The Olympics are no stranger to controversy. Since the first modern games were held in Athens in 1896, controversy has dogged the international sporting events, with many scandals and shocking moments dotted throughout the games’ history. Here are 9 of the biggest Olympics controversies from the past few decades.
Black sprinter Jesse Owens managed to win four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Adolf Hitler snubbed the successful athlete, supposedly because of his skin colour, and didn’t acknowledge his victories, despite acknowledging the victories of other athletes.
2. Marion Jones
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, track and field athlete Marion Jones won three gold medals and two bronze medals. However, she later admitted to using steroids to enhance her performance and in 2006 was sentenced to six months in jail because of her use of the steroids and her involvement in a check-cashing scheme.
3. Ben Johnson
Canadian Ben Johnson took part in the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and won gold in the 100 metre sprint with a time of 9.79 seconds, though it was later found out that he had tested positive for steroids. He was stripped of his medal and took part in the next games in 1992, though he didn’t secure a win.
4. Treating the common cold
Andreea Raducan from Romania was competing in the 2000 games and got a cold, so her coach gave her pseudophedrine, a nasal decongestant, to hopefully get rid of her cold. However, this was a banned substance and Raducan was stripped of her all-round gold in gymnastics. She was allowed to keep other medals she’d won earlier as she tested negative after competing in those events.
5. The gender controversy
At the 1932 games Polish Stella Walsh won gold in the 100 metres, though in the next games, she lost to American Helen Stevens. Walsh’s supporters and camp insisted that no woman could run as fast as Stevens and demanded her gender be inspected. Stevens agreed and it was confirmed that she was in fact a woman. However, when Walsh died many years later, it turned out she was actually a man!
6. The attack on Nancy Kerrigan
Rivals Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were hoping to make it on to the figure skating team at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Kerrigan was randomly struck in the knee with a baton by a stranger after a practice session in Detroit. It turned out this attack was arranged by Harding’s ex-husband. Kerrigan managed to recover and won a silver, though Harding didn’t win any medals and her reputation was left in tatters.
7. Bribed judges
The boxing match between American Roy Jones Jr. and South Korean Park Si-Hun at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics caused controversy because Si-Hun was awarded the win, even though his competitor had landed more punches. It turned out South Korean officials had bribed three of the event’s four judges.
8. The Decker and Budd collision
During the 1984 games, American Mary Decker and South African Zola Budd were competing in the women’s 3000 metres when Decker collided with Budd, which caused her to fall and lose focus. Budd came 7th and Decker failed to reach the top 10. Both blamed each other for the collision.
9. The Atlanta bombing
The 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics are, unfortunately, best known for the bombing incident that occurred at the Centennial Olympic Park. Security guard Richard Jewell spotted the bomb and raised the alarm, managing to prevent the deaths of many people as most of the venue was evacuated in time. The blast killed one person directly and left 111 people injured. Jewell was presumed to be the culprit, though it wasn’t until 2003 that the actual culprit, activist Eric Robert Rudolph, was arrested.