Over the years the summer Olympics has given us incredible memories that will live on forever.
1896, Athens: Chariots of Cheating
During the inaugural Olympic marathon, Spyridon Belokas cheated by taking a carriage ride for a good chunk of the race. Yet somehow, even with that extra boost, he only managed to cross the finish line in third place…?
1900, Paris: Women?! Quele Scandale
Twenty years before American women could vote, they were allowed to compete in the Olympics, causing quite the stir. (That first year they could only compete in five events: tennis, equestrian, sailing, croquet, and golf, but it was still a pretty huge deal.)
1904, St. Louis: I Would’ve Won the Race, But the Car Broke Down
You think he would’ve learned from that guy in 1896, but…nope. In 1904, American marathon runner Fred Lorz stopped running after nine miles and hopped in his manager’s car to be driven for the next ELEVEN miles. The car broke down a few miles short of the finish line so Lorz walked the rest of the way to the stadium, prompting people who saw him arrive on foot to greet him as the victor. Rather than keep the charade up too long, he admitted that he wasn’t really the winner before he was found out…but not before indulging it for a little.
1908, London: Whose Rules Rule, Exactly?
What to do when two countries can’t agree on the rules of a particular event? You go with the home court protocol…even if you get a ton of backlash for it. That’s what happened in 1908 in the finals of the men’s 400-meter race, when American John Carpenter maneuvered to block Britain’s Wyndham Halswelle— legal under American track rules, but illegal in Great Britain. Carpenter was promptly disqualified, because the Olympics were being held in London. Yet the other two qualifiers left with Halswelle were American and were so angered by the ruling against Carpenter that they protested the ruling by also boycotting the final. In the end, Halswelle ran the redo of the final all by himself. (Spoiler: he won.)
1932, Los Angeles: What Was That Noise?
After winning the silver medal in dressage, Swedish athlete Bertil Sandström was moved to last place for allegedly using illegal methods of controlling his horse—making clicking noises, to be exact. Sandstrom insisted it was just the creaking of his saddle, so we’ll never know for sure what that sound actually was.
1936, Berlin: Gender Testing, and a Twist
In 1936, defending 100-meter dash gold medalist Stella Walsh of Poland lost the race to American Helen Stephens. Walsh’s supporters weren’t exactly good sports: They responded by crying out that Stephens’s time was simply too fast for a woman, and demanded that a gender examination be performed. Stephens submitted to the humiliating test, letting the Olympic committee perform a physical examination to confirm that she was a woman. The story doesn’t totally end there, crazily enough. Decades later, Stella Walsh was shot to death outside a Cleveland shopping mall in 1980, and when they performed an autopsy, it was discovered that Stella Walsh, actually, had male genitalia—not Helen Stephens.
1960, Rome: No Shoes Needed
In 1960, “barefoot” style running wasn’t a trend. But Ethiopian Abebe Bikila made barefoot running the talk of the entire world when he won the marathon sans footwear—which, despite all the nice shoes he’d been sent by Adidas, was actually the way he had trained for the race.
1960, Rome: The Repeat Offenders
During the fencing portion of the pentathlon, Tunisian athletes tried to pull a fast one on everyone…and failed. They attempted to secretly send out their expert swordsman each and every time instead of different people on the their team, and just hoped that no one would notice. The third time the same fencer came out, however, the hoax was discovered.
1960, Rome: Let’s Eyeball It?
American Lance Larson and Australian John Devitt finished the 100-meter freestyle swim within split seconds of each other. Back then, without any hi-tech gear to determine the winner, there was nothing to decide the victor other than the judges’ eyeballs, and no one could agree. Ultimately, after about a day, the judges gave the win to Devitt, even though Larson touched the side first.
1964, Tokyo: Gender Testing Isn’t Reliable
Ewa Kłobukowska, a Polish sprinter, competed in the 4×100 meter relay and the 100-meter sprint and took home a gold and a bronze medal, respectively. (That’s her on the right, above the 3, winning her bronze.) In 1967, she failed a gender test and was stripped of her 1964 medals. Yet, once again, the story doesn’t end there. After Klobukowska gave birth to her son years later, people realized that she must have had a genetic abnormality that made her have one chromosome too many. Gender testing: awful, inhumane, and flawed. No one wins.
