Pity Canadian short-track speed skater Kim Boutin.
Due to a judgement call, she was awarded a bronze, even though she finished fourth in the women’s 500-metre final race at Pyeongchang.
Boutin received her bauble when South Korean skater Minjeong Choi was disqualified for interfering with the Canuck. Shortly thereafter Twitter erupted with thousand of angry messages and even death threats — from Korean citizens — directed at Boutin.
One message said, succinctly, “Congratulations on a dirty medal!”
It was enough that Boutin had to shut down all her social media accounts and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Speed Skating Canada and the IOC all started investigations.
Boutin certainly isn’t the first Olympic athlete — nor will she be the last — to be embroiled in an Olympic controversy. Since the re-institution of the athlete conglomeration at Athens in 1896 and consequently the first winter event in 1924, there have been many scandalous moments, both small and earth-shattering.
Here are 15 of the most controversial summer and winter Olympic Games moments.
15. Russians Banned From Pyeongchang, Must Compete Under O.A.R. Banner
The Olympic Athletes from Russia aren’t a faceless crew of nobodies competing at Pyeongchang, but if they win a gold medal, they won’t hear the stirring state anthem or see their colors hoisted to the roof. No, those “clean” athletes from Russia competing in Pyeongchang will have to bend an ear for the Olympic anthem and sight of the five-ringed flag instead. Why? Because the Russian Olympic Team was originally banned due to “unprecedented systemic manipulation” of the anti-doping system enforced by bodies like WADA (World Anti-Doping Association), as detailed by a former Russian anti-doping head. Only those athletes who could prove they were doping-free could compete. Needless to say, it caused an uproar in Russia, with Alexei Kravtsov, president of the Russian Skating Union, saying: “The decision is offensive, insulting and completely unjustified.”
14. First Gender Test Scandal At 1936 Berlin Olympics, Well, Sort Of
The practice of gender identity tests at Olympic games is slowly going away, what with the current politically charged climate. In 1936 at the Berlin Games, Stanislawa Walasiewicz, aka Stella Walsh, was competing for Poland (even though she lived most of her life in Cleveland, Ohio) and entered the 100 meter event as the defending gold medal champion. However, Walsh lost to American Helen Stephens by just .02 seconds. In a stunning display of bad sportsmanship, Walsh and the Polish delegation accused Stephens of being male, after which she had to submit to a humiliating genital inspection to confirm her gender — which it did, unequivocally. The bizarre twist to this story came in 1980, when Walsh was shot to death outside a Cleveland shopping mall. An autopsy found that Walsh — not Stephens — actually had female and male genetalia.
13. Ross Rebagliati Loses Gold, Temporarily, For Smoking Up
In just over four months, Ross Rebagliati will probably pull a pipe from his pocket, stuff it with legally bought marijuana, light it and puff from the vessel free of any oversight or controversy. The Canadian snowboarder caused quite a stir at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. First was for the first ever Olympian (and Canadian) to win a gold medal in a snowboarding event. But, when he was randomly tested after the conclusion of his event, it was found that he had Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in his blood. He was automatically disqualified and therefore disgraced by this finding. But, it was short lived, as a secondary decision found that cannabis was not on the list of banned substances, effectively reversing the DQ and giving Rebagliati his medal back. Needless to say, the icon is an outspoken advocate of medical cannabis.
12. First Case Of PED Use At 1968 Mexico City Really A Tempest In A Teapot
Were it to happen today, the first PED abuser in the history of the Olympic Games would have had a write up worthy of the super satirical news magazine, The Onion. Poor old Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a modern pentathlete from Sweden, had his urine tested after winning bronze in his chosen endeavor at the 1968 Mexico City games — the first ever Olympics where athletes were subjected to drug testing. As it turned out, Hans-Gunnar had chugged a couple of beers prior to the pistol shooting portion of the pentathlon to calm his nerves. He and his whole pentathlon team had to forfeit their medals because of his violation. Considering the widespread acceptance of alcohol use worldwide, we can just read the headlines in The Onion, like “Canadian Hockey Players Admonished For Not Drinking Enough Beer Prior to Gold Medal Game.” Hardy, har, har.
