20 Olympic Scandals: From Nudity, To Protests, To Tonya Harding

Scandal and controversy is part of almost every Olympic Games—even in ancient Greece. We countdown to Sochi with the top 20 Olympic controversies and scandals. Check out the Esri story map to see where it all went down.

20. The Naked Games, Ancient Olympia | 776, BC

No uniform, no problem. Ancient Greek athletes often competed in the nude. At least there was no issue with what country their uniforms were made in.

19. Women Need Not Apply, Athens | 1896

The first modern games didn’t allow women to compete. “So what?” said Stamata Revithi, who ran a 5:30 marathon anyway.

18. A Winning Cocktail, St. Louis | 1904

In one of the first instances of Olympic doping, Thomas Hicks drank brandy and strychnine to make it across the finish line. Oddly enough it was someone else who was disqualified (See the story map for more).

17. Hitler’s Olympics, Berlin | 1936

African-American track athlete Jesse Owens discredited Hitler’s view of Aryan superiority by winning four gold medals.

16. South Africa Banned, Cape Town | 1964

South African apartheid law prevented black athletes from competing in the Olympics. As a result, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned South Africa until 1992.

15. Mexico City Massacre, Tlatelolco | 1968

Ten days before the opening ceremony of an Olympics that emphasized peace, dozens of student protesters were gunned down by the army in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The incident was suppressed by Mexico’s PRI government.

14. Podium Protest, Mexico City | 1968

US track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made history when they raised gloved fists in a black power salute on the winners dais. Peter Norman, the Australian who placed third, donned an Olympic Project for Human Rights button in solidarity with Smith and Carlos.

13. Munich Massacre, Munich | 1972

esri.com / Via Photo: DAPD

In 1972 Palestinian terrorists infiltrated the Olympic village in Munich and murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and one West German police officer. While it was believed some of the hostages survived, all hope was lost when ABC sports commentator Jim McKay made the tragic announcement, “our worst fears have been realized.”

12. A World Divided, Moscow | 1980

When Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979, President Jimmy Carter responded by calling for an international boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Sixty-five countries didn’t attend the Olympics either due to the boycott or because they couldn’t afford to go.

11. Boycott Replay, Los Angeles | 1984

In retribution of the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Soviet Union called for it’s own boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A. However, the Soviets went above and beyond and hosted an alternative Olympics called the Friendship Games which was a success.

10. Doping Takes First Place, Seoul | 1988

esri.com / Via Photo:

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s gold medal was stripped away after testing positive for anabolic steroids.

9. The Whack Heard ‘round the World, Lillehammer | 1994

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding are still in the headlines today. Things went south for Tonya when she was implicated in a plot to break Kerrigan’s leg. Nancy won silver at the 1994 Winter Olympics; Tonya got eighth. Crime never pays.

8. Terror in the Park, Atlanta | 1996

The bombing in Centennial Olympic Park marked the first public terror attack in Olympic history. Richard Jewell, the hero who discovered bomb, helped clear the crowded park, an act which saved many lives. Unfortunately, Jewell was falsely implicated in the bombing, and the real bomber, Eric Rudolf, wasn’t arrested until eight years later.

7. Ross Did Not Inhale, Nagano | 1996

After winning gold in the first snowboarding event in Winter Olympic history, Canadian Ross Rebagliati almost lost his medal after testing positive for THC (marijuana). The decision was later overturned based on the fact that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug and the negligible amount of THC in Rebagliati’s test supported his claim it came from second-hand exposure to marijuana smoke. Rebagliati now owns a medical marijuana dispensary in British Columbia called Ross’ Gold.

6. Salt Lake Bribery Scandal, Salt Lake City | 1998

Salt Lake City nearly lost it’s bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics when a bribery scandal surfaced that the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee offered bribes and favors to International Olympic Committee members.

5. A Tough Run, Beijing | 2008

Protesters against China’s stance on Tibet staged demonstrations around the world along high-profile routes of the torch rally for the Beijing Olympics. Meanwhile, Beijing residents whose homes had been demolished to make way for the Olympic park were denied the right to protest, and some were arrested.

4. Jumping Over Inequality, Vancouver | 2009

Women’s ski jumping is appearing at the Winter Olympics for the first time this year but only after a long struggle by it’s athletes to convince International Olympic Committee to recognize it has a sport. In 2009, fifteen female ski jumpers from several nations sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The skiers lost because the authority to add new sports rests with the IOC and not host city organizing committees.

3. Ralph Lauren Uniforms, London | 2012

Ralph Lauren was harshly criticized for manufacturing Team USA’s 2012 non-competition uniforms in China. Ralph Lauren took considerable pains to produce the 2014 Team USA uniforms in the United States, however, many have criticized their festive design. It goes to show you can’t win every battle!

2. Munich Massacre Anniversary, London | 2012

The Summer Olympic Games in London marked the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre.”1 Minute for Munich,” was a campaigned launched by the victims’ survivors to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to commemorate the victims an Olympic opening ceremony for the first time. Despite the backing of several influential world leaders, the IOC denied the request fearing it would prompt a boycott by Arab nations.

1. Let the Games Begin, Sochi | 2014

The Sochi Olympics are finally here and it seems like new controversies are arising by the minute. Most recently, Sochi’s stray dog population and unfinished infrastructure have been making headlines and protests and boycotts against the Russian government’s stance on homosexuality continue to be an issue. Speculation about the possibility of a terrorist attack is also still being discussed. Will all that could go wrong in Sochi really happen? Only time will tell. See the story map for more details about past Olympic controversies.

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