1968, Mexico City: Body Language
GymnastVěraČáslavská became a heroine of the Czech people when she spent the medal ceremonies for the balance beam and floor events with her head turned down and away from the Soviet flag, in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of her country.
1968, Mexico City: The First Case of Performance-Enhancing Drugs
1968 was also the year that the first Olympic athlete tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete who lost his bronze medal for alcohol use (which, for many of us, is not a performance-enhancing drug).
1968, Mexico City: The Black Power Salute
During the medal ceremony for the 200-meter race, American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith wore black gloves and made the gesture to mimic the Black Power salute. (Their shoeless, socked feet was to represent black poverty.) It was quite the political statement about civil rights, and one that got them kicked out of the games by the IOC chair. (Little known fact: the silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, may look like he’s not participating, but he’s actually making a very big statement too by wearing a human rights badge on his uniform. Thirty-eight years later when Norman died, both Carlos and Smith were pallbearers at his funeral.)
1972, Munich: Wait…Who Is That Guy?
It may look like this guy is clearly leading the pack of marathon runners…and indeed that’s what everyone first thought when he was the first person seen sprinting into the stadium at the end of the marathon. But he was actually just a prankster German student who was not an Olympic athlete…like, at all. (The real winner was American Frank Shorter.)
1972, Munich: No Pros Allowed
Yep, in 1972, alpine skiing was a summer Olympics event. Austrian skier Karl Schranz was declared ineligible because he had been photographed at a soccer game wearing a T-shirt with a coffee advertisement printed on it. (Back in those days, you were still supposed to be an “amateur” to compete in the Olympics, and wearing an ad on your body means that you were a “professional.”)
1972, Munich: The Korbut Flip
1972 was the year that Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut performed a now-banned gymnastics move known as the “Korbut flip.” (On the uneven bars, the Korbut flip involves the gymnast standing on the high bar, doing a back flip and then re-grasping the bar.) It’s now outlawed because of the risk in performing it, but man, did it get people talking back then.
1972, Munich: Really Bad Refs
Yes, 1972 brought the first ever loss for Team USA basketball since the sport began Olympic play in 1936….but that wasn’t why it was such a big deal. It was the how of the loss: With just three seconds left on the clock, the Russians were down, and the officials got sloppy, giving them another chance to inbound the ball after unsuccessfully attempting it once. (That is not the way the game is usually played.) “Forty years later, it is still being replayed,” writes the New York Times of that watershed game, and it’s still disputed if they should’ve been allowed to inbound and hit the buzzer beater that won them the gold in a victory of 51-50 over the disgruntled Americans.
1976, Montreal: A Score of WHAT Now?
1976: The year Nadia Comaneci of Romania became the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event. It was such an unprecedented feat that they didn’t even have a way to relay what had happened, with the score registering as “1.00” on the electronic scoreboard because 9.99 was the board’s limit!
1976, Montreal: Boris the Cheat
Boris Onishchenko, a Ukrainian pentathlete, was the three-time world champion in the event, but that still didn’t stop him from cheating at the ’76 Olympics. By tampering with the sensors on his equipment, he made it seem like he was making contact with his opponents when he really wasn’t at all. His scheme was uncovered almost immediately, resulting in his ejection from the Olympics and newspapers dubbing him “Boris the Cheat.”
1980, Moscow: The Bras d’honneur
Polish pole vaulter Władysław Kozakiewicz won the gold medal in his event, but then made himself even more famous by showing an obscene bras d’honneur gesture in all four directions to the jeering Soviet public. As a result, he was almost stripped of his medal…but was a hero to the Polish people.
1984, Los Angeles: Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?
During the women’s 3000-meter race, American Mary Decker collided with South African Zola Budd, causing Decker to fall completely and lose the race. Decker blamed Budd, and Budd blamed Decker, and no one ever fully took the blame.
