The 15 Biggest Hoaxes in Sports
The realm of sports naturally lends itself to trickery and misdirection.
"Ball fakes," juke moves and the 'ol rope-a-dope are all forms of deception at their basest level and they're used by athletes in order to win and excel in their chosen sport.
But sometimes competitive cunning goes too far, pouring over the line of acceptable sporting behavior and into the realm of complete fraudulence.
The following are the most blatant examples of athletes juking the faking, lying and deceiving their way to victory and notoriety.
They're the biggest hoaxes in sports, and they pinky promise they're legit.
15. Simonya Popova and the Future of Women’s Tennis
She looked good on paper, which is the only place Simonya Popova ever existed.
Sports Illustrated magazine pulled a quick one on its readers when it published the article titled “Who’s That Girl?”
The piece was centered on Simonya Popova, a beautiful 17-year-old tennis star from Uzbekistan who was supposed to be the future of women’s tennis and embody the “strength, attitude and sex appeal” so highly valued in the sport.
SI featured a several pictures of Popova in the article, highlighting her sex appeal and strength, but there was one tiny caveat to the wonder girl—she didn’t exist.
The pictures of the tennis playing prodigy had been computer generated. The athlete described in the article was merely a composite creation of all the “desirable” qualities that the sport is looking for in a female tennis player.
The author described the perfect female tennis player, and then ended his article
with “If only she existed.”
Statement made, Sports Illustrated: Tennis is shallow. And we’re gullible.
14. Borys Onyshchenko'S Electric Fencing
Technology came into play when Soviet pentathlete Borys Onyshchenko was discovered cheating during the fencing segment of the five sport competition.
Judges at the 1972 Montreal Olympics noticed something wasn’t right when Onyshchenko was scoring points on his opponent without his epee (fencing sword) making contact.
Further investigation revealed that Onyshchenko had installed a hidden button-activated circuit breaker in the handle of his epee that would trip the scoring register when pressed.
Borys “Dis-Onyshchenko” was disqualified from the competition and returned home to Russia, never again competing in pentathlons abroad.
13. Kevin Hart Commits to Southern Unicorn University of Wishful Thinking
The poor kid just wanted to play with the big boys.
High school football player Kevin Hart duped the entire town of Fernley, Nevada the moment he “committed” to the University of California at Berkeley.
The two-star offensive guard prospect had told friends and teammates in the months leading up to his senior year that he had received recruiting attention from multiple NCAA Division I schools, and a formal ceremony was held in his high school’s gym where Hart was supposedly going to reveal his which university he would attend.
Cameras rolled as Hart made his choice—picking up and donning a baseball cap emblazoned “Cal.”
It was a heartwarming story—a home-grown product from a small town being offered the opportunity to attend a school with a major athletic program. The only problem was, none of the staff Cal football team’s staff had ever even heard of Hart.
As it turned out, Hart had manufactured the whole story, perpetuating a lie based on his dream of playing D-I ball, which snowballed into a full-fledged fiasco.
Hart admitted to his dishonesty, and has since made it onto the roster at Missouri Western State, a D-II football program.
12. Blake Griffin's Fake Girlfriend
Yup, he apparently had one too for a while, and it only proves how many strange, lonely people are out there.
And those lonely people create fake Internet girlfriends for celebrities.
In early 2011 rumors began stirring about a woman by the name of Jasmine Shein, a USC student who had allegedly begun dating Blake Griffin after the two had met in Los Angeles.
The first reports of the new relationship were posted by playerseason.com, and from there disseminated throughout the sports blog-o-sphere.
Soon pictures of Shein in a bikini and posts labeling her as “Blake Griffin’s girlfriend” began surfacing on the Internet, as well as her Facebook page stuffed with more photos of the young woman.
As the rumor grew more media outlets began taking interest, but before anyone could confront Griffin about his new girl, SportsByBrooks.com dug around published a piece de-bunking the story.
As it turned out, no one by the name of Jasmine Shein was even registered at USC, and her Facebook page had been fabricated and filled with poached pictures in order to stimulate reader interest in the Internet rumor mill.
Like I said—there are some sad, sad little people out there.
