Every two years, the Olympics come around to fill our lives (and TV screens) with inspiration, celebration, and some kick-ass, hard-working athletes. And then there’s always the drama. Whether it’s an athlete faking their age, using an illegal substance, or just rebelling against the rules… The Olympics are a time for the world to come together, but they’re also a time left wide open for scandal. Here are 20 of the biggest scandals and most controversial moments in Olympics history.
U.S. Basketball Team Robbed
Plenty of people say that teams were robbed of gold, but in 1972, it was true that the United States basketball team was robbed of gold. That year, the U.S. team was playing against the Soviet team. Doug Collins had the ball but was knocked down by a Soviet player. This garnered him two free throws. He made both, giving the U.S. the lead for the first time in the game. The buzzer sounded and the Americans had won by one point according to the scoreboard. Then, suddenly, officials claimed there were three seconds left in the game. In that three seconds, the Soviets scored and won the gold. The three seconds came from a timeout that was supposedly called before the second free throw, but others claim that never happened.
2016 Rio Games
The 2016 Rio Games started with controversies involving the Zika Virus and polluted water, but the scandals didn’t stop there. The Games were riddled with scandalous scenes that were definitely out of the ordinary. Along with Russians being banned due to doping, a former Olympic Council member of Ireland was arrested for scalping tickets, Ryan Lochte was accused (and cleared) of making a false police report after he claimed he was robbed at gunpoint, and the Russian fan house was truly robbed in the beginning of the 2016 Games.
South Africa’s Suspension
In 1964, South Africa’s racial segregation became a major issue. South Africa had an apartheid system, which promoted discrimination based on skin color. The debate around this policy led to the suspension of South Africa from all Summer and Winter Games until 1992 when the ban was lifted. Despite the ban, South Africa was still able to participate in the 1964 Summer Paralympics.
Russia’s Doping Scandal
One of the most recent scandals involves the Russian team doping at the 2016 Rio Games. The International Olympic Committee had all of the Russian athletes tested for illegal substances by three-member independent panels. In the end, 116 Russian athletes were banned from participating because substances were found in their system.
Angel Matos Kicking a Ref
Taekwondo is a very serious sport where injuries can easily occur. In 2008, Cuban athlete Angel Matos fell and requested medical assistance. Athletes are only allotted a one-minute rest period, but Matos took too long. After being disqualified from the games, he responded by kicking a referee in the face. The move immediately got him banned from the Olympic games.
Hitler’s Olympic Obsession
Even though it would be considered ridiculous now, the 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin while under the control of Adolf Hitler. It’s no surprise that Hitler wanted to use the Olympic games to spread Nazi propaganda and ideals to the rest of the world. Along with refusing to acknowledge or meet Jesse Owens, Hitler was furious over the ethnicity of some athletes, and many athletes refused to compete that year. We’re happy to say Owens wasn’t one of them because went on to win four golds on the track, and the performance easily became one of the best in history.
Oscar Pistorius’s Murder
Oscar Pistorius made headlines by being one of the first amputee sprinters to compete in the Olympic games in 2012. Despite this, he’s better known for the murder of his girlfriend in 2014. He was originally found guilty and convicted of culpable homicide with a sentence of five years in prison. After an appeal by state prosecutors, his sentence was upped to murder and six years in prison for firing four bullets through a closed bathroom door, which killed his girlfriend.
Fragile French Judge
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier should have won at the 2002 Olympics for free skating. However, a surprise came when Russian duo Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze got the gold. A French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, later had a breakdown in a hotel lobby saying that she had reversed the scores to give the Russians the gold. She also admitted to giving the French the gold in ice dancing.
Beijing Human Rights Violations
When Beijing won their 2008 Olympic Games bid, human rights activists immediately began protesting. There were allegations that the country imposed restrictions on open media and supported repressive regimes. To make matters worse for the country, there were also concerns that the air in Beijing was unsafe due to high pollution rates. During the Olympics, the Chinese Government issued guidelines for local media to downplay all political and social issues that were not directly connected to the games.
Marion Jones’s Steroids
United States athlete Marion Jones won five gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Games, but they weren’t hers for long. Jones openly admitted to using steroids to prepare for the Olympics, which obviously ended badly for her. The punishment she received was six years in prison and two years of probation for lying to federal agents who were investigating her steroid use.
In 1932, it was claimed that Swedish equestrian Bertil Sandström had been encouraging his horse while racing by making a clicking noise. Sandström claimed that the sound was coming from his saddle, but officials decided he wasn’t telling the truth. He originally placed second in individual dressage but was demoted to last place due to the clicking.
Accidental Drug Scandal
Many of us take pseudoephedrine when we’re sick. It’s a common ingredient in cold medicines but is considered a stimulant according to the International Olympic Committee. Unfortunately, Andreea Raducan didn’t know this when she went to the Olympics in 2000. She competed at just 16 and won the all-around gold medal. Following this, she was tested and lost her medals for taking cold medicine. In 2015, she asked them to recognize her medal, but her gold hasn’t been reinstated.
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan
The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal is one of the biggest ever seen in the Olympics. Here’s what happened: In 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was stepping off the ice when she was hit in the leg with by a “club-like instrument” prior to the Olympic qualifiers. Later, it was discovered that Tonya Harding’s ex-husband had planned the attack so Harding would go to the Olympics. Harding claimed she had no idea of the attack but was still banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Kerrigan qualified for the Olympics and went on to win Silver.
To participate in the Olympics, you must be 16, and this is a rule the committee takes very seriously. When it was discovered one of the Chinese gymnasts was 14, it became a huge scandal. Dong Fangxiao had won bronze when she competed in the 2000 Summer games, but she didn’t keep it long. Her records were nullified, and she lost the Bronze medal, which later went to an American gymnast. Since then, the age of Chinese athletes has been questioned on a regular basis.
Jim Thorpe’s Pro Career
Today, this scandal may seem pretty dumb, but it was huge in 1912. Jim Thorpe was one of the greatest American athletes of all time and had won medals for the pentathlon and decathlon. However, the Olympic Committee was serious when they said no professionals could compete. While Jim Thorpe wasn’t a professional in any sport he competed in, he was a professional baseball player. He was later stripped of his medals.
Badminton Players Throwing Games
The point of the Olympics is to win, right? In 2012, it was discovered that eight female badminton players were purposefully losing games. The group included players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia. What they were trying to do was fix matches to play a weak team later in the finals.
Ben Johnson Doping Scandal
The 1988 Seoul Olympics was a huge event, especially since Ben Johnson was going to race against his biggest competitor, Carl Lewis, in the 100-meter dash. Somehow, Johnson managed to beat Lewis and set a new record of 9.79 seconds. Unfortunately, days later, he was tested for steroids, and stanozolol was found in his system. Johnson lost the gold, and it was given to Lewis who had gotten second place. Now, the race is considered to be the dirtiest race in Olympic history.
Surya Bonaly, Rebel on Ice
Surya Bonaly participated in the 1988 Olympics in free skating. During her performance, she landed an illegal, albeit, incredibly difficult one-foot backflip. While it looked absolutely amazing and she was the second skater to ever complete the move, it was deemed illegal. The judges deducted points from her final score. She didn’t place, but she’ll be forever one of the most talented skaters ever.