratory named BALCO. Once again, she denied all allegations. But in 2007, she finally came clean and admitted her steroid use. She was stripped of her medals and served six months in prison.
11. Chinese Gymnastics Team Is Accused Of Using Underage Gymnasts For The 2008 Summer Olympics
In order for gymnasts to participate in gymnastic events at the Olympics, they have to be at least 16 years of age. So when the Chinese gymnastics team took the floor at the 2008 Summer Olympics, allegations of China using underage girls began flying due to three of the girls looking significantly younger than their other teammates. Passport information for He Kexin, one of the Chinese gymnasts, had her listed as being 16 years of age, but multiple online records stated that she was 14. Another one of He’s teammates was accused of being 14.
The Chinese team was investigated but no evidence was found of any wrongdoings. It did nothing to quell international outcries of cheating. If three of the Chinese gymnasts were underage, Chinese officials had done such a good job covering it up that it would be impossible to prove the girls were underage.
10. Boris Onishchenko Uses Modified Sword In Penthalon In 1976 Summer Olympics
Ukranian athlete Boris Onishchenko went into the 1976 Summer Olympics as a multiple Olympics and world champion medalist and with the admiration and praise of his fellow Olympians. He was the favorite to win both the individual and team events for the Soviet Union in the pentathlon. But during his match against the Britain team captain in the fencing portion, the rest of the British team started protesting that his sword had gone off without him actually hitting anything. (The swords were electric and designed to record a point once an opponent was hit.)
Eventually, it was discovered that his sword was rigged to register a point even when one hadn’t been made. Not only was Onishchenko expelled from the Games, but he was banned from sports for life. Soviet media scorned him as “Boris the Cheat,” he received a personal scolding from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and he was stripped of all his sporting honors.
9. Women’s Badminton Teams Try To Throw A Match In The 2012 Summer Olympics
For the first time ever, the women’s doubles badminton tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics started off with a group phase round-robin followed by a knockout stage. One of the Chinese teams lost to Denmark, which meant that the two Chinese teams would face off in the semi-finals of the knockout round rather than the gold-medal match, meaning China couldn’t walk away with a gold and a silver medal. In order to get better medal-round match-ups, the Chinese teams tried to lose on purpose.
After their South Korean opponents noticed what was going on, they realized it was in their best interests to lose as well, and they also began throwing the match. Both teams played like it was their first time playing badminton and the crowd started booing as a result. Eventually, the teams were accused of purposely throwing the match in an attempt to get a better draw in the following round and got disqualified from the competition.
8. Russia Corrupted The 2012 Summer Olympics
In 2015, Canadian law professor Richard McLaren released a 144-page report on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency that implicated that there are more than 1,000 Russian athletes across over 30 sports in a major state-sponsored doping scandal between 2011 and 2015. McLaren said that the 2012 Olympics were “corrupted on an unprecedented scale, the extent of which will probably never be fully established,” and the IOC said the results showed that “there was a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and in sport in general.”
Rod Carr, the chairman of UK Sport, said that the doping culture in Russia was so prevalent that it would be highly unlikely for them to reform for the 2018 Winter Olympics. And he wasn’t really wrong. Earlier this year, Russia was banned from competition in the upcoming Olympics due to another doping scandal. However, athletes can still compete if they can prove that they’re “clean.”
7. East Germany Runs A Dope Ring Prior To The 1976 Summer Olympics
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, children as young as eight were given steroids in East Germany’s quest for glory at the Olympics. East Germany practically dominated at the Olympics between 1968 and 1988, winning more than 500 summer and winter Olympic medals. One of the teams that dominated during this period was the women’s swim team. At the 1976 Summer Olympics, they won 10 of the 13 events and set eight world records. At the last Olympics, they won no medals, so naturally, allegations of steroid use were made.
It was ultimately revealed that East Germany was operating a doping program for its athletes, a program that said athletes were totally in the dark about. Unfortunately for these athletes, they developed a variety of problems from the rampant drug use over the years, from degenerative bone disease to infertility to heart conditions. In one case, one male weightlifter grew 36DD breasts.
6. Fred Lorz Hitches A Ride During Marathon Course At 1904 Summer Olympics
The men’s marathon at the 1904 Summer Olympics has been called “the most difficult a human being was ever asked to run over.” Thirty-two athletes representing four countries competed, but only fourteen actually finished the race due to scorching temperatures, steep hills, roaming wild dogs, and more. One of the racers was American runner Fred Lorz, although his finish was highly controversial.
