The Quick Report

15 Olympic Scandals That Rocked the World

The Olympics are the height of human athletic achievement. Countries set aside their differences to send their finest athletes to compete for glory in the pursuit of physical perfection. It’s inspiring stuff! But that doesn’t mean the contests are without controversy. Here are the 15 biggest Olympic scandals in history!

Jim Thorpe Is No Amateur

Image via Openverse

In the earlier days of the modern version of the Olympics, the committee required all participants to be amateur athletes. So, when Jim Thorpe won gold in the decathlon and pentathlon in 1912 after playing professional minor league baseball in 1909, there was a scandal in Stockholm and he was stripped of his awards.

Jimmy Carter’s Boycott

Image via Openverse

In 1980, 66 countries boycotted the Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet-Afghan War. This made the games very underwhelming, as many major athletes of the era were unable to attend. Some athletes from boycotting countries still attended under the Olympic Flag.

Soviet Response

Image via Openverse

Unsurprisingly, Moscow returned the favor in 1984 when Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics. While the Russians said they were boycotting the event out of security concerns, they didn’t fool anybody. They were sore about the 1980 boycott and wanted to make America’s next Olympic event look bad, too.

Ben Johnson

Image via Openverse

In 1988, sprinter Ben Johnson ironically quipped that no one could take the gold medal way from him after he broke a world record in the 100-meter dash. He was later subjected to a drug test which determined that he has used steroids, a substance explicitly banned by the Olympic committee. And, yes, they did take his medal away.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

Moviegoers who have seen I, Tonya know where this one is going. Figure skating is a cutthroat sport, and that was on full display when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked on orders from Tonya Harding’s husband. The attack almost led to her missing the 1994 Olympics and saw Harding banned from the US Figure Skating Association.

Bonaly’s Showstopper

Image via Openverse

In 1998, the unparalleled figure skater Surya Bonaly landed a physics-defying one-foot backflip that stunned the audience and judges into silence. Despite the move’s extreme technical difficulty, it cost her points. It turns out the move was against the rules due to how dangerous it can be!

Dong Fangxiao

Image via Openverse

The 2000 Olympics were unusually controversial. Chinese gymnast Dong Fangxiao, who performed very well during the event, lied to the Olympic committee about her age. Athletes must be at least 16 to compete, but she was 14 in 2000.

Low Vault

Image via Openverse

Also in the 2000 Summer Olympics, athletes learned after the event that the vault bar was set two inches lower than it should have been. This caused mayhem with their performances, with fans remarking that the entire field was performing under expectations that year. A make-up event took place later, giving the athletes another chance to prove themselves.

Marion Jones

Image via Openverse

In yet another scandal from the 2000 Olympics, Marion Jones revealed seven years after the event that she was using steroids when she won three gold medals in Sydney. After her 2007 confession, the Olympic committee stripped her of her awards, clearing her conscience but forever tarnishing her reputation.

Andreea Răducan

Image via Openverse

In further gymnastic controversy at the 2000 games, Andreea Răducan, a 16-year-old Romanian gymnast, won the gold medal in the all-around event. Her medal was stripped when a drug test showed pseudoephedrine in her system. It’s never been reinstated even though she later proved that pseudoephedrine was an ingredient in cough medicine she’d taken before the event.

Vote-Trading Scheme

Image via Openverse

During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a controversy broke out when French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne revealed that she’d been pressured into voting for the Russian figure skating team over the Canadians. Her revelation led to both teams being awarded gold medals and brought about major reforms in Olympic judging.

Angel Matos

Image via Openverse

Angel Matos made headlines for all the wrong reasons during the 2008 Summer Olympics. He took a break while awaiting medical attention for an injury sustained during a Taekwondo event and a judge disqualified him for waiting too long. In retaliation, he kicked the referee in the face, getting himself ejected from the event and the World Taekwondo Federation.

Badminton Game Fixing

white bird flying during daytime
Photo by Stephan Rothe via Unsplash

Eight different female badminton players were DQ’d in 2012 for their unsporting conduct in games early in the Olympic tournament. The athletes were accused of purposefully throwing their games in order to make their brackets softer in later rounds, resulting in controversy for their home countries of China, South Korea, and Indonesia.

Read More: The Winning Playbook: 10 Sports Stars Who Excelled in Business

Swimmers “Mugged”

Image via Openverse

During the Rio Olympics in 2016, US swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, and Jack Conger claimed to have been mugged by armed assailants at a gas station. Later, it was reported that they lied and were instead removed from the gas station by security guards for vandalizing the store and for public urination.

Read More: Magic Johnson Is Only the Fourth Athlete to Achieve This Incredible Milestone

Russian Steroid Use

Image via Openverse

The Olympic committee screened every Russian athlete ahead of the 2016 Olympics after hearing rumors that the many of the country’s participants were using steroids. While Russia denied these allegations, the committee dismissed 116 of 387 athletes due to their drug tests.

Read More: The 10 Best Sports Stars Turned Actor