11. Sylvester Carmouche's Foggy Horse Racing Fraud
Thoroughbred jockey Sylvester Carmouche pulled some sly trickery on a foggy day in 1990 at the Delta Downs horse track in Louisiana.
The race had seemingly just begun when Carmouche and his mount Landing Officer blasted out of a pea-soup haze and crossed finish line a full 24 lengths ahead out of the competition.
A 23-1 shot to win, Landing Officer’s demolition of the competition nearly broke the track record and was immediately protested by bettors and other jockeys who believed Carmouche had pulled up on his mount and navigated his way through the fog-bound infield.
Carmouche’s victory was eventually thrown out, and the jockey was banned from racing in the state of Lousiana for 10 years.
10. 'The Curious Case of Sidd Finch'
Sports Illustrated magazine had a good laugh at the expense of its readers and the MLB when they published a story titled “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” on April 1, 1985.
As the story tells it, the New York Mets had discovered a 28-year-old freak of nature by the name of Sidd Finch—a towering “mystic” who could throw the ball 168mph with laser-sighted accuracy.
The story—if you noticed earlier—was published on the 1st of April, and the lengthy and detailed SI feature story about the lanky pitching savant crushing pitches and working out for Mets during Spring Training was actually an elaborate April Fool’s joke put on by the magazine to rattle MLB batters and trick its readership.
9. Fred Lorz Hitches a Ride to Victory
Someone had to make use of those new-fangled motorized horses.
Olympic marathoner Fred Lorz destroyed the competition at the 1904 Olympic Games by hopping in his manager’s car at the 9-mile mark and hitched an 11-mile ride up the course.
Lorz finished the remainder of the race and ran through the tape at the finishing well ahead of the competition—far enough ahead to raise the suspicion of many spectators.
Lorz eventually admitted he had cheated and said the entire thing was joke. I can only presume it wasn’t as funny as he had planned.
8. Danny Almonte and the Little League World Series
The numbers just didn’t add up for Danny Almonte.
The hard-throwing kid from New York took the Little League World Series by storm in 2001, throwing perfect games and one-hit shutouts with pitches that were clocked as high as 77mph.
The media swarmed Almonte and his South Bronx Little League team, and the young pitching prodigy handed them a third place finish in the 2001 Little League World Series.
But shortly thereafter, a writer from Sports Illustrated came forward with a birth certificate that stated Almonte’s true age was 14—two years older than the maximum age allowed for Little League play—and that the team had forged a phony certificate that allowed Almonte to play.
Almonte and his team were stripped of their victories, and as of 2011 he was working at restaurant and coaching high school baseball.
7. Bruno Banani—Underwear Hawking Luge Fraud
As the story goes, Bruno Banani came into the public eye in 2009—a young man from the South Pacific Island of Tonga who only wanted to impress his nation’s royal princess by becoming the first Tongan to ever compete in the Winter Olympics.
German news outlets quickly picked up Banani’s interesting story. Next he was scooped up by the German national luge team, who offered the 21-year-old Pacific Islander use of its facilities in Germany in order to train.
Before you know it, the world is watching the young man from the South Pacific shooting down the luge course in the qualifying rounds for the 2010 Winter Olympics, fully decked out in gear sponsored by Bruno Banani, a German underwear company seemingly coincidentally of the same name as the Tongan.
And that’s where it gets weird.
Bruno Banani was billed by the media and his sponsor as the son of a simple coconut farmer, and his tag-line for the luge had become “coconut powered.”
Except it all was a hoax. After some digging into Banani’s past, German magazine Der Spiegel discovered that the Tongan luger’s real name was Fuahea Semi, his father didn’t farm coconuts and his entire persona was the invention of a German marketing company looking to boost sales of Bruno Banani underwear.
6. Paul Tormanen's Fishy Fish Tales
The sport of competitive bass fishing was rocked by a major scandal (as far as bass-fishing scandals go) when angler Paul Tormanen was arrested in 2005 for competition fraud.
Tormanen was competing in the Red River Bassmaster Central Open when another angler caught a fish that Tormanen had “planted” in the lake. As it turns out, Tormanen had caught several large bass in the days leading up to the contest and had tied them to remote stumps in the water around the competition area.
