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Top 15 Olympic Scandals

The Winter Olympics begin this month, on February 9th, and will be a daily mainstay on NBC (and their affiliated networks in the United States) through closing ceremonies on the 25th of this month. The Winter Olympics take place every four years but there are a few things different about this year’s version that the world has never seen. First, they are taking place in a town named Pyeongchang, South Korea and because of that, both North and South Korea are actually putting together teams for sports like Hockey that will represent both North and South Korea. That’s something that many thought impossible up until it was announced as tensions between the two Koreas (and the rest of the world) has been at peak levels since the election of Donald Trump in the United States and North Korea has pushed forward with it’s nuclear program. Beyond that, Russia, a power house in all Olympics but especially the Winter Olympics, will be barred from participating in these games for multiple doping concerns. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 15 Olympic Scandals in the history of the games!

15. Ross Rebagliati’s “Performance Enhancing Drugs”

Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was the first ever to win an Olympic Gold medal for Men’s Snowboarding, something that happened at the 1998 Winter Olympics. However, that medal was stripped from him after his drug test returned and showed that he had Marijuana in his system (a small amount of marijuana was also found in his travel bag). However, in a completely out of character move for the International Olympic Committee, the move was overturned and he received his Gold Medal again. Because the active substance in Marijuana Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) wasn’t on the list of banned substances for the Olympics, it made sense for the IOC to overturn their decision but it has been argued both then and since that the calming effects of THC can really help calm nerves before big events like, you know, the Olympics. That could’ve given the Canadian snowboarder an unfair advantage, but regardless of where you stand on the matter it was a great career move for Rebagliati, who became an instant celebrity (he was a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that same week) and businessman (He has his own strain of medical and recreational marijuana).

14. Oscar Pistorius Kills his Girlfriend

This scandal would be a lot higher if it happened or had to do with the games instead of simply an Olympic Athlete, but considering how high-profile this case was it’d be strange not to have this on the list (just as it would be weird to have a Top 15 NFL Scandal list without OJ Simpson). What is this scandal, you say? The death of Reeva Steenkamp, who was the live in girlfriend of Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius, who was already a controversial figure in the Olympics as some felt that the blades that he ran on (because of the loss of his legs below the knees) gave him an unfair advantage thanks to their abillity to propel him forward faster than the human foot or ankle does, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend after she was shot four times in the bathroom of their home. Pistorius claimed that he shot through the bathroom door as he thought that she was a burglar who had crawled through the bathroom window while he was asleep. Clearly that excuse didn’t make a whole lot of sense (even with the crime in his native South Africa) as he would’ve realized that his girlfriend wasn’t in bed with him while getting up and attaching his legs (or crawling over to his gun or the door) and he definitely would’ve said something before firing in a house that his girlfriend also lived in. He was found guilty but was only given five-years in prison, a lot of which were converted to house arrest. After some outrage by people online the court was appealed by the prosecutors to increase Pistorius’ prison-time as it was argued that his original sentencing was too lenient. He’s currently serving six-years in a South African Prison, let’s see how far he can run in there.

13. Russian Figure Skating Judge Does the Impossible by Making Figure Skating Interesting

Back during the Scandal plagued 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City (see number eight on this list), people who follow figure-skating were enraged when the reigning world champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier ended up “winning” a Silver Medal despite the fact that they had skated a perfect routine. Beyond that, considering that the Russian’s were the team that “beat” them and ended up with the Gold, people (rightfully) smelled a cheat. The day after the event, when the outrage only seemed to be growing, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said that she had voted for the Russians the way she did because she felt pressure from the French Skating Federation (which makes little sense). In a move that we very may never see again, Sale and Pelletier were awarded the Gold in addition to the Russian figure skaters, Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. You’d have to think that there was more to it than this, as well, especially considering it was the Russians that benefited, perhaps Robert Mueller can look into it!