1984, Los Angeles: The Not-So-Convincing Body Double
If you can’t compete…send in your twin? That’s what Madeline de Jesus, the Puerto Rican track and field athlete, was thinking when she was injured after the long jump event; she tried to send in her twin sister, Margaret, to run in a qualifying heat while she recovered. But as soon as the Puerto Rican coach got wind of her intentions, he shut the whole thing down.
1988, Seoul: First Stop, Head Injury, Next Stop…Gold?
You can see it clearly here: American diver Greg Louganis is hitting his head on the diving board in the preliminary rounds of the Olympics. He suffered a concussion after the gasp-worthy accident, and yet…he still went on the win the gold, earning the victory by a margin of 25 points.
1988, Seoul: Ben Johnson
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the 100-meter race (that’s him with his arm up in the air, celebrating) but the sweet feeling of victory didn’t last long. He was disqualified for doping three days later and promptly stripped of his medal.
1988, Seoul: Knockout Decision
When the judges declared that American Roy Jones Jr. officially lost the championship bout to South Korean Park Si-Hun, it was an outrage: Most people there though Roy Jones Jr. would’ve clearly been the winner—and with good reason. Jones pummeled Park for three rounds, landing 86 punches to Park’s 32. (Later, judges admitted to having been wined and dined by the South Korean officials and feeling pressure to award a medal to their athlete.)
2000, Sydney: Measuring Up
True: that gymnast is high up in the air. Also true: that vault is low to the ground…too low. At the 2000 Olympics, Australian gymnast Alanna Slater speculated that the vault wasn’t positioned at the right height, and when they measured it, she was right: It was two inches lower than it should’ve been, which is why it was messing with people’s routines. Ultimately, five gymnasts were given the option to redo the event, but it definitely caused disruption and threw many off their game before the error was caught.
2000, Sydney: Always Check the Labels
When Romanian gymnast Andreea Răducan asked her coach for something to cure her cold during the Olympics, he gave her Nurofen, an over-the-counter cold medicine…and effectively ruined her whole 2000 Olympics by not checking the ingredients list. Apparently Nurofen contains pseudophedrine, an illegal substance for Olympic athletes (though it’s just a nasal decongestant!). After being drug tested, Răducan was stripped of one of her gold medals for the violation.
2004, Athens: Radcliffe Faces Scrutiny
Twenty two miles into the marathon, British athlete Paula Radcliffe collapsed and was unable to finish the race. She faced lots of scrutiny from the press that she should’ve just pressed on and at least try to walk it, and debate still continues as to whether she pulled out because she knew she would not catch Japanese winner Mizuki Noguchi, or because she actually physically could not go on. But even the fact that people questioned her “intentions” was a scandal, with many people saying the British press was being unfairly hard on Radcliffe because she was a woman.
2008, Beijing: the Age-Old Debate
He Kexin, a Chinese gymnast, won two gold medals during the 2008 Olympics…all the while dealing with speculation that she wasn’t allowed to compete. Though her passport stated she was 16 years old at the time of the Olympics, several other registration systems featured a 1994 birthday for her, making her 14 during the Olympics and ineligible. Speaking to reporters after the 2008 Olympic team final, Kexin said, “My real age is 16. I don’t care what other people say,” and the IOC agreed to leave it at that.
2008, Beijing: Official Attack
After he was disqualified for going overtime on an allotted time-out, Cuban Taekwondo athlete Angel Matos put his martial arts skills to the wrong use and attacked two officials. Both he and his coach were banned from the Olympics…for life.
2012, London: the Waiting Game
South Korean épée fencer Shin Lam had a one-point lead over German Britta Heidemann in the semifinal match-up when the clock accidentally gave the German a split-second advantage. The time glitch was enough to essentially give Heidemann the victory over Lam, and then―since the official rules of fencing state that once you leave the mat you accept the result―Lam had to stay on the mat while judges reviewed their appeal…for an hour. Even still, in the end it was ruled a German victory.
2012, London: Too Many Americans
American gymnast Jordyn Wieber finished fourth overall in the individual all-around gymnastics final qualifiers, but still did not make the finals. Why? An obscure Olympics rule that no country may have more than two gymnasts competing for the all-around title. Since the second and third place athletes were also American, gymnasts from other countries with lesser scores were sent to the Olympics instead of Wieber.