Biggest scandals in the Olympic Games

Incidents of fraud, competition controversies and even political massacres have tainted the sanctity of the Olympics over its 29 editions. Here’s a look at the biggest scandals in Games history.

From doping scandals to political massacres, the Olympic Games has seen them all.

In its rich history, the Olympics Games have seen meteoric highs and lows. Incidents of fraud, competition controversies and even political massacres have tainted the sanctity of the sporting spectacle.

Here’s a look at the biggest scandals that hit the Olympic Games over its 29 editions;

1908: Halswelle’s gold in Olympics’ only walkover 

In a clash of rules in the 1908 London Games, the 400-metre race final turned out to be a dreadful affair. America’s John Carpenter was disqualified for elbowing his British opponent Wyndham Hallswelle. While Carpenter’s antics were believed to be legal under his native rules, the British officials called him out for the same.

Britains's Wyndam Hallswelle remains as the only athlete to win gold through walkover in Olympics history.    -  GETTY IMAGES


A replay of the final was marked with Hallswele set to race against two Americans, William Robbins and John Taylor, who decided to boycott the race. It led to Hallswelle being raised to gold while other spots were left vacant in the only Olympic walkover in history.

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1912: America’s ‘original’ loses his Olympic double

The first native American to win an Olympic gold medal, Jim Thorpe was a jack of all trades - his gold medal victories in the pentathlon and decathlon events at the 1912 Stockholm Games bearing testimony to that fact.

However, in an agonising decision that followed, Thorpe lost his medals after being found to have played professional baseball before the Olympics - a practice against the rules of amateurism of the Games back then. Thorpe died in 1953, and the IOC reinstated his gold medals 30 years later, stating that a protest against Thorpe’s Olympics appearance was not made within 30 days of the 1912 Games. 

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1932: Flying Finn denied a ticket

In his three Olympics appearances in 1920, ‘24 and ‘28, Finland’s Paavo Nurmi racked up an enviable collection of nine gold and three silver medals. However, as Nurmi set sights on a fourth Games, Swedish officials questioned his amateur status - a necessity to compete at the Olympics back then.

Paavo Nurmi's nine Olympics gold medals remains a joint-record among track and field athletes to this day.   -  GETTY IMAGES


'The Flying Finn' had to relent to the IAAF Council, a couple of days before the Los Angeles Games. Although never recognised as a professional, Nurmi was soon forced into retirement by the decision. Nurmi’s moment of sweet revenge against Sweden arrived 20 years later at the Helsinki Games where he lit the Olympic Flame.

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1956: Hungarian-Soviet bloodbath

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 resulted in a victory for the invading Soviet Union and was followed by the Melbourne Olympics soon after. The IOC’s decision to permit the Soviets into the Games drew criticism from multiple nations who boycotted the event in protest, but that was not all.

Blood spurts from Hungarian Ervin Zador's face after a violent water polo semifinal against the Soviet Union in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Throughout the match, which Hungary won 4-0, elbows, knees and knuckles were used freely in the match.   -  The Hindu


The Hungarians went up against the Soviets in the semifinal of the water polo event in a brutal contest. The pool soon turned red as Hungary’s Ervin Zador was punched in the eye by the Soviet’s Valentin Prokopov. A feisty crowd also got involved in the brawl that ensued with Hungary leading 4-0 in the "Blood in the Water" bout. Hungary’s staunch reply to the Soviet uprising in its nation later led it to the gold medal in the event. 

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1968: Mexico Massacre and the Black Power Salute

Days ahead of the Mexico Olympics, thousands of students marched on the streets of Tlatelolco in Mexico City against the whims of the ruling government. In the bid for a ‘peaceful’ Games through suppression, the government shunned the protest with military force, resulting in the death of several students. 

On the podium, Tommie Smith (R) and John Carlos (M) thrusted their black-gloved fists into the air as the national anthem played, a defiant protest against racism in the United States and human rights violations everywhere.   -  AP


The Games also witnessed other statements of protest: African-American duo Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised a black-gloved fist - famously known as the Black Power Salute - on the podium after winning gold and bronze in the 200-m sprint in response to the civil unrest and atrocities against black Americans in the US. They gained support from their Australian rival Peter Norman who finished second for the gesture that occurred while the American national anthem echoed in the stadium.

