Maximum Security’s relegation from Kentucky Derby winner to 17th place on Saturday conjures memories of controversial outcomes in Olympic history. There are many, many, many to choose from, but here are five each from the Summer and Winter Games, with help from NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen, excluding anything performance-enhancing-drug-related …
Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe sweeps the pentathlon and decathlon, leading King Gustav V to tell him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Those medals awarded by the Swedish royal were stripped the following year when it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball, making him a declared professional athlete and his Olympic results voided by rules at the time. It took until 1982 before Thorpe’s medals would be restored and he would be declared a co-winner of each event. Sports Illustrated reported that a pamphlet was found in the Library of Congress of the rules for the 1912 Olympics. Those rules stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against an Olympian’s eligibility at the Stockholm Games had to have been made within 30 days. This exonerated Thorpe.
The U.S. owns one Olympic ski jumping medal, and the story behind it is a doozy. Anders Haugen originally finished fourth in the first ski jumping event at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Fifty years later, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage noticed an error in the results that gave bronze medalist Thorleif Haug too many points. The correction bumped Haugen into third. Then 85, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal by Haug’s daughter at a special ceremony.
French legend Jean-Claude Killy completed a sweep of the three Alpine skiing events, but not before his last gold came under dispute. Austrian Karl Schranz stopped during his second and final slalom run when he said he saw a person stray onto the foggy course. Schranz was given a re-run and beat Killy’s overall time. He was the gold medalist for two hours until being disqualified after it was discovered he missed two gates in his original second run. The Austrians argued the course trespasser was a French policeman who interfered with Schranz on purpose to boost Killy’s hopes. The French claimed Schranz made up the mystery man story after missing the gate.
The U.S. men’s basketball team came to Germany with a 50-plus-game win streak, having won all seven gold medals in Olympic history. In the final against the Soviet Union, it appeared en route to No. 8 when Doug Collins sank two free throws with three seconds left to give the Americans their first lead, 50-49. The Soviet Union actually got three inbounds plays, the last redo controversially awarded by the FIBA secretary-general. Sasha Belov scored a layup on the last one to win 51-50. The U.S. players refused to accept silver medals, leaving the second step of the podium empty during the victory ceremony.
1984 Los Angeles
The women’s 3000m was one of the more anticipated events of the track and field program. That was largely due to American Mary Decker, who had swept the 1500m and 3000m at the 1983 World Championships. At 1700m and the front of the race, Decker’s foot made contact with the heel of 18-year-old barefoot runner Zola Budd. Decker went down, injured and in tears, and did not finish. Budd was booed the rest of the race and faded to seventh. Budd tried to apologize, but an upset Decker did not accept at the time. The two later reunited for a 2016 documentary.
U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. landed 86 of 303 punches to South Korean Park Si-Hun‘s 32 out of 188 in the light middleweight final, but Park won a 3-2 decision. A judge later said he felt so badly for the host-nation fighter Park that he gave him the vote, assuming Jones would still win 4-1. Park even apologized to Jones, saying, “I lost the fight. I feel very bad.” And Jones earned the Val Barker Award as the most technically proficient boxer across all divisions at the Games.
Canadian Ross Rebagliati won the first Olympic snowboarding gold medal in the giant slalom. But three days later, he was stripped of it for testing positive for marijuana, igniting controversy. Rebagliati claimed it was from second-hand smoke and protested. His appeal was accepted and his medal returned on the grounds that marijuana was not performance-enhancing. Rebagliati has in recent years returned to headlines for launching a legal marijuana business.
2002 Salt Lake City (Short Track Speed Skating)
Apolo Ohno was already burgeoning as the sport’s first mainstream star when, over a four-day stretch, he earned silver and gold medals in unexpected fashion. First, he flailed on his hands and knees across the finish line for silver in the 1000m after he and three other skaters fell in the final turn, going for gold. Australian underdog Steven Bradbury took the win as the only man left standing, but Ohno was praised for his grit and quick thinking. Then came the real controversy in the 1500m final. Ohno originally finished second again, this time to South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, but Kim was disqualified moments later for bumping Ohno during the race. Kim, on a victory lap, threw a South Korean flag onto the ice. The fallout continued. By various accounts, Ohno was dubbed “the most hated athlete in South Korea” by a Seoul newspaper and when he later returned for a World Cup competition there, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan referenced the DQ in a goal celebration of a 1-1 tie with the U.S., mimicking a short track skater’s striding motion. “We knew that our people still have some grudge against the United States for the skating incident, so we wanted to allay that with the goal ceremony,” Ahn told reporters after the game.
2002 Salt Lake City (Figure Skating)
An unprecedented second set of gold medals was awarded to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in the pairs’ event after a French judge said she was pressured to rank them below Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in what turned out to be a 5-4 judges’ decision. Later that year, figure skating’s judging system was overhauled. The 6.0 scale was thrown out. A code of points was instituted that, while undergoing tweaks, is still in place today.
Gymnastics judging imbroglios in Greece ultimately helped expedite that sport’s judging system change. In the men’s all-around final, South Korean Yang Tae-Young‘s parallel bars score was protested by his federation two days after the event for having a start value one tenth too low. Had it been a tenth higher, Yang would have earned gold rather than the bronze behind American champion Paul Hamm. The International Gymnastics Federation ruled that Yang’s start value should have been a tenth higher but did not change the results (the Americans also noted that Yang was not penalized two tenths during his routine for having too many hangs). Nevertheless, FIG president Bruno Grandi then wrote Hamm a letter urging him to give the gold medal to Yang. A final South Korean appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was denied, in part because the original protest was filed too late. Hamm remains the gold medalist. Later in the Athens Games, a booing crowd led to a score upgrade for Russian Alexei Nemov in the high bar final. Hamm was the next man up who had to wait nearly 10 minutes before the episode ended. Hamm ultimately earned silver, losing a tiebrearker to Italian Igor Cassina.
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