April 6th marked the 120 anniversary of the Modern Olympics. The message of the International Olympic Committee is to spread peace, good sportsmanship, and unity throughout the world. However, things don’t always work out the way they’re intended. It’s only fitting that we would come up with a list of the most controversial Olympians ever. Now, controversy isn’t always a bad thing. People need to express themselves – it’s human nature and what better way to do it then on one of the grandest stages of them all…
There were several ways to get on this list. An Olympian had to have a medal or record stripped from the books. An athlete must have lost an sponsorship(s) or created a political firestorm. He or she must have said or done something to create an investigation into their actions or start some kind of frenzy among the media. Lastly, if they were disqualified or caused a debate on whether their records and awards should be removed from history, they qualified for the list.
Honorable mentions include McKayla Maroney’s “I’m not impressed” face, racist tweets by Greek long jumper Paraskevi Papachristou and Swedish footballer Michel Morganella in ’12. Even though they weren’t athletes, South Korean officials helped their boxer Park Si-Hun defeat Roy Jones Jr. by bribing judges.
With the Summer Games in Brazil this year, who knows what will happen. Will athletes complain about the Zika virus? Will there be any political statements or protests happening? What I do know is something or someone will create a viral media storm. From the first modern day Olympics to the last, there has always be some kind of controversy. We can only wait and see but in the meantime, check out the list below.
25. Spiridon Belokas
Not much is known about one of the original Olympians of the modern era. As a marathon runner, Belokas represented Greece in the biggest event during the Athens Olympics of 1896. He finished in third place but spectators claimed he was riding a carriage for a stretch of the race. Belokas fessed up and was disqualified from the event. Lucky for him, Greece overlooked his shenanigans since fellow Greek athletes Spiridon Louis and Kharilaos Vasilakos came in first and second respectfully. Belokas will forever be known as the first athlete to stir up controversy at the games.
24. Frederick Lorz
Lorz ‘pulled a Belokas’ and cheated to win a marathon at the 1904 Summer Olympics. The New York native allegedly became tired in the middle of the marathon and asked his manager to give him a ride for the rest of the race. The vehicle broke down but Lorz was still the first to cross the finish line. Initially he accepted the honors but then came clean, claiming he was playing a joke. He was banned from the Amateur Athletic Union but was later reinstated and won the Boston Marathon in 1905.
23. Dora Ratjen
This German athlete finished fourth in the women’s high jump at the ’36 Summer Olympics. No one knew it at the time but Dora was born a male. How it slipped by the Nazis beats me, but it happened. He later changed his name to Heinrich and claimed his parents always treated him as a girl. The IOC didn’t write him off the record books but he did lose the gold medal which he won at the European Athletics Championships in ’39, along with a world record in the high jump.
22. Cian O’Connor
He was once the pride of Ireland, becoming the only Irishmen to win a medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics. He and his horse, Waterford Crystal, won the gold medal in the equestrian showjumping event. Several months later, the Federation Equestrian International found a prohibited substance in Warerford Crystal’s A-sample. A B-urine sample was needed to strip him of the medal, but mysteriously went missing on its way to a testing facility. In the end, O’Connor claimed a vet administered medication to the horse and didn’t know there was a banned substance in the medicine. His gold medal was taken and he was erased from the record books.
21. Jackie Chamoun
One of only two athletes to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics for Lebanon, Chamoun became more famous for her looks on the slopes than for her talents. In 2011, she participated in a topless photo shoot on a snowy mountain for an Austrian calendar publication. For some reason, her photos resurfaced in 2014, causing a lot of commotion in the conservative country. Instead of praising her for being the only female to represent the country, Lebanon’s Sport and Youth minister opened an investigation into the photos. Chamoun claimed that behind-the-scenes content showing her breasts was not supposed to become public.
20. Jim Thorpe
This guy exceled at any sport he played. He played American football, basketball and baseball during his prime years. He would go on to win gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon competitions at the 1912 Olympics for the United States. Once the IOC found out that he was paid to play baseball, his medals were taken and he was banned from the Olympics. For the young ones out there, you might not know but once upon a time you couldn’t compete in the Olympics if you were a professional athlete. Thirty years after his death, the IOC changed the amateurism rules and his achievements were rightfully reinstated.
19. John Carpenter
Before Carpenter made his name in the movies he was……. just kidding. American sprinter John Carpenter was involved in one of the earliest scandals of the modern day Olympics. During the 1908 Summer Games, Carpenter made it to the men’s 400 meter finals. Out of the four runners, Carpenter came in first but was disqualified by a judge for purposely cutting off British runner Wyndham Halswelle. In the United States, this was legal but it was not the case in Britain. The powers-that-be decided to re-run the race without him which resulted in Carpenter’s countrymen, William Robbins and John Taylor boycotting the competition. This protest left Halswelle with the gold and it was the only time a walkover happened in the Olympics.