11. Jean Claude Killy Loses — And Regains — Gold Medal Amid Huge Controversy
Grenoble, France was the stage for dashing Frenchman Jean Claude Killy in 1968. These games, like the summer event late that year in the Mexico City, would not go untouched by scandal, and Killy was smack in the middle of it. The native of Val d’Isere got things going by beating countryman Guy Perillat by .08 seconds for gold and then secured his second gold in the giant slalom by eclipsing the competition in both runs by a combined two seconds plus. He was looking at a clean sweep of the ski medals in slalom when a controversial ruling marred his coronation. Killy was leading after two runs and his chief rival, Austrian Karl Schranz, was on his second run. About half way down, Schranz stopped in the fog when something mysterious crossed his path. He got a re-run, posted the fastest time and was given the gold. However, an appeal found that Schranz missed a gate, handing the sweep to Killy. He was only the second man ever to sweep the Alpine ski events.
10. Black Power At Mexico City
Nearly five decades before NFL QB Colin Kaepernick unleashed a political and social firestorm for taking a knee during the national anthem, two American sprinters paved the way with raised fists. Tommie Smith, who won gold in the 200 meters and teammate John Carlos, who took bronze, both appeared on the podium in sock feet with a black glove on one hand. They had removed their shoes to protest poverty in the African American community and beads and a scarf to protest lynchings. When the Star Spangled Banner was played to salute Smith’s gold, they both lowered their heads and raised a “Black Power” fist in defiance. The two were kicked out of the Olympics, suspended from the U.S. Track Team and later received death threats. It was an iconic moment in time that reverberates today.
9. Figure Skating Fix In At Nagano Winter Olympics
For such a graceful and beautiful sport, figure skating sure has had more than its share of ugliness over the years. In 1998 at Nagano in the Ice Dancing competition, which is more entertaining and less technical than pairs, the Canadian team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz got hoodwinked. Favorites for a medal going into those games, they would had stiff competition not only from European based dance pairs, but the judges themselves. In a scandal that wouldn’t lead to major changes in judging for another four years, Kraatz and Bourne would finish fourth behind two Russian and one French pair. European judges pretty much pre-ordained the order of finish, using “bloc voting” to curry favor with each other and deliberately score down teams like Kraatz and Bourne.
8. ‘Boris The Cheat’ Mars Pentathlon Results At Montreal
The modern pentathlon, for lack of a better description, is an old school nod to the traditional Olympic athlete. That is, a combination of skills needed by an ideal Greek soldier of ancient times, modernized the last century to represent skills needed by cavalry behind enemy lines. In 1976 at Montreal, Ukrainian born Boris Onishchenko of the Soviet Union wanted his team to win so badly he rigged his epee in the fencing portion of the event. Onishchenko and the Soviet team were heavy favorites to take home a medal (like they did in 1968 and 1972) and fencing was his particular forte. With his team in fourth place entering that portion, he was looking to push them up the standings. However, it was discovered that his weapon’s sensors had been tampered with, allowing him to score on his British opponent without it having made contact. The Soviet team was disqualified and the scandal earned Onishchenko his dubious nickname “The Cheat.”
7. American Speed Skater Ohno Gets Death Threats After Gold Medal Award
All we have to say here is that folks from South Korea sure take short track speed skating very seriously. Serious enough, that is, to send death threats to opposition skaters they think got too much leeway in favor of their own. In 2002 at Salt Lake City, American speed skater Apollo Anton Ohno — like Canadian skater Kim Boutin — found out just how fervent they are. Ohno, who had already claimed a silver in a crazy 1,000 meter race finish, was second in the 1,500 meter event behind South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, with one lap to go. Sensing the right moment, Ohno attempted a pass, when Kim drifted inside. Ohno immediately threw up his arms signalling a block, which is illegal. Kim would finish first but was disqualified for impeding. The Koreans protested the result all the way up to the IOC, but were denied at every turn. Angry South Koreans then sent so many angry emails to the IOC — some containing death threats for Ohno — that they crashed the ruling body’s server.
6. Zola Budd And Mary Decker Become Enemies At Los Angeles
The Olympics at Los Angeles in 1984 were much like the 1980 Moscow Games, a shadow of former glory due to the boycott staged by Eastern bloc countries (in retaliation for the U.S. leading a mass boycott in 1980). No matter, as the Americans staged a massive flag-waving display of patriotism. One of America’s most revered athletes, Mary Decker, was expected to bring home gold in the 3,000 meters, which she had yet to win at the Olympic level. Racing against her, in bare feet, was South African turned British subject Zola Budd. On lap three, Decker and Budd were running side by side when Budd passed. Decker remained close behind but in an instant that sparked a massive controversy, she collided with Budd and fell to the infield in agony. It was deemed, and later overturned, that Budd initiated the contact that caused Decker to fall. There was never really any closure to this story (Budd finished seventh anyway) and Budd received death threats for it, too.
