10 of the Most Shocking Olympic Scandals

For 2 & ½ weeks, world conflict is supposed to cease whenever the Olympic Games occur. Athletes, coaches, sports officials and spectators from around the world unite in one place to compete, win and bring honor to their country while they celebrate a global community and the astounding feats of the human body, mind and spirit.

In spite of the Olympics’ good intentions for temporary world peace, many times reality falls short of those expectations.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, U.K., 204 countries sent more than 10,000 athletes to compete in 300 events, according to BBC. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, had almost 2,850 from 89 countries plus 1,650 Paralympians from 45 countries, according to CNN. Ninety-eight Winter Olympic events were in the 2014 Olympics.

The Olympics are the time for people to prove their physical, mental and spiritual endurance. It may not be a surprise that many scandals on this list involve usage of banned substances. Ironically, some athletes took banned substances so they can perform their best. The disgraced athletes lost their medals. In recent memory, a prominent drug-use Olympic scandal involved an individual listed at number six, who made history by scoring the most medals in one Olympic event. In the 21stt century, a scandal doesn’t need to occur at the Games to claim infamy. A scandal can occur on social media, as number nine proves.

From drug use to injuries, from lewd gestures to even bribery, here are 10 of the most shocking scandals that tarnished the rings of the Olympics. Recognize that this list stays away from political controversies, which are inevitable when countries interact with one another on the world stage in non-political events. Such events occurred throughout the history of the modern-day Olympics and are perhaps best reserved for another list.

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10 Władysław Kozakiewicz

One obscene gesture in public can get your name attached to it for a long time. That was what happened to Polish pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz, who up until the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, was accumulating athletic honors in Europe and the at the World University Games.

At the 1980 Summer Olympics, Kozakiewicz did an obscene gesture similar to “flipping the bird” at booing Soviet spectators right after his gold medal-winning performance. His reaction was so well known that his home country dubbed it Gest Kozakiewicza (Kozakiewicz's Gesture). A Soviet ambassador to Poland wanted the IOC to take the gold medal away from Kozakiewicz, but it didn’t happen.

9 Voula Papachristou & Michel Morganella

Voula Papachristou and Michel Morganella were kicked out of the 2012 Summer Olympics when both made racist comments on social media. Papachristou of Greece was driven off her track-and-field team after her online commentary made fun of African immigrants and supported a political party. A week later, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella posted a racist tweet defaming South Korea hours after South Korea won a soccer match against Switzerland. Though Morganella issued a public mea culpa for his action, the IOC sent him home.

8 Kevin Barry & Evander Holyfield 

Many speculated that Evander Holyfield was robbed of the gold medal in men’s light heavyweight boxing at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Holyfield of the U.S. was disqualified when he swung a left hook at Kevin Barry of New Zealand after the referee called a timeout. Consequently, Barry won the match. Holyfield took home the bronze, Barry got silver and Croatian boxer Ante Josipovic garnered the gold. There seemed to be no hard feelings on Barry’s part; he raised Holyfield’s arm in the ring after their fight. Josipovic pulled Holyfield onto the podium with him at the medal ceremony.

7 Keith Walker

Korean officials beat up boxing referee Keith Walker of New Zealand after he declared Alexander Hristov of Bulgaria the victor over Byun Jong IL of South Korea. In a bantamweight boxing match at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, Walker was determined the winner after Byun lost two points for head butting. The Korean officials who assaulted Walker mistook him for Theodoras Vidali. The previous day, the Greek referee determined American competitor Michael Carbajal the winner of a 3-2 match over South Korean Oh Kwang Soo.

6 Marion Jones

Marion Jones was the toast of the 2000 Summer Olympics when the track-and-field athlete racked up three gold and two bronze medals, a first for any female track-and-field Olympian. The IOC started investigating allegations of Jones's steroid use in December 2004. Jones tested positive for a banned substance in 2006, but was exonerated with a subsequent test. In 2007, she fessed up to two years of steroid use in preparation for the 2000 Games. Jones gave all of her medals back.

5 Andreea Raducan

The International Olympic Committee stripped Romania's Andreea Raducan of her all-around gold gymnastics medal at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. Raducan was the first gymnast in history to lose a medal because of a banned stimulant. She tested positive for pseudoephedrine, which she had taken in cold medicine. The gold was given to fellow Romanian Simona Amânar, originally the silver medalist. 

4 Ben Johnson

Johnson wowed the global community with his world record-breaking 9.79-second sprint in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Forty-eight hours later, drug test results discovered that Johnson took stanozolol. Subsequently, Johnson was stripped of his medal.

"I don't really watch it. I just move on with my life," Johnson, a Jamaican immigrant from Canada, said at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.

3 Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan

International media descended upon the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan saga that played out like a melodrama. On Jan. 6, 1994 in Detroit, a mysterious assailant clubbed Kerrigan in her right knee as she left a skating practice. It was discovered that Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, orchestrated the attack with hopes of eliminating Kerrigan from the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Both women competed in the 1994 Olympics in February 1994, but Kerrigan netted the silver medal. The next month, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiring in the clubbing. Consequently, she was banned for life from competing in the United States.

2 2002 Winter Olympics Darbepoetin Use

Three cross-country skiers were banned from the last day of competition during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. All tested positive for darbepoetin, a drug so new at the time the IOC had yet to list it as a banned substance. Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina of Russia, and Johann Müehlegg of Spain were found to have the drug in their systems. Darbepoetin increases production of red blood cells, which helps stave off anemia in kidney patients. Müehlegg and Lazutina were stripped of their gold medals.

1 2002 Winter Olympics Bid Scandal

In 1998, allegations first arose that Salt Lake City, UT, bribed members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with gifts in exchange for the opportunity to host the 2002 Winter Games. The top two members of the Salt Lake City Committee resigned, and the IOC investigated its own members. Even companies hesitated sponsoring the scandal-riddled 2002 Olympics. Multiple times in the past, Salt Lake City bid for the hosting opportunity to no avail. Two Canadian cities, Quebec and Calgary, offered themselves as alternatives while the IOC investigated the charges. As history shows, Salt Lake City still welcomed the 2002 Winter Olympics.


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