Czechoslovakia's Vera Caslavska stellar Olympics performance saw her add four golds and two silvers to her tally in 1968.   -  The Hindu


Celebrated Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska expressed her statement of opposition to the Soviet-led invasion of her country on the podium. In a record gold haul which saw her win four golds, controversy marred the Balance Beam event in which she finished second. Caslavska bowed down and turned away from the Soviet flag while she stood on the podium for the medal ceremony.

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1972: Black September in the ‘Cheerful Games’; Soviet robs a US gold

The second week of the 1972 Munich Olympics witnessed the death of 11 members of the Israeli contingent besides a West German policeman at the hands of the Palestinian terrorist organisation, Black September.

The “Cheerful Games” as it was called, soon turned into a remorseful event with the Games suspended after the initial hours of the attack. However, the IOC president Avery Brundage commanded that the “Games must go on” after the situation was brought into control despite the death of the athletes.

A crowd of several hundred mourners gathered in Munich's former Olympic village to commemorate the assacination of eleven Israell Olympic athletes by Palaestinian terrorists on September 05, 1972.   -  The Hindu


The Games also played host to an infamous basketball match - the Soviet Union vs USA final. The US was leading 50-49 against its arch-rival in a palpitating contest with three seconds left on the clock. A jubilant US side then had the final moments replayed thrice with stoppages due to a faulty time reset and the Soviets protesting for a timeout.

Soviet Union's Alexander Belov scores the winning basket to push his team past the United States 51-50, becoming the first team in history ever to beat the United States at the Olympics.   -  AP


The game ended in the Soviets stealing a win on a 51-50 margin to take gold. The Americans refused its silver medal, a first after winning seven straight golds. The medals remain uncollected and confined to a vault in Switzerland to this day.

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1980, 1984 - the US, Soviets boycott one another

Ahead of the 1980 Moscow Games, US president Jimmy Carter announced a US boycott from the event in response to the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan, with several other countries following suit. The Games witnessed a lowly 80 participating nations while 29 countries that boycotted the event, featured in an ‘Olympics Boycott Games’ - the Liberty Bell Classic in Philadelphia.

A massive crowd of 90,000 people at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on July 28, 1984 to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Olympic Games.   -  The Hindu


In a cold response four years later during the Los Angeles Olympics, the Soviet Union and its allies pulled out of the Games, citing security concerns and staged its own ‘Friendship Games’ across nine countries. 

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2000: Trouble in the Vault

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the women’s all-around gymnastics final had a bizarre start with numerous stars falling flat back on the ground in the first two rounds. Later, Australian gymnast Allana Slater pointed out an error in the set-up to find out the vault was hung two inches lower than its usual standard. The organisers swiftly corrected their error before handing a lifeline to the gymnasts who were affected by the mishap. 

Britain's Annika Reeder was one among few gymnasts to suffer an injury due to the faulty vault during the women's gymnastics individual All-Around.   -  GETTY IMAGES


The USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi lashed out at the fiasco and said: "It's unthinkable to have this happen at the Olympic Games. The team’s coordinator added, “this has never happened even in a local competition. Never in history. It's unacceptable in the Olympics."

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2008: Angel’s moment of madness

Cuba’s Angel Matos experienced a staggering end to his taekwondo career in the bronze medal match in the Beijing Olympics. The 2000 Games gold medallist lost his bout to Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilanov after the Swedish referee Chakir Chelbat disqualified Matos for a time violation.

Cuba's Angel Matos kicks the referee, Chakir Chelbat of Sweden, after Chelbat disqualified Matos for an extended injury time out during the men's +80kg bronze medal match.   -  GETTY IMAGES


The Cuban who suffered a foot injury failed to return to the arena within the allotted time, resulting in the referee’s ultimate decision. An enraged Matos then landed a kick on Chelbat’s face before punching another judge in the arms while also spitting on the floor of the sanctified arena. The ugly incident marked the end of his career after the IOC handed him a life ban.

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2016: Russia dipped in dope

Russia’s fall from grace in the sporting scene began after investigations on a state-driven doping program dating back to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) series of investigations resulted in the ban of its Russian arm for non-compliance to the World Anti-Doping Code. Consequently,  278 athletes were cleared to 111 athletes from Russia were expelled from the Rio Games while 278 athletes participated under the Russian flag.

111 athletes from Russia were expelled from the Rio Games due to doping charges while 278 athletes participated under the Russian flag.   -  GETTY IMAGES



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