5. Sochi Games More Infamous For Controversy Than Events Themselves
The 2014 Sochi Winter Games were seen as a huge opportunity for Vladimir Putin to showcase the his country and whitewash a lot of international criticism directed at him (the Russians would annex Crimea, too, right after the games). These games were plagued by a multitude of things, chief among them massive cost overruns on construction of venues. It was estimated that it would cost Russia $12 billion to host, but it would balloon to $55 billion. The second issue that plagued those games was the Putin administration’s anti-homosexual stance, complicating the world’s most diverse sporting event. Many in the worldwide LGBTQ community and supporters went to Sochi to protest Russia’s right to host. Last, and directly leading to this year’s ban, was continued and systemic doping by the Russians, which led to a detailed report chronicling five years of cover-ups and ensaring over 1,000 athletes and officials.
4. Ben Johnson Disgraced After “Dirtiest Race In History” At 1988 Games
No one doping scandal caused so much ink to be spilled than the one that entrapped disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. In 1988 at Seoul, Johnson and rival American Carl Lewis were the favorites as they lined up for the popular 100-meter final. Johnson, the world champion and record holder at 9.83 seconds, blazed to victory, besting his own mark at 9.79 seconds. However, Johnson was quickly stripped of his gold medal and world record time when a post-race drug test indicated he used steroids. The gold medal, and subsequently the amended world record time of 9.92 seconds, were awarded to second place finisher Lewis. The cocky Lewis gave Johnson no quarter, even though he, too, failed three drug test during the ’88 Olympic trials. It was later revealed that six of the eight finalist in Seoul had, at one time or another, used PEDs, including silver medal winner Linford Christie. That earned the race the distinction of being the “dirtiest” in Olympic history.
3. Skating Scandal Plagues Salt Lake City Games
The lessons surrounding the figure skating “bloc voting” scandal of the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano were not applied, apparently, to the 2002 event in Salt Lake City, Utah. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came during the pair’s figure skating event (much like the ice dance in Nagano). Again, a pair of Canadians, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, were robbed of gold medals when the fix went in. However, the silver lining to it all came when Sale and Pelletier were awarded golds too, based on the judging controversy. In a nutshell, a French judge, Marie-Reigne Le Gougne, curried favor for French ice dance skaters who would perform later in those Olympics, by voting against the Canadians in the pairs (regardless of how well they skated, and they did). The whole ugly incident, which also included influence peddling from a Russian mobster, caused the International Skating Union to completely revamp judging rules.
2. Taekwondo Official At Beijing Attacked After Call
Former Cuban Taekwondo athlete Angel Matos will be forever infamous for what he did to a referee at the 2008 Beijing Games. He was in the bronze medal match in the 80+ kg class at the 2008 summer event, battling Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. He was leading 3-2 when he sustained a bad foot injury. Taekwondo rules stipulate that a competitor can take a 60-second timeout, after which they must either continue the match or ask for extra time, with forfeiture a consequence for not adhering to either possibility. Well, Matos didn’t answer the bell and didn’t ask for more time. The referee, Chakir Chelbat, disqualified Matos and declared Chilmanov the winner — and then all hell broke loose. Matos, incensed, argued with Chelbat and then kicked him right in the face. Before being escorted out of the venue by security, he also pushed a judge and spat on the floor. The World Taekwondo Federation barred Matos and his coach from all WTF events for life.
1. Kerrigan-Harding Circus Mars 1994 Lillehammer Games
Perhaps no other scandal in the history of the Olympics is as well known, or as tawdry, than the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan debacle in 1994. The two skaters could hardly have been more polar opposite. On one side, Harding was a more rough-and-tumble athlete with a mother who struggled to support her and also allegedly abused her. Kerrigan, meanwhile, was America’s sweetheart, although she too came from a lower middle class background. In early 1994, just prior to the Olympics in Lillehammer, bitter rivals Kerrigan and Harding were competing in the U.S. Figure Skating championships in Detroit. After a practice session, Kerrigan was walking down a hallway when she was attacked by Shane Stant, who whacked her in the knee with a police baton. Kerrigan wailed in pain as Stant, who was put up to the assault by Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, fled the scene. In the aftermath of the assault, Kerrigan, along with Harding, was awarded a spot on the Olympic team anyway. In a media blitzed event, Kerrigan won silver at Lillehammer, while Harding finished eighth. Harding, who pled guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly et al, was also banned for life by the US Figure Skating Association after in conducted a thorough review. She hasn’t lived down that incident to this day.