5 Most Infamous Olympic Scandals

Terrorist attacks, drugs and corrupt judging. Surely this isn’t what the Olympics are all about? We review some of the biggest scandals from Olympics’ past.

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Olympic flag for infamous Olympic scandals countdown
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Counting down the most infamous Olympic scandals

Although the Olympics are a celebration of athleticism, sportsmanship and international co-operation, controversy often goes hand-in-hand. From drugs and assault, to corrupt judges and terrorist attacks, here are the top five Olympic scandals from the last 25 years. Did we forget one? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Ben Johnson’s Doping Scandal – 1988

Few Canadian athletes will ever be as synonymous with both record-shattering success and Olympic scandals as runner Ben Johnson. His 9.79 second 100-metre dash at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics was enough to beat out longtime rival Carl Lewis and secure him a gold medal. National pride and jubilation soon turned sour however, as it was revealed that Johnson had tested positive for steroids. The scandal made international headlines, and Johnson was stripped of his medal. Despite a drug-free comeback at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he would never again reach Olympic medal success.

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The Atlanta Bombing – 1996

An otherwise typical Olympics was shattered by a terrorist attack on July 27. Packed with nails and explosives, a 40-pound pipe bomb was placed in the Centennial Olympic Park “town square” and intended to detonate among thousands of spectators attending an evening concert. Thanks to the quick thinking of security guard Richard Jewell (who spotted the bomb and began to clear out fans), mass-carnage was prevented. Two were killed however, and nearly 111 injured. The bomber, a right-wing radical named Eric Rudolph, was eventually caught and convicted in 2005.

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Corruption at the Seoul Summer Olympics – 1988

American boxer Roy Jones Jr. was a sure-bet to win the light-middleweight gold at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. He dominated South Korean boxer Pak Si-Hun for the entire match, landing 86 punches to Si-Hun’s 32. Despite not winning a single round, the judges shockingly decided to award Si-Hun the victory-and the gold medal. In the years that followed, accusations flew that corrupt Olympic judges were pandering to the host nation, and that Jones Jr. has been robbed of his rightful victory. While Jones Jr. would go on to have a successful career as a professional boxer, the gold medal still remains with Si-Hun.

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Tonya Harding’s Attack on Nancy Kerrigan – 1994

One of the strangest Olympic scandals was the attack on American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. In January, Kerrigan stepped off the ice after a practice skate in Detroit. With news cameras rolling, an assailant struck Kerrigan in the leg with a baton, forcing the Olympian to withdraw from a national championship competition. The assailant’s attempt to break Kerrigan’s leg had failed, instead only bruising her knee.

News soon spread that the “hit” was organized by fellow U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding, her ex-husband and her bodyguard. In all, four people served time for the attack, while Harding managed to escape criminal prosecution. Despite still being allowed to compete in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, Harding only finished eighth, while Kerrigan came away with a silver medal. Harding would later be banned from competitive figure skating, her reputation tarnished.

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Corruption at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics – 2002

Canadian figure skaters Jaime Salé and David Pelletier became the centre of controversy during their 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic pair’s figure skating competition. Despite skating an outstanding program, the duo finished second to their Russian competitors, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. A French judge later revealed she had been persuaded to award the Russian skaters higher points in exchange for a higher score for the French ice dancing team. Salé and Pelletier were later awarded gold medals of their own, while public uproar led to an overhauling of the Olympic figure skating judging system.

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