18. Stella Walsh
Also known as Stanisława Walasiewicz, the Olympian represented Poland in track-and-field at the ’32 and ’36 Summer Games. During the ’36 Olympics, she was accused of being a man and was required to take a genital test. She passed with flying colors. Sadly, she was killed during a robbery in 1980. Controversy then began as the autopsy proved that Walsh did have male genitalia. A separate investigation found her to have both 45XO and 46XY chromosomes. Some called to have all of her world titles and accomplishments stripped but that didn’t happen. The case of her biological sex is still unsolved to this day. Regardless, Walsh is a member of both the U.S. Track and Field and National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
17. Andreea Răducan
During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Răducan became the first to win the all-round gold medal for Romania since ‘76. Days later, the IOC announced that Răducan had been tested positive for a banned substance. She was stripped of her gold medal but pleaded innocent throughout the process. The banned substance was pseudoepherdrine but Răducan claimed in her book, The Other Side of the Medal, that several hours before her event she took Nurofen, an over-the-counter medication for a cold. In Sept of 2000, the Court of Arbitration for Sport concluded that Răducan did not gain advantage by using the drug but they still upheld the IOC’s decision to strip her of the medal.
16. Greg Louganis
Louganis conquered the springboard and platform diving events by winning gold medals at the ’84 and ’88 Olympics. In ‘95, he came out publicly that he was gay and HIV-positive. Many sponsors dropped him and this controversy brought up his past at the Seoul Olympics. During a springboard preliminary round, Louganis struck his head and started to bleed in the pool. Even though the chemicals in the water could potentially kill the HIV strain, many were upset that he didn’t reveal that he was HIV-positive in the first place. Louganis hasn’t wavered and has become a leader among the LGBT movement.
15. Ara Abrahamian
The Swedish wrestler was a veteran of the Olympics by the time the 2008 Summer Games rolled around. During the Greco-Roman 84 kg semi-finals event, Abrahamian lost to Andrea Minguzzi but controversy ensued. Judges gave a point to Abrahamian but retracted it, pointing out that his hand was in the blue zone. In most wrestling matches, having a hand in the blue doesn’t deserve a point reduction. Abrahamian and his coaches also complained that Minguzzi’s body was in the blue zone during the match and was not penalized. Officials refused to review video evidence and Minguzzi obtained the gold, while Abrahamian received the bronze. In an act of protest, he threw the medal onto the ground at the podium and walked off. Abrahamian, his coach, Leo Mylläri, and the Swedish Federation of Wrestling received suspensions in some way or form from FILA. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the suspensions in 2009.
14. Karl Schranz
The Austrian skier was a beast on the slopes but he’s more famous for his feud with IOC. During the ‘68 Grenoble Olympics, Schranz was competing against the hosts’ countryman, Jean-Claude Killy, in three events. Killy took gold in the first two events but Schranz’s time on the first run of the third event was right behind his rival. On the second run, Schranz faced rough weather conditions and was also delayed by an official which affected his time. He pleaded for a reset on the second run, which he was awarded, but this was later over-turned because during the first attempt at run two, he missed a gate before the official delayed him. In conspiratorial fashion, Schranz accused French officials of helping Killy to win all three events. Schranz was later disqualified from his fourth Olympics in 1972 because the IOC classified him as a professional.
13. Arash Miresmaeili
The Iranian judo athlete was the favorite to win gold in the 2004 Athens Games. His first match was against Israeli’s Ehud Vaks. When he found out that he had to face an Israeli, he decided to go on an eating spree. He was disqualified from the competition for being over the weight limit. His reason for tanking the event was because he wanted to protest Israel’s policies against Palestine. For stirring up politics on one of the grandest stages, he was rewarded by Iran with a check for $115,000 (the amount the gold medalist would have earned in the event).
12. Borys Onyshchenko
As a pentathlon athlete, he helped the Soviet Union win medals in Mexico City and Munich but Onyshchenko wasn’t done there. He was aiming for success at the ‘76 Olympic Games. In fourth place and with the Soviet Union trailing Britain after the first of five events, fencing was next. Onyshchenko was a fencing guru, yet he decided to cheat anyway. He rigged his electric épée (sword) in a way that would allow him to register a touch without actually hitting his opponent. The British team caught wind of this and his modified épée was taken to be examined later. He still won the event by a large margin. After finding the weapon to be illegally tampered with, he was banned from the competition. The Soviet Union gave him a harsher punishment by fining him, kicking him out of the army and stripping away all his sporting achievements.
11. Madeline and Margaret de Jesus
In a story straight out of Hollywood, the twin de Jesus sisters successfully pulled off a switch at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Margaret was representing Puerto Rico during the long jump but sustained an injury. She couldn’t compete in the 4×400-meter relay so she asked her sister, Madeline, to substitute for her. Madeline was also an Olympian, participating in the 400 meter event. The ruse actually worked and the team advanced. When their head coach learned about the switch-a-roo, he pulled his team out of the finals. Talk about a Hollywood ending.
10. Ángel Matos
In one of the most immature and stupid actions an Olympian has ever done at the Games, Cuban taekwondo specialist, Ángel Matos, intentionally front-kicked the official during his match with Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. It happened during the 2008 Olympics and a broken toe was the reason behind the outrage. Matos sustained the injury during the match and took a medical timeout. Under taekwondo rules, you’re only allowed one minute for a medical timeout. The minute passed and Swedish ref, Chakir Chelbat, called the match. Former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, justified Matos actions, claiming there was a conspiracy against Cuban athletes.