12. Dong Fangxiao Lies About her Age

Outside of Russia, the country that is most known for cheating in the Olympics is China. The best example of this happened after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. There, the Chinese Women’s Gymnastics team won a Bronze Medal in the all-around, a medal that they were stripped of eventually, but not for the reasons you may think. Most medals are rescinded because of postive doping tests but that wasn’t the case for the Chinese women’s team, who lost their Bronze because one of their Gymnasts in Dong Fangxiao lied about her age. During the games she was listed as being the minimum age needed to require, which was 16, however she was actually 14-years-old and because of that she cost her entire team their glory. However, it’s really not fair to blame a 14-year-old for something this complex and obvious and especially in a country like China, decisions like these are made from the top-down. Also, while you’d expect this to rarely come up if a minimum age requirement didn’t exist (as children typically can’t compete with adults) but there’s also the line of putting a child to work that would make the Olympics sort of gross if they allowed 14-year olds (or younger) to participate.

11. Angel Matos Kicks a Ref

If you’re a fan of any sport, there has undoubtedly been a time in your life where you’ve wanted to do harm to a referee or two. Imagine that feeling times a million or so as an athlete who has trained his or her whole life only to feel like you’ve been treated poorly by the person there who is supposed to remain as objective and neutral as possible, the referee or umpire. The tension apparently boiled over for one athlete, Cuban taekwondo athlete Angel Matos, who was disqualified after he fell and took too much time over the alotted one minute designated for medical attention. After being disqualified he walked over to the referee and kicked him in the face, a move that could’ve easily killed him. For this Matos was banned from the World Taekwondo Federation for life which means that he can’t coach or participate in anything that is officially sanctioned for the rest of his life which seems like an awful penalty for a split second decision but again, considering that he could’ve killed that ref it may have been too lenient.

10. It’s Called “Bad”minton for a Reason!

The 2012 Olympics were held in China and one of the most popular sports (at least one where the Chinese especially dominate) is Badminton. While it seems like the backyard game for children, the matches in the Olympics can be incredibly drama-filled and amazing, as the players seem to play at an increased speed that seems almost too fast for human beings. The stakes are clearly incredibly high and because of that no stone is left unturned by the players or coaches. Back in 2012, multiple teams realized that because of the way seeding worked in the build up towards the medal games, you could essentially benefit from losing a game here or there. By doing so, the teams thought that they’d end up playing a weaker opponent in the next round and so multiple teams ended up losing on purpose. Those teams, from China, Indonesia and two from South Korea were disqualified from the games for throwing their matches and while there is probably a rule against throwing a game, it doesn’t seem like they were really doing anything illegal by losing. Sure, it’s bad sportsmanship and that’s something that the Olympics wants nothing to do with, but when it comes to the Olympics, athletes will find any and all advantage possible and it seems like in this case they were too smart for their own good.

9. Jim Thorpe’s Pro Career

After the 1912 Olympic Games Jim Thorpe was dubbed the “Greatest Athlete in the World” by the King of Sweden, King Gustav V. While that’s not really a title you can take away (outside of some sort of doping scandal), you can take away one’s medals under a number of circumstances. One of those circumstances is based on the idea that the Olympics are supposed to be games for amateur athletes, even if professional athletes are today becoming more and more a part of the games (both Summer and Winter). That was the case back in 1912, where Thorpe won two gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. It was discovered after the fact, though, mostly thanks to Thorpe’s newfound celebrity that he had actually been a professional baseball player for teams in Fayettesville and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. While he did die without that order being rescinded he was posthumously re-awarded his medals in 1982 after the (then) president of the United States Olympic Committee ended up pleading his case to the International Olympic Committee. He leaned on a letter that Thorpe had written to Olympic officials back in 1913 that admitted wrong doing and regret and because of that (and the increase in professional athletes in the games), Thorpe is now and forever considered an Olympic champion. Good for him.

