When you gather 10,500 athletes from 205 nations together for a major international sports competition, you can expect a good scandal or two. But the 2012 Summer Olympics are just one week old, and we’ve already seen four fairly historic controversies—two regarding the outcomes of events, and one that almost kept an event from happening at all.
So do these scandals from the 2012 London Summer Games really compare to the other big scandals throughout Olympic history?
Surprisingly, yes. And to prove it, today we bring you the 15 biggest summer olympics scandals.
But before we get started, we should note that the only scandals considered for this list were ones that pertained to actual competition and arose during the Games. Thus, you won’t find scandals that sprung up long after the Games were over, like the 2007 Marion Jones steroid scandal that stripped her of her medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Nor will you find things like the USA’s boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, or the murder of 11 Israelis by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. These are all notable stories, obviously, but what we’re going for here is stuff that marred the Games while they were ongoing.
So, with that said, let’s get to it…
You already know this one. The day before the 2012 Games officially started, the North Korean women's soccer team was schedules to play their first game against Colombia. However, before the match, stadium officials mistakenly put images of the South Korean flag next to bios of the North Korean players.
Now, this may seems like no big deal—just an honest mistake or, at worst, an example of gross incompetence. But in case you haven't noticed, the folks running North Korea are a little "sensitive" (i.e., batsh*t crazy) about any perceived slight. So a gaffe like this is probably enough to spark a new flurry of North Korean military maneuvers in South Korean waters or some such nonsense.
15. The Flag Incident (2012)
At the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, Puerto Rican track and field athlete Madeline de Jesus tweaked a hammy in the long jump. It wasn't a serious injury; she just needed to rest it a day or to. But she didn't want to let her 4x400 relay team down by pulling out of the preliminary heat. Luckily, her twin sister Margaret—also a track athlete but did not on the PR team—was in Los Angeles to watch her sis compete. So Madeline asked Margaret to pretend to be her and run in the preliminary 4x400m relay heat. Margaret said yes, and they got away with it...for a while. Before the finals, their coach found out what happened and withdrew the team.
14. Twins (1984)
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, at the height of the American Civil Rights movement, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos took gold and bronze in the 200m dash. Everyone was pretty excited for Smith in particular, because he became the first man to run the race in under 20 seconds (19.83). However, people were scandalized when, after receiving their medals on the Olympic podium, the two black men raised gloved fists—which was the solute of the Black Panther movement. This was scandalous for a couple of reasons. For one, people did not and still do not like it when athletes "politicize" the Games. For another, the "Black Power" movement was on the more aggressive end of the Civil Rights spectrum. Of course, hindsight has helped us realize these men were not radicals, but people trying use their (literal) platform to better the lives of others. So now they're often considered heroes.
13. Black Power Salute (1968)
London hosted the Olympics for the first time in 1908, and those games saw a major controversy in the men's 400m race. American John Carpenter was disqualified from the final after he maneuvered to block Britain's Wyndham Halswelle. This move was legal under American track rules, but illegal in Great Britain. And since the Games were held in Great Britain, they were operating under their rules. (They obviously didn't have all the kinks worked out of international athletic competition yet.) Thus Carpenter, who won the race, was disqualified, and the decision was made to run the final again. However, the other two competitors were also American, and they withdrew from the race in protest. So Halswelle ran the final all by himself.
12. Whose Rules? (1908)
The modern pentathlon is probably the strangest event at the Summer Olympics. It was invented by the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, and it involved five separate events: pistol shooting, horse jumping, freestyle swimming, épée fencing, and cross-country running.
Why, yes, Monsieur de Coubertin was an aristocrat. How did you know?
Anyway, in 1976, Russian modern pentathlete Boris Onyshchenko created a huge scandal when he cheated during the fencing portion of the competition. You see, the épées had electronic sensors that detected when a touch was made against an opponent, and Onyshchenko had rigged his épée with a button he could press to give himself points whenever he wanted. But during a bout against a British fencer, Onyshchenko got a little trigger happy and the British contingent discovered his scam.
11. Modern Pentathlon Cheater (1976)
The USA's Mary Decker was the heavy favorite in the 3000m race at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. But heading into the home stretch of the race, she bumped into South African Zola Budd (who was competing for Great Britain, since South Africa was banned from the Olympics at that time) and fell, hurting her hip and taking her out of the race.
So what was the controversy? Well, after the face at a press conference, Decker flat out blamed Budd for the collision. Even though the official rules state that the trailing runner is responsible for avoiding collisions, there's also an unofficial convention among distance runners that you don't cut in front of someone unless your at least one whole length ahead. So this controversy was all about which rule was superior—the official one, or the unofficial one.
In the end, officials went with the official rules, and Budd—who finished the race in 7th—had her result vindicated.
10. The Collision (1984)
Romania's Andreea Răducan helped her team win the all-around gold medal at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, then won the individual all-around gold medal for herself. However, one day after the gymnastics competition at the Games had concluded, the IOC declared that Răducan had tested positive for an illegal substance and, as a result, was to be stripped of her individual gold medal.
The illegal substance? Yeah, that was pseudophedrine, the nasal decongestant. Răducan had a cold, and the team doctor gave her some cold medicine. However, at that time, pseudophedrine was illegal, since it's in the amphetamine family of drugs.