9. Bode Miller
After pulling off an impressive performance as an alpine ski racer in the 2002 Winter Olympics, Miller was destined to be a poster boy for the United States in’06. He was racking up wins in competitions leading up to the Winter Games and most thought he had a chance to obtain a gold medal or two. Then, 60 Minutes happened, and Miller tarnished his image by his own accord. “Sometimes I’m disciplined, but I like to be a total slacker, too. I party hard, but I train hard,” said Miller in the interview. Many perceived his attitude as a negative and an embarrassment to the sport. His performance dipped that year but he ultimately came back to be one of the most successful athletes in ‘10 Olympics.
8. Michael Phelps
When you become successful, especially in sports, everything you do is placed under a microscope. Michael Phelps is the most successful Olympian to ever walk the earth. He participated in the 2000, ’04, ’08, and ’12 Summer Olympics as a swimmer, holding many records including most medals ever for an Olympian with 18. In 2004, he was charged and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. In ’09, a photo leaked of him smoking out of a water pipe at a college campus. He lost his Kellogg’s deal because of it. More recently, in 2014, he was arrested again for driving drunk. His status as the God of swimming has created a frenzy among the media, making him one of the most controversial Olympians today.
7. Ben Johnson
The Canadian sprinter won the 100m final at the Summer Olympics in ’88 with a record breaking time of 9.79 seconds. He was considered a national hero, as he became the first Canadian sprinter to win the event since Percy Williams in 1928. He even received a phone call from former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Then, Park Jong-sei of the Olympic Doping Control Center ended the parade by finding a banned substance in Johnson’s sample. Johnson admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of his medal. Johnson claimed that he took the drugs because it was the only way to compete with the top athletes.
6. Dong Fangxiao
When I was 14 years old, I was worried about High School, played video games, and bummed around my town with my friends. When Fangxiao was 14 years old, she was helping China win a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. The only problem, she was under the age limit to compete in the Olympics. The International Gymnastics Federation claimed she had falsified her information so she can compete in the Summer Games. It took a decade for the IOC to strip the bronze medal away from China, rewarding it instead to the fourth place finisher, the United States.
5. Jesse Owens
While Hitler was using the ’36 Olympics as a global stage to show off his propaganda of German superiority, Owens was preparing to derail those plans whether he meant to or not. I wish we could see the look on those crazy Nazi faces who thought their German heroes were going to win. Owens won four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4x100m relay. Owens brought the controversy in a good way, since not only did he destroy Nazi propaganda but he represented the African-American community at the highest level.
4. Věra Čáslavská
She made a name for herself in the ‘64 Olympic Games by winning three gold medals in the individual events. By the time the ‘68 Olympics came, her country was invaded and occupied by the U.S.S.R. A true patriot of her country, Čáslavská became an outspoken critic of the occupation by signing Ludvik Vaculik’s protest manifesto “Two Thousand Words.” During this time, she had to train in the forests for fear of being arrested. At the Olympics, she won the gold in three-out-of-five individual contests. In the other two, she had to share first place with a USSR athlete in the floor exercise and came in second in the balance beam, losing to another USSR athlete. Both events were judged under shady circumstances. Čáslavská could be seen looking away in protest when the Soviet anthem played.
3. Marion Jones
She was an American darling at the 2000 Summer Games by becoming the first female to win five track-and-field medals (three gold and two bronze) at a single Olympics. In 2004, Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, appeared on television and claimed to have personally given Jones multiple performance-enhancing drugs. After several years of speculation, Jones admitted under oath that she did take performance-enhancing drugs. The IOC stripped her of the medals she won at the Sydney games and she was banned from the 2008 Olympics. Jones believes she still would have won the medals in 2000 if she hadn’t taken the drugs.
2. Tonya Harding
One of the most violent situations to ever take place in sports, in figure skating no less, Harding’s actions took hold of a nation. During the Figure Skating Championships in ’94, Harding allegedly ordered her bodyguard and ex-husband to hire a man to break the leg of Nancy Kerrigan so she couldn’t compete in the Winter Games at Lillehammer. In a very emotional and intense video, you can hear Kerrigan screaming why over and over again after her assailant ran away. Fortunately, she suffered only bruises and went on to win the silver medal while Harding finished eighth. Harding pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution but always claimed she wanted to tell the F.B.I about the plot.
1. Tommie Smith and John Carlos
They became immortalized by participating in one of the loudest (figuratively) political statements in the Olympics. The Civil Rights Movement was at its peak in ‘68 and almost caused another civil war in the United States. Between segregation, police brutality, the Vietnam War, gentrification, and a plethora of other problems within the country, Smith and Carlos decided to use the Olympic stage to express their grievances. Winning the gold and bronze medal, Smith and Carlos raised their fists on the podium during the playing of the United States national anthem. In his book, Silent Gesture, Smith wrote that the stunt wasn’t about black power but was a “human rights salute.”
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