8. The Salt Lake Bribe

It’s been debated more and more in recent years whether or not actually hosting the Olympics is a boon or bust for the city that lands the them. While it may seem invaluable to host tens of thousands of people over the course of a month from all over the world in your city, the cost of hosting those people especially with the cost of keeping those people safe from Terrorism only seems to increase with every passing year. Beyond that, very few cities can actually handle the amount of sports going on at once and thus end up building countless structures to handle all the games, and after the games are over those structures can end up abandoned and blighted. Despite that, though, the process of landing the Olympics is still something that is extremely competitive and that can lend itself to issues like bribery, something that happened when two head organizers of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery. The men were accused of paying $1 million dollars to influence the votes of delegates on the International Olympic Committee, as well as an United States Olympic Committee official in the hopes that they would be able to land the Games for Salt Lake City. Apparently it worked and by the time this was all found out it was too late to relocate the games, so instead they appointed the most famous Utahan in former Presidental Candidate Mitt Romney to lead the Olympic Committee in Salt Lake City and to bring “credibility” to the games there. If you add the bribery costs to the cost of hosting the games as a whole perhaps it’s just not worth it after all, especially if you consider the time spent in Federal prison!

7. The Back-Flip

During the 1998 Olympics, French-born figure skater Surya Bonaly, pulled off a move that had only once been performed in the Olympics and despite it’s brilliance and difficulty, was against the rules and thus ended up as a point deduction. That move was a back-flip that Bonaly landed on one foot and it was largely seen as a form of protest from the five-time European Champion who seemed frustrated by the judges in the Olympics, who seemed to be deducting points based more on her “style” than her technical prowess. Because of that, during he final skate the brilliant Bonaly ended up landing the back-flip heard round the world which was only the second time the move had been performed in the Olympics, however it was the only time ever that someone landed the flip on one foot and because of that and the statement behind it, Bonaly will forever be remembered in the hearts of figure skaters around the world, especially figure skaters of color. While the back-flip is still not “allowed” in international competition, you’d think that eventually it will be as it’s something that could help bring figure-skating into the 21st Century and bring a decent amount of danger and thrill into the sport that has been seriously lacking both at least since the release of the film The Cutting Edge.

6. Marion Jones Steroid Scandal

Outside of the Russian Doping Ban, the most recent scandal on this list is the lifetime ban of United States sprinter Marion Jones thanks to her doping issues. Jones actually owned up to her doping, though, which makes her case different from a lot on this list as a lot of people don’t own up to their mistakes (see Ben Johnson, for example) and instead ride out their excuses until the end of time. Jones was America’s sweetheart for awhile, and is perhaps hoping that she can get back in the good graces of the sport at least to make a living at it (as a coach or trainer), which could happen as she did win five medals during the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. Because her case involved a federal investigation, though, Jones ended up with criminal charges and actual prison time (she received six months in prison followed by two years probation for lying to federal prosecutors who were investigating her use of steroids) and beyond that she was, again, banned for life from Olympic competition. That was one of the more amazing falls from grace the Olympics have ever seen. Also at fault was her husband, who was also linked to the scandal as a shot-putter. The BALCO scandal, as it was known, also tarnished the careers of baseball greats Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi and was probably the biggest scandal in sport ever.

5. The Horse Dancing Scandal

Dressage is the Olympic sport of horse dancing, essentially and a lot of people question why it’s still a sport as it’s goofy looking and it’s really more of an animal competition than a human one. Regardless of where you stand on Dressage as an Olympic sport, it actually created one of the larger scandals in Olympic history back during the 1932 games in Los Angeles. It was during those games that Olympic veteran, Bertil Sandstrom of Sweden, reportedly used clicking sounds to “encourage” his horse toward the tail end of his routine. That’s a big no-no in the sport and because of that Sandstrom was knocked from the podium where he initially placed second to last place. However, Sandstrom denied that he had done anything wrong and blamed the sound that the judges heard on his saddle, which he claimed was making a creaking sound throughout the competition, either way though, it was the scandal heard round the… Barn and you can be that from then on all the riders oiled their saddles regardless of whether or not that’s the actual reason why Sandstrom ended up in last place.

