The world we live in is far from perfect – wars are fought based on resources and religion, many still face discrimination and social injustice and sometimes we just plain old don’t get along.
But despite the issues that plague modern society, everyone tries to pull it together for the Olympics. The Games provide an opportunity to leave our differences behind and give everything we have in the pursuit of victory.
Unfortunately, even the most closely-governed competitions aren’t immune from controversy and the Olympics have certainly had their fair share.
Here are a few of the biggest controversies from years past:
1912 – No pros allowed!
At the 1912 Stockholm Games, Jim Thorpe took the gold in both the decathlon and pentathlon, events that require serious endurance. Unfortunately, the rules dictated that no professional athlete could perform in the Olympics so as to prevent unfair competitive edge. Thorpe had played professional minor league baseball three years before, and the Olympic committee stripped him of his gold medals. However, when the gold medals were offered to the silver medalist, Hugo Wiesland, he refused to accept them. Eventually the gold medals were restored to Thorpe in 1983, thirty years after his death. His children accepted them in his place.
1936 – Olympics in Nazi-land
In 1936, the Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany. Why does that sound sketchy? Adolf Hitler had taken over and established the Third Reich just after Berlin secured the bid to host the Olympics. In protest, many countries arranged to boycott the games, fearing the discrimination of their players. Spain even went so far as to organize the People’s Olympiad. Unfortunately, that was never seen as the Spanish Civil War broke out just before the Opening Ceremony. To add the shock value of the 1936 Olympics, this was the year that Jesse Owens (known for being a baller black track and field athlete from Team USA) rocked the socks off the games and took home FOUR gold medals.
1948 – WWII Losers Excluded
World War II was just a real downer on the Olympics. It knocked the games out of commission in both 1940 and 1944. When the games made their comeback in 1948, both Germany and Japan were denied invitations to participate as further punishment for their actions during the war. This was also due in part to the sheer anger most nations felt toward them. Their exclusion was meant to avoid violent outbreaks at the games.
1956 – Blood in the Water
During the 1956 Melbourne Games, Japan and Germany tried to show off their best behavior, but the same could not be said for the Soviet Union or Hungary, who were dealing with political discord outside of the Olympics. The two countries met in men’s water polo for the semi-final. Water polo is already a pretty violent sport, but the players started to really go at each other in what became known as the Blood in the Water match. Police were eventually called in to prevent spectators from rioting and causing further violence.
1972 – Munich Massacre
The Olympics turned bloody again, but in Munich, Germany, was due to outside terrorism. We’ve seen the crazy amount of security that London has implemented for the 2012 Games, and it’s no wonder they’re going to such great lengths to prevent a recurrence of these events. In what came to be known as the Munich Massacre, members of the Israeli Olympic team were kidnapped, taken hostage, and eventually murdered by Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group linked to Yassar Arafat’s Fatah organization.
1980 – Bras d’Honneur
In Moscow’s 1980 Games, Polish pole vaulter, Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz, nearly lost his gold medal after he made an obscene gesture at the officials. It was later discovered that the reason for his angry gesture was that the officials from the Soviet Union had opened the stadium doors to let in a blast of wind in an attempt to throw him off his game. This was also the Olympiad that Jimmy Carter decided the Unite States would boycott because it was held in Moscow following an unnecessary invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The US instead held the Liberty Bell Classic in Philadelphia.
2000 – Not Old Enough to Play
During the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney, China lost its overall bronze after their women’s gymnast, Dong Fangxiao, turned out to be only 14 years old. According to the rules, she had to turn 16 in the year of the Games. She was stripped of her bronze medal, which was the only thing China had over the United States. Without that bronze medal, the United States took the overall bronze, and China left with nothing. Because of this, eyebrows were raised again in 2008 when a couple of the Chinese female gymnasts appeared in gaudy makeup to make them look older, even though they proved to be old enough for competition.