9. Pharmaceutical Problem (2000)
At #8 we have another gymnastics controversy, only this one comes from this year's Summer Games. American gymnast Joryn Wieber was the gold medal favorite heading into the 2012 London Olympics, and she finished 4th overall in the qualifying for the individual all-around gymnastics final. However, because of an asinine rule that says no country may have more than two gymnasts competing for the all-around title, the fourth-best gymnast in the world (on that day) did not make the finals. Whey? Because the 2nd and 3rd place gymnasts were also American. And Wieber wasn't the only one who got screwed by this rule. Anastasia Grishina of Russia, Jennifer Pinches of Great Britain, Jinnan Yao of China also got bumped for lesser performances thanks to this rule.
8. Stupid Rules (2012)
Here's another scandal from London 2012. South Korean épée fencer Shin Lam had a one-point lead over Germany's Britta Heidemann with one second remaining in their semifinal match. And it's virtually impossible to record a strike in only one second...unless the clock sticks for just a moment and you get extra time. Then it's totally possible. And that's what happened: the clock didn't start immediately, Heidemann got an extra fraction of a second, and scored a touch to win the match.
Then it got crazier. The official rules of fencing state that, once you leave the mat you accept the result. But Lam and the South Korean team certainly did not accept the result. So Lam had to stay on the mat while judges reviewed their appeal. And that took an hour, the first 15 minutes of which Lam spent balling, out there in front of the whole world. And in the end the judges still didn't make the right decision, giving the victory of Heidemann. It was a travesty.
7. The Longest Second (2012)
If Shin Lam thought waiting an hour for a decision on an appeal was ridiculous, she should talk to American swimmer Lance Larson. At the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, Larson was part of an extremely close finish with Australia's John Devitt. Since this was long before automated timing mechanisms determined results, they had to rely on judges at the actual event.
It worked like this: each lane had three judges with three stop watches. After a race, if the winner wasn't obvious, the three judges at each lane would confer and settle on a time for each swimmer. At the 1960 100m freestyle, all three judges at Devitt's lane clocked him at 55.2 seconds. The three judges at Larson's lane clocked him at 55.1, 55.1, and 55.0. So Larson won the race, right?
Nope. After a day of deliberation, with no replay available, a single Swiss judge inexplicably ruled Devitt the winner.
6. Who Touched First? (1960)
Poland's Stella Walsh won gold in the 100m dash at the 1932 Olympics, but at the 1936 Games in Berlin, she lost to American Helen Stephens. However, Walsh's supporters, who were a little biased, said Stephens's time was too fast for a woman, and demanded that they perform a gender examination—which was probably pretty embarrassing for Stephens who was, in fact, a female.
That's crazy enough on its own, but in 1980 it got crazier. That year Walsh was shot to death outside a Cleveland shopping mall, and when they performed an autopsy, it was discovered that—yep, that's right—Stella Walsh had male genitalia.
5. She's a Man, Baby (1936)
Here's the biggest scandal from this year's Olympic Games so far. The other day, four doubles badminton teams—two from South Korea, one from China (the world champs), and one from Indonesia—were thrown out of the Olympics for throwing matches. But they weren't in the back pockets of gamblers, or anything like that. This is the first year there is a qualifying round before a knock-out round in Olympic badminton, and they were trying to get more favorable match-ups...not that this makes it any better. The Olympics are supposed to be about competition, fellowship, and integrity, and this tactic fails to meet any of those ideals.
4. Bad Badminton (2012)
Canadian Ben Johnson obliterated the competition in the 100m dash final at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul with a world record time of 9.78 second. Canadians everywhere were ecstatic, hardly used to success in such prominent events at the summer Olympics. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. Just three days later, it was discovered that Johnson had tested positive for steroids. Thus his gold medal was taken away and he was banned for life.
3. The Shame of Canada (1988)
This for 16 years, the 1972 men's basketball final was the most controversial result in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Of course, the fact that it was a game contested by the USA and USSR, and thus had Cold War overtones, fanned the flames of the scandal.
This video explains what happened perfectly well, but here's the gist of it: the USSR, down 2 points, got three chances to inbound the ball under their own basket with 3 seconds on the clock thanks to incompetent officiating. And on the third chance, they got the ball down the court and scored the final bucket for a 51-50 victory. Watch the video, though. It's good.
2. Third Time's the Charm (1972)
The biggest scandal in Olympic history didn't get quite the hype of our last entry, since the two countries involved weren't mortal enemies. However, the result is more outrageous.
At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, American Roy Jones Jr. dominated South Korea's Park Si-Hun throughout the light middleweight gold medal bout, landing 86 punches to Park's 32. However, somehow, the five judges gave Park a 3-2 decision and the gold medal.
Right after the bout, the Moroccan judge admitted that the decision was a mistake, and that he just voted for Park Si-Hun because he was certain the other judges would give the bout to Jones, and he didn't want him to suffer the indignity of a blow-out in front of his home crowd. But it turns out that three of the other judges were wined and dined by South Korean officials before the bout, which probably had something to do with the other two votes.
To this day, this is not just the biggest controversy in Olympic history, but one of the most controversial boxing decisions of all time.