4. Andreea Raducan’s “Accidental” Doping Scandal

While some penalties make sense (see the number two entry on this list), some don’t and there is no better example of that than what happened to 16-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan, who participated in the 2000 games as a teenager and ended up winning Gold in the All-Around competition. That win should’ve catapulted her to the top of the world of gymnastics, which can be extremely lucrative both in one’s home country or should they want, in the United States where they’d be able to open their own training facility to train the next generation of Olympians. However, Raducan had been sick during the Olympics and was taking over the country cold medicine, that medicine happened to contain pseudoephedrine (back before it was removed thanks to Meth Labs) and because that was on the list of banned medications/substances by the IOC, Raducan lost her Gold Medal. Despite her appeals and explanation, she still hasn’t received her medal and probably never will. While it is the athlete’s responsibility to monitor what goes into their bodies, this one feels wrong, especially considering how long Russia got away with state-sponsored doping.

3. Ben Johnson’s Doping Scandal

In 1988 the Olympics were in South Korea also, but this time it was for the Summer Olympics and in the capital of Seoul. It was there that American Carl Lewis was heavily favored to win the 100-meter dash. However, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson shocked not only Lewis but the world while running the 100-meter dash in 9.79 seconds, which was a world record that easily beat Lewis’ time. Because of the amount of time it took to receive the results of a drug screen back then, it wasn’t known until days later that Johnson actually tested positive for a type of steroid called stanozolol. Because of that, Johnson’s gold ended up going to Lewis, who was robbed of his moment on the podium by Johnson who somehow found a way to make it all about him, again, by saying that to this day he can’t watch the Olympics because of “what happened to him”, not because of what he did, but what happened TO him. Sigh.

2. The Russian Doping Scandal

It’s hard to really pinpoint when the Russian doping scandal began as it’s been an open secret that the Russians have attempted to circumvent the rules of the games since the USSR was in power and things like a country winning more Gold Medals (or reaching the moon quicker) were super important to the world’s two leading Super Powers. Doping in Russia has essentially a year-by-year breakdown on Wikipedia, as well, which goes to show you that doping in Russia is a state-backed enterprise that goes well beyond the individual coaches or athletes in any particular games. The Olympic committee investigated the most recent Winter Olympics (which took place in Sochi, Russia) as well as the 2016 games in Rio and found that because the  doping was so widespread and complex that it had to be sponsored by the government of Russia itself. Because of that, Russia will not be allowed to compete in this month’s games, which is a gigantic punishment that could seem unfair to the athletes that have trained their whole lives to participate in a month’s worth of games. However, if an athlete has no connection to the previous doping scandals and can pass drug screens they are actually allowed to participate under the Olympic flag as opposed to the Russian flag. They’d be an Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) and the fact that the Olympic Committee has gone this far shows just how serious they are about cracking down on doping and just how corrupt Russia is.

1. Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding

As the recent award winning film “I, Tonya” showed, there was no bigger scandal or story in 1994 (the year of the Games in Lillehammer, Norway) than that of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The two were the top two female figure stakers in the United States and were frenemies at best (depending on who you ask and when you asked them). What’s in question is not even what Harding knew, but rather when she knew it, as on January 6th, 1994 Kerrigan was attacked after leaving the ice for a practice session before the 1994 Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. She was hit in the knee by a “Club-like instrument” by a man named Shane Stant, who was in cohoots with Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt. They claimed that they had hired Stant to break Kerrigan’s right leg so Harding would have a clear path to the Olympic games while Harding claimed that she knew nothing of the attack before it happened, but that she did find out about it afterwards and that she helped cover it up. The investigation wasn’t conclusive enough to ban Harding from skating in the Olympics, however, where she famously wept to the judges about her laces being broken and thus finished without a medal. Kerrigan, however, ended up being just fine and almost won the Gold Medal as she finished with the Silver Medal and the story of a lifetime.

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