After bringing in his final haul of bogus catches for the tournament, Tormanen was questioned and eventually arrested. He has been banned from BASS competition for life.
5. Dora “The Dude” Ratjen
Dora Ratjen was a “female” German high jumper who competed in the early 20th century.
Her stocky frame and deep voice set her apart from her teammates and fellow competitors, and Ratjen finished fourth in the high jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics despite being relatively new to the event.
Ratjen continued competing in the high jump as a woman until 1938, when she was arrested on a train in Germany for appearing to be “a man dressed as a woman,” which was apparently a crime worthy of incarceration in the eyes of Hitler and the Third Reich.
The German police then decided to “check under the hood,” as it were, and found out that Ratjen was in fact, a man. Needless to say, Ratjen’s participation in the ’36 Berlin Olympics was stricken from the record and he would live the rest of his life as a male named “Heinrech” Ratjen.
4. Stella "The Fella" Walsh
In a similar case, Stella Walsh was a prolific American track runner of the early 20th century.
Walsh competed in and won over 40 American track championships as well as a gold in the 100 yard dash at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
When her track career ended in 1954, Walsh was admitted into U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Tragedy would alter Walsh’s entire legacy; however, when she was shot and killed by a stray bullet in a shooting at a Cleveland mall in 1959.
An autopsy revealed that Walsh possessed male genitalia, as well as both male and female chromosomes—a medical condition known as mosaicism.
Since that discovery, Walsh has often been referred to by the posthumous nickname of "Stella The Fella,” but still retains her place in the US Track and Field Hall of Fame.
3. Rosie Ruiz and the Boston Marathon
She crossed the line dripping sweat and victory—and at first everyone believed her.
Rosie Ruiz had seemingly crushed the competition when she hit the finish line of the Boston Marathon with a time of two hours and 31 minutes.
But questions raised during post-race interviews with Ruiz threw up red flags—the apparent victor of the Boston Marathon couldn't answer basic questions about her run, had no recollection of her split times or even knew what the term "interval" meant in relation to running.
As it turned out, Ruiz had started the race, dropped out and hopped back onto the course a half mile from the finish, crossing the line minutes ahead of 448 other female runners.
Several days passed before the marathon committee decided Ruiz had cheated, and her "victory" was vacated and given to Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau, the second woman to cross the line.
2. Manti Te'o's Digital Girl
The story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o losing both his grandmother and girlfriend to cancer on the same day was one of the most heartbreaking and inspirational stories of 2012.
The news of the tragedies that befell Te’o on Sept. 11 of last year sparked a public outpouring of sympathy and support for Te’o. Stories aplenty ran in the media about the death of Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and the standout season the Notre Dame captain had achieved despite what appeared to be the staggering loss of two loved ones.
But recent events have shed new light on Te’o’s personal life, and an article published by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16 has embroiled the 21-year-old football player in a media frenzy concerning his relationship with his girlfriend—the woman we came to know as Lennay Kekua.
The Deadspin article alleges that Te’o’s girlfriend Kekua was a hoax—a phony person who never succumbed to cancer, wasn’t buried on Sept. 22 and never existed in the first place.
Te’o and Notre Dame have responded to those allegations, stating Te’o’s relationship with Kekua was never a face-to-face affair, and that he is the victim of a cruel Internet prank.
1. The Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team's Ringer Scandal
The Spanish basketball team that won the gold medal at the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000 mocked all that is good and right about sports.
Ten of the 12 players on the Spanish team had mental capacities well exceeding the maximum IQ limit of 70, the number allowed for participation in the Paralympics.
They were fully functioning—if not morally bankrupt—ringers playing against mentally handicapped opponents.
Luckily, the hoax was sniffed out by Spanish reporter, Carlos Ribagorda, who had infiltrated the team two years prior to the competition and exposed their fraud for the twisted glory-grubbing scheme it was.
Investigations were launched and the team was eventually forced to return its medals. Hopefully they have sought psychological counseling to figure what possessed them to do something as soul-less and senseless as beating up on handicapped people for a little fame.