Top 10 Scandals in Summer Olympic History
The Summer Olympics is a celebratory venue where athletes from around the world come to compete against one another on equal footing, but the show isn't always pretty.
Numerous scandals with varying degrees of insensitivity and bad judgment sometimes stain the festivities, taking the focus away from the exceptional athletes and their accomplishments.
Hopefully this year's gala in London won't be subject to such juvenile behavior, but if history shows us anything, it's that we're bound to see at least one scandal this summer, too.
I'm not including violent scandals like the Munich Massacre on this list, nor will I include Marion Jones' fall from grace after the PED scandal rocked the sporting world in 2007.
For the purposes of this list I'm focusing only on the scandals that impacted the games while they were being played.
Here are the top 10 most egregious scandals to have plagued the Summer Olympics in modern history.
10. Paavo Nurmi Banned from Competition in 1932
Paavo Nurmi was one of the best middle- to long-distance runners in the world in the 1920s, setting six world records and winning nine gold medals representing the Finnish flag (h/t olympic.org).
Swedish officials, led by Sigfrid Edström, issued a ban on Nurmi as they considered him to be a professional athlete. Edström claimed that Nurmi had received too much compensation for traveling expenses.
Nurmi hoped against hope that the ban would be reversed. He showed up to the Olympic Village in Los Angeles and continued training while every other entrant in the marathon pleaded with the officials to let him run the race.
In the end, Nurmi was not allowed to run, causing long-term friction between Finland and Sweden. Nurmi had the last laugh, though, when he lit the torch at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki (h/t Olympic-Museum).
9. Władysław Kozakiewicz Gives the Bras D'Honneur in 1980
Polish athlete Władysław Kozakiewicz had just won the gold medal in the pole vault when he shocked the world by giving the "bras d'honneur," or "arm of honor" to the Russian officials and fans for their attempts to throw him off his game in the competition.
The Ocola Star-Banner, via Google News, reported that the hometown Russian fans in the stands had been acting unruly toward any competitor not wearing Soviet red.
The Russian officials had been doing the same in a different way—opening up stadium doors while Kozakiewicz was attempting his vaults so the wind would affect his performance.
Ah, the good old days!
8. USA vs. Soviet Union Basketball Scandal of 1972
The USA men's basketball team was on the verge of winning a gold medal against the Soviet Union squad with three seconds left on the clock.
The score was 50-49 with the USA on top. The Soviets inbounded the ball when their assistant coach Sergei Bashkin charged onto the court, screaming at the top of his lungs that they had called a timeout.
Though there was much confusion, in the end they were controversially awarded their timeout.
Then, they ran a play to win the game but missed. The Americans began jubilantly celebrating their apparent victory, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Apparently, the game clock hadn't been properly reset and the Soviets were granted a third chance to steal the game.
On their third attempt, they finally got the ball in the basket and "won" the game.
Team USA were so infuriated that they refused to accept the silver medals, and to this day the medals sit in a vault in Switzerland.
7. Jim Thorpe Stripped of His Gold Medals in 1912
Jim Thorpe was one of the all-time greatest athletes in American history. He played football, baseball, basketball and competed and won at the Olympics.
He won two gold medals for his incredible performances in the Pentathlon and Decathlon in 1912, prompting the king of Sweden to say, "You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." (h/t olympics-30.com).
He was stripped of both medals when it was discovered he had played minor league baseball three years prior, though, and it wasn't until 1983 that his family convinced the IOC to posthumously give them back.
As a show of solidarity and support, silver medalist Hugo Wieslander refused to accept his medals (h/t AbeBooks.com). Like Paavo Nurmi before him, Thorpe's peers didn't have any issues with his status as an amateur.
6. Spain's Men's and Women's Basketball Teams Strike a Pose in 2008
The Spanish men's and women's basketball teams' photo shoots depicting "slant-eyes" was unconscionable and stupid—a hair-brained idea that has no place in sports in this day and age.
Per the Daily Mail, Pau Gasol tried to respond to the incident: "It was something like supposed to be funny or something but never offensive in any way. I'm sorry if anybody thought or took it the wrong way and thought that it was offensive."
One thing's for sure: they won't do anything like that again.
5. Park Si-Hun Defeats Roy Jones Jr. in 1988
The 1988 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul, Korea.
During those games, Roy Jones Jr. competed against South Korean boxer Park Si-Hun and outperformed him in every perceivable way—except when it mattered most.
The decision was 3-2 in favor of Park, even though Jones landed 86 punches to Park's 32.
Per The Guardian, one of the judges told Sports Illustrated afterwards:
It was a terrible thing. The American won easily; so easily, in fact, that I was positive my four fellow judges would score the fight for the American by a wide margin. So I voted for the Korean to make the score only 4-1 for the American and not embarrass the host country.
Right. That makes perfect sense.
Jones never did receive justification for this outrageous scandal, but his professional career has sure made up for the loss.
4. USA Women's Gymnastics Team Accuses Chinese Team of Cheating in 2008
The Chinese Women's Gymnastics team won the overall gold medal in 2008, and immediately afterwards the Americans tossed out the idea that perhaps some of the contestants on China's team weren't old enough to compete.
If you remember, one of the girls even had what appeared to be a missing baby tooth.
Per the New York Times, a consensus couldn't be established on whether the Chinese team were following the rules due to a discrepancy between the online sports registration lists and the international gymnastics federation.
The Huffington Post ran a column that seemed damning enough, but since the IGF never did anything about it, this scandal remains unsettled.
Neither side was happy about the ordeal. The Americans obviously thought they were robbed of a gold medal, while the Chinese team was upset about the accusations.
3. Boris Onishchenko Cheats in the Pentathlon in 1976
Cheaters never prosper.
Boris Onishchenko was caught using an épée—a fancy word for fencing sword—which was rigged with an electronic mechanism that scored points for him even when he didn't hit his opponent.
Per the Guardian, Onishchenko was first suspected by the British team after his match with Adrian Parker. His next opponent, Jim Fox, insisted to the judges that Onishchenko was scoring without hitting him, prompting them to examine his épée.
Of course they found he was cheating, and Onishchenko was forever branded "Boris the Cheat."
2. Blood in the Water Match in 1956
The Soviet Union and Hungary were involved in a sticky political situation when the 1956 Summer Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia, as the Soviets had invaded Hungary after they rebelled earlier in 1956.
Per Smithsonian.com, the Hungarian Water Polo team had been restlessly worrying about their families back home throughout the Olympic games, and when they faced off against the Soviets, things got out of hand.
First, the Hungarian captain refused to shake the Soviet captain's hand at the start of the match—a customary gesture of sportsmanship.
Things went downhill from there. Players started fighting viciously in the pool, many of them getting bloody in the process.
The referee officiating the match had to call the game off for fear of starting a legitimate riot, and henceforth the event has been named, the "Blood in the Water" match.
1. Ben Johnson Busted for Doping in 1988
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson had just set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100m dash when it was discovered that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge over his competition.
BBC.com has the story:
The Canadian has also been stripped of his 100m gold medal after testing positive for drugs. And Olympic officials confirmed last night that traces of the anabolic steroid, Stanozol, had been detected.
For fans of the sport, the impact was monumental.
Johnson fought the charges, claiming someone had spiked his sports drink, according to the Telegraph, but IOC officials didn't see fit to investigate his claims. They said they weren't obliged to press the matter any further due to the statute of limitations in the case.
Johnson's disqualification and the loss of his medals tops this list of the biggest scandals in the history of the Summer Olympics.