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The 13 Biggest Scandals in the History of the Winter Olympics

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, January 28, 2014

winter olympics scandals and controversies

The 2014 Winter Olympics haven’t even gotten underway yet, and already it is looking like they might be amongst the most controversial and scandal-ridden games of all-time.

First it was the vague Russian law outlawing “gay propaganda,” which is fairly upsetting for the countries of the world that value free speech. Then came word that the games cost the country an absolutely insane $51 billion, which is even more expensive than the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and five times more expensive than the Olympics in Vancouver. Now there is the not-so-shocking revelation about why the cost was so high: government corruption! It turns out all the construction contracts were just handed out to the preferred companies, most of whom happen to be owned by politicians or buddies of politicians. And obviously, once the contracts were secured, these companies just kept increasing the prices. (Read all about it here.)

Fortunately, the actual sporting events will begin soon, and barring any major security problems or law-enforcement crackdowns, that should take our attention away from the scandals. That being said, it’s not like the Sochi Games are the first to be plagued by scandals and corruption. In fact, scandal and corruption are as much a part of the Olympic tradition as triumphs of the human spirit and celebrations of our common humanity.

Don’t believe it? Just take a look at this list of scandals from the Winter Games. Not all of them are on the same level as the stuff that’s surrounded the 2014 Winter Games, but they are scandals nonetheless.



13. Stoner-Gate (Nagano 1998)

13 ross rebagliati gold medal - winter olympics scandals and controversies

Snowboarding made it’s debut at the XVIII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 1998, and the first person to win a gold medal for snowboarding was Canada’s Ross Rebagliati.

Of course, after that Rebagliati continued making history by becoming the first snowboarder to have his gold medal taken away after testing positive for marijuana and the first snowboarder to have his gold medal reinstated when officials realized that pot wasn’t actually on their list of banned substances.

After that embarrassing situation weed was added to the lists of banned substances, because everyone knows pot gives you tons of energy and makes you better at sports.


12. No Quad, No Problem (Vancouver 2010)


The toughest jump in figure skating is the quadruple jump, and since 1994 every single Olympic men’s figure skating champion has performed this jump in his routine. The one exception was Evan Lysacek, the 2010 gold medalist, and the problem with that is the silver medalist, Evgeni Plushenko, did perform the quad. So it was kind of a big deal.

Now, unlike other judging controversies, in this case no one alleges corruption. Instead this is just a philosophical debate within the figure skating community. Some people insist that you cannot be the best skater if you do not perform the most technically challenging jump, while others don’t like the fact that a skate is judged on technical ability alone. The debate was raging within the community for several years before the Olympics, and when Lysacek won gold without doing the quad the debate only intensified.



11. USA Hockey Hooligans (Nagano 1998)

11 usa hockey 1998 - winter olympics scandals and controversies

Another first at the XVIII Olympic Games in Nagano (besides the introduction of pot-smoking gold medalist snowboarders)? For the first time, professional hockey players from the NHL took part, making the Olympic hockey tournament the world’s premier international hockey tournament.

The USA, of course, sent a who’s who of the golden age of American hockey—guys like Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Brett Hull, Mike Richter, Phil Housley, John LeClair, Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amante, and Chris Drury. It was the dream team of American hockey.

So what was the scandal? Well, it wasn’t so much that they finished in sixth place, although that was a major disappointment since they really should have medaled. No, the scandal was that some of the team members acted like huge d-bags and trashed their rooms in the Olympic Village after being eliminated.


10. Ohno vs. Kim (Salt Lake City 2002)

10 apolo anton ohno kim dong sung - winter olympics scandals and controversies

If you ask any South Korean what the biggest scandal in Olympic history is, they’ll probably say it was Kim Dong-Sung getting disqualified in the 1500-meter short-track speedskating final. When Team USA’s Apolo Anton Ohno tried to pass him, who was in the lead, Kim just ever-so-slightly cut him off. Ohno immediately threw up his hands in protest, and after the race officials looked at the footage and disqualified Kim for “cross-tracking.”

Was it really cross-tracking? That depends who you talk to. The South Korean delegation was pissed given that the call favored the home-team kid, and they subsequently protested (and lost) the decision to the IOC. However, most athletes admitted that they’ve seen similar plays go both ways. Sometimes it gets called, and sometimes it doesn’t.


9. Ticket Idiocy (Lake Placid 1980)


The above image is what everyone in the United States (and probably Canada) remembers about the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. That was the celebration following the “Miracle on Ice,” Team USA’s shocking upset over the USSR in the ice hockey semifinals. However, if the US hockey team had just lost like they were supposed to, it’s quite likely everyone would remember the Lake Placid games for one of the two major controversies.

The first? That had to do with tickets. You see, this was the age before you bought your tickets to sporting events electronically. So while some people bought tickets in advance, many others simply went to Lake Placid and expected to buy tickets in person at the gate. And yes, the demand was pretty high.

Unfortunately, some genius decided to locate the ticket windows for most events inside ticketed areas, which means only people who already had tickets to the event in question could buy tickets.

Result: tons of tickets went unsold, and to this day shops in Lake Placid have unsold tickets to the 1980 Olympics for sale as souvenirs.


8. The Olympic Insta-Prison (Lake Placid 1980)

8 lake placid olympic village fci ray brook prison - winter olympics scandals and controversies

The other big controversy from the 1980 Winter Games? The lousy accommodations for athletes, many of whom complained their were cramped and spartan.

