Olympics 2021

10 Huge Olympic Controversies You May Have Forgotten

Scandal and the Olympics go hand in hand, apparently.

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After winning gold in the 1912 Olympic decathlon against all odds (and some sabotage), Native American athlete Jim Thorpe was stripped of his titles based on a technicality that retroactively revoked his amateur athlete status — making him ineligible to compete in the Olympics.

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Held in Berlin during Adolf Hitler’s reign over Germany, the 1936 Olympic games were filled with pro-Nazi propaganda. Historians confirmed Hitler used the games as a platform to showcase the Nazi regime on the world stage.

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During the 1968 Olympics, track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised the Black Power salute on the podium as the national anthem played to show their support for the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and to protest against the racist treatment of Black communities in America.

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In 1972, U.S. Olympic runner Frank Shorter was about to win gold when a German imposter ran into the stadium ahead of him. ABC reporter Erich Segal spotted the fake competitor immediately, shouting “It’s a fraud, Frank!” Don’t worry — Shorter still ended up winning gold.

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During the 1976 games, Soviet pentathlete Boris Onischenko built an electric device into the base of his fencing épée that illegally registered points — even if he hadn’t actually landed one on his opponent. He was caught cheating almost immediately, and promptly disqualified.

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The United States, along with 65 other nations, chose to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. This boycott is now known as one of the largest in Olympic history.

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In January 1994, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a man hired by Jeff Gillooly — rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband. Gillooly later pleaded guilty to racketeering, but Harding maintains she knew nothing about the attack when it happened.

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During the all-around gymnastics competition at the 2000 Summer Olympic games, the vault was set two inches lower than it should have been — leading to some pretty serious wipe-outs on the competition floor.

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In 2012, South Korean Shin A-Lam and German Britta Heidemann’s fencing match nearly ended in a tie, which would have pushed Shin to the finals. But the clock was reset from zero to one second, and Heidemann landed a point on Shin, giving Heidemann the chance at gold.


For swimmers Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger, a drunken night out during the 2016 Rio Olympics turned into an international incident.

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And in 2021, there was more controversy. The Tokyo Games were been widely criticized for continuing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Japan’s low vaccination rates, increase in overall cases, and state of emergency in Tokyo.

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