After Lorz ran nine miles, he took a ride in a car for the next eleven. Supposedly, the car broke down and Lorz finished the race on foot, unsurprisingly coming in first place. Just as he was about to receive the gold medal, his deception was revealed, and he was banned from competition for life. However, the Amateur Athletic Union reconsidered their decision and lifted the lifetime ban a year later.
5. Nadzeya Ostapchuk Caught At 2012 Summer Olympics
Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk was a bronze medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics but was later disqualified due to a doping violation. Four years later, she won gold in London but was later disqualified after testing positive for steroids. Ironically, she came in first the day after the President of Belarus bestowed upon her the Third-class Order of the Fatherland in recognition of her “high professionalism, outstanding sports achievements, and victory at the 30th Summer Olympic Games.”
She was banned from competition for a year and her coach admitted that he spiked her coffee with metenolone without her knowing due to concern over her performance, and he was under the impression that the drug would be gone from her system by the time the drug tests were administered. She was stripped of her 2005 World Championship in 2013 after the IAFF retested samples from the event, and her results from 2005-2007 and since 2012 were nullified.
4. Dora Ratjen/Heinrich Ratjen Pretends To Be A Woman In The 1936 Summer Olympics
High jumper Heinrich Ratjen was born a boy but was raised as a girl by his parents. He was christened “Dora” and attended an all-girl school and wore girl’s clothes. He went through gender identity issues during his mid to late teens but was too afraid to tell anyone what was going on. He began competing as a girl in sports and became an outstanding high jumper.
At the 1936 Olympics, he finished fourth in the women’s high jump, and two years later, he set a women’s high jump record. Eventually, people started getting suspicious about Ratjen’s true gender, and it was discovered that he was a man in disguise. He later had his name changed to Heinrich and was given a new ID and work papers before becoming “a working man.”
3. Tunisian Pentathlon Team Try To Repeatedly Use The Same Person In The 1960 Summer Olympics
Lots of athletes struggle in their events at the Olympics, but perhaps no one struggled as much as the Tunisian pentathlon team at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The entire team fell off their horses during the first event. Someone who couldn’t swim almost drowned in the second event, which was swimming. And the entire team was disqualified from the shooting event after one of the athletes almost grazed one of the judges.
The next event was fencing, but only one person on the team actually knew how to fence. So they decided to put in their master swordsman for each round and hope that no one would check behind the mask. Unfortunately, the judges noticed during the third round and the team received a major point deduction. The performance by the Tunisian pentathlon team went down in Olympic history as the worst performance by a team in Olympian history.
2. Tony André Hansen Gives His Horse Substances For The Equestrian Events At The 2008 Summer Olympics
If you thought people were the only participants in Olympics events who get tested for drugs, think again. Horses in equestrian events also get tested. Tony André Hansen, a Norwegian show jumper and musician, won the bronze medal for team jumping as a member of the Norwegian team at the 2008 Summer Olympics. But Hansen and his horse, Camiro, failed the first two drug tests and were forbidden from taking part in the individual jumping competition.
Camiro tested positive for capsaicin, and while the substance is an ointment made from chili peppers that is often used to treat minor injuries, it was on the list of banned substances for the Olympics. The FBI found Hansen guilty of doping, and he was suspended from the sport for four and a half months. In addition to that, the entire Norwegian team who won bronze for the team jumping event were stripped of their medals.
1. Tonya Harding Conspires To Take The Competition Out For The 1994 Winter Olympics
Former American figure skater Tonya Harding, who was the U.S. Champion in 1991 and was the silver medalist at the 1991 World Championships, decided that in order to get a spot on the U.S. ice skating team for the 1994 Olympics, she needed to take out her biggest main team competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard hired an assailant to break Nancy Kerrigan’s right leg with a lead pipe so she couldn’t compete at the Winter Olympics. However, the assailant only bruised Kerrigan’s leg, and she and Harding still managed to qualify for the Olympic team.
Harding said that wasn’t involved in the attack but later pled guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution, and her role in the attack was eventually found out. The USFSA stripped her of her 1994 U.S. Championships title, and she was banned for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach.
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