Of course, there was a very good reason why the dormitories in the Olympic Village were so bleak: the plan all along was to turn them into a prison after the Games.

How’s that for “Olympic spirit”?

Anyway, they made good on this plan. Today the Olympic Village is the Ray Brook Federal Corrections Institution.


7. The Luge Tragedy (Vancouver 2010)

7 nodar kumaritashvili luge death - winter olympics scandals and controversies

As you probably remember, the 2010 Winter Games were marred by a horrible tragedy even before the opening ceremonies. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili wiped out during a training run and flew into a row of metal support beams. The injuries sustained were fatal.

Afterward, there was much debate about how the Games—and the opening ceremonies in particular—should proceed. And of course there were accusations that the luge track in Whistler was simply too fast and unsafe.


6. The Clubbing (Lillehammer 1994)

6 nancy kerrigan attak - winter olympics scandals and controversies

Who doesn’t remember this one?

Okay, people born in 1994, who are now 20 years old. But everyone born in the 80s remembers it, because it was the biggest story heading into the ’94 Winter Games in Lillehamer, Norway.

Just a month before the Games got underway, U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked with a crowbar at a training facility. The person responsible for the attack? Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of Kerrigan’s chief skating rival, Tonya Harding. He hired somebody to take Kerrigan out so that Harding could win gold—though he obviously didn’t realize that, technically, skaters from other countries also compete in the Olympics.

Fortunately for Kerrigan she was not seriously injured, and she wound up winning silver. Harding, meanwhile, was allowed to compete because it hadn’t yet been established that she knew anything about the attack. However, she performed poorly and didn’t even come close to a medal.


5. The Salt Lake City Bid Scandal (Salt Lake City 2002)


Four years before the 2002 Winter Games, a scandal broke that forever changed how we look at the IOC. You see, it turned out that the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee pretty much bribed as many members of the 100 person strong International Olympic Committee as they possibly could. And I don’t just mean flying 70 of them to Salt Lake City and wining and dining them, which they did. They went much further than that, making cash payments to some and even paying school tuition for one IOC member’s child.

As a result of this, the SLOC  heads Tom Welch and David Johnson were kicked out (and eventually prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice and acquitted), and six IOC members were expelled.

More importantly, the scandal sparked an investigation into bids for previous Games. And , low and behold, it was discovered that Olympic Committees had been bribing IOC members for at least a decade.


4. Karl Schranz Scandal, Part I (Grenoble 1968)

4 herbert huber, karl schranz, jean-claude killy 1968 winter olympics - winter olympcs scandals and controversies

Austrian alpine skier Karl Schranz was involved in not one but two major Olympics scandals.

The first came in 1968 in Grenoble. France’s Jean-Claude Killy won the first two alpine skiing events and was going for a clean sweep in the third, the slalom. However, the event was held under poor conditions with low visibility, and after his first run Schranz claimed a “man in black” crossed his path and caused him to stop. The judges thus granted him a restart, and this time he posted the fastest time, which would have won him a gold medal.

However, a Jury of Appeal later annulled his second run when a judge came forward and said Schrantz had missed a gate before he encountered the mysterious “man in black,” thus disqualifying him. So Killy got the gold and the sweep, but people accused French officials of conspiring in the Frenchman’s favor.


3. Karl Schranz Scandal, Part II (Sapporo 1972)

3 Karl Schranz - winter olympics scandals and controversies

Just four years after the 1968 slalom scandal, Schranz got involved in another major Olympic scandal.

At that time Olympians were still supposed to be amateurs. Of course, many of them were not, because that was extremely impractical. However, they pretended they were, only getting money from sponsors on the down-low.

Enter Schranz. In 1972, a photo of him at a soccer game wearing a t-shirt with a coffee advertisement came out. The head of the IOC thus decided to make an example of Schranz by expelling him from the games, even though everyone knew he was hardly the only athlete getting paid under the table.

Did it have anything to do with what transpired during the previous Olympics? Who knows. But the President of the IOC at the time, Avery Brundage, was a fanatical proponent of the old aristocratic ideal of amateurism. So that certainly played a role.


2. Ice Dancing Judging Scandal (Nagano 1998)

2 pasha grishuk and evgeni platov gold ice dancing 1998 - winter olympics scandals and controversies

At the 1998 Winter Olympics, one of the ice dancing judges tape-recorded another just trying to arrange results in advance. This brought on a firestorm of criticism, and it was discovered that ice dancing judges have pre-ordained notions of who “should” win pretty much all the time. As a result of these revelations, one member of the IOC demanded that ice dancing be eliminated from the Games. Nevertheless, the results stood: Pasha Grishuk and Evgeni Platov took the gold.


1. Pairs Figure Skating Judging Scandal (Salt Lake City 2002)

1 gold medalists 2002 pairs figure skating - winter olympics scandals and controversies

Hey Olympics, remember that time you had to give the gold medal in pairs figure skating to two teams because the judges cheated? Yeah, that was embarrassing.

After Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finished their routine, everyone thought they’d won the gold medal. However, when the results came back it showed that Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze actually won, and everyone immediately realized something was fishy.

Soon after, the head of the International Skating Union’s Technical Committee confronted the French judge (Marie-Reine Le Gougne) back at her hotel room, where she broke down and admitted that the head of the French skating organization (Didier Gailhaguet) told her to vote for the Russians no matter what because he’d struck a deal to get the French team better results.

A few days later, after the Canadian and American press went nuts on the IOC, they announced that Sale and Pelletier’s silver medal would be upgraded to gold.