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7 scandals that rocked the world of the Winter Olympics

Yes, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan top the bill.

Image: THOMAS KIENZLE/AP/Press Association Images

SOCHI 2014 GOT underway last night but this year’s Winter Olympic Games has already been plagued with controversy – from Russia’s anti-gay laws to the country’s extraordinary $51 billion spend and the dangerous courses to the gross hotels.

However, they aren’t the first scandals to touch the IOC event. Over the years, the winter games have brought intense rivalries, weird cheating methods, corrupt judges and a New York City prison?

Read on for seven of the scandals that put the reputation of athletes and organisers on slippery slopes (sorry!)…

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan rivalry gripped the US long before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

The figure skaters were paired against each other with Kerrigan as the traditional Ice Princess and Harding as the girl ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ who had moxy and ability to burn.

On 6 January, just weeks before the Games began, Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by a mystery man after a public training session in Detroit. The aftermath was caught on camera, and the young woman’s screams of, “Why? Why? Why?” were broadcast across the world.


“I was walking toward the locker rooms, away from the ice,” she described at a later date, “and someone was running behind me. I started to turn, and all I could see was this guy swinging something… I don’t know what it was.”

It then emerged that Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly had ordered a hitman to club his wife’s biggest threat in terms of bagging a podium place.

Despite the controversy and the knee injury (bone bruising on her landing leg), both ladies retained their places in the US team and flew to Norway for the competition.

The winner? Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul took gold with Kerrigan finishing second. Harding was way back, ending up in eighth place after a below-par performance.

Although she continues to deny any knowledge of the attack, Harding was eventually banned from competition – or coaching in the future – because of her alleged coverup of the controversy.

The mystery man in black clothes

In 1968, the Olympic Games were held in Grenoble, France. The hero? French skiing champion-of-champions Jean-Claude Killy (current chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for Sochi 2013).

He matched a previous record held since 1956 after securing the triple gold in alpine skiing – downhill, slalom and giant slalom.

The hat-trick of medals was not easily won though. What happened during the slalom race has since been labelled one of the greatest controversies of all time in the Winter Olympics.

His fellow competitor, Austrian Karl Shranz, claimed that a mysterious man in black clothing crossed his path during his race, causing him to skid to a halt. He was given a restart and beat Killy’s time, making him the Olympic champion.

However, a Jury of Appeal disqualified the Austrian, giving victory to Killy.

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France’s Jean-Claude Killy, now considered the greatest alpine skier in history, won triple gold in the alpine events the downhill, the slalom, and the giant slalom at the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Games. (AP Photo)

And controversy didn’t leave Shranz behind. Four years later, he was embroiled in another scandal and he was disqualified from the games after acknowledging he was not a true amateur. Although many athletes were covertly earning money, he admitted to a $50,000-a-year income.

He was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a coffee advertisement, an incident that led to changes in sponsorship rules and a complete reform of how the IOC worked.

Relocation…

Today, we see huge celebrations in cities which have been chosen to host various worldwide sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games. But they also come with huge price tags, something Brazilians have not been happy about ahead of this year’s football tournament.

Back in 1970, Denver in the United States was chosen as the 1976 host by the IOC. Initial delight however soon change to economic fear. The organising committee predicted huge costs and the corporate sponsors weren’t showing up. If it stayed like that, the taxpayer would have to pay up.

By 1972, an initiative to reject a bond issue to finance the event was rejected following a campaign by Richard Lamm, who would become a three-term governor.

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(Image: Brennan Linsley/AP/Press Association Images)

Lamm argued that the Rocky Mountain environment would be spoiled by people moving to the area after seeing it on television. He later said that “the Colorado I was afraid was going to happen with the Olympics happened without the Olympics”.

Denver had to withdraw as host completely. The city – and the nation – lost the games.  The 1976 event was eventually held in Innsbruck, Austria.

Orange is the New Gold

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Building begins in Lake Placid ahead of the Winter Games. (Image: Rozarik/AP/Press Association Images)

The 1980 Winter Olympic Games village became…a federal prison. The facility was transformed into the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution and reopened in September 1980.

According to a Observer-Reporter article from that week, the room that had been a disco for competing athletes had been used for the opening ceremony.

Organisers lobbied for the construction of a federal prison as a way to get the athlete housing built at no local expense – and to provide new jobs in an area suffering with high unemployment.

The ‘mayor’ of the Olympic Village said it was “just about as good an after use you can find”. However, not everyone agreed. A massive campaign against the move was launched and the the National Moratorium on Prison Construction won a historic court ruling allowing it to use the Olympic symbol on a poster. Protesters even turned up at the opening ceremony of the jail.

Little remained of the Olympic Village by September 1980, according to the report. The discotheque, the all-night restaurant and the unlimited ice-cream had all disappeared. Even the beds were swapped out as the mattresses used by the athletes could produce dangerous fumes if set on fire.

Corrupt judging

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Russia’s Pasha Grishuk (L) and her partner Evgeny Platov (R) on their way to a gold medal. (Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport)

Ice dancing never had a great reputation in terms of the objectivity of the judges given the job of scoring couples. Block judging, favouritism and being over-traditional were all accusations thrown at them during the old 6.0 pointing system.

The issue came to a head at Nagano 1998 when a senior Canadian official said he wanted the sport dropped from the games altogether until the International Skating Union cleaned up its act.

He said the Olympics had been tainted by blatant, predetermined standings in the competition after Pasha Grishuk and Evgeny Platov, the 1994 champions, took the gold, despite a fall in the initial stages of the competition.

“It’s endemic in ice dancing,” said Pound after the Canadian team lost out on a podium position. “Winning or losing on the ice should not be decided in a committee room. In Nagano, (the medal standings) was already decided on before anyone had laced on skates.”

The issue came to a head when one judge tape-recorded another trying to fix the results.

Despite the scandal, the ISU did not look to reform the system until another controversy darkened its doors in 2002. Again, it was the Canadians that lost out to a Russian pair. But, this time, it was in the Pairs competition. It was alleged that a French judge gave higher marks to Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze because of pressure from her own country’s federation. Her score was the deciding factor. Eventually, both teams were given gold medals and a new judging system was introduced.

Bid Scandal

The 2002 Games were held in Salt Lake City but it wasn’t an easy ride.

An investigation into the bid process four years before the event even started led to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and racketeering related to a vote-buying scandal being brought against two chief organisers.

It was alleged that the pair paid $1 million to improperly influence more than 12 voting delegates of the IOC.

According to reports at the time, they were also accused of paying a USOC official to help with the bid, drawing up bogus contracts, falsifying accounts and records, as well as personally diverting $130,000 in bid committee money. They were acquitted by a federal judge because of insufficient evidence.

A number of members of the IOC were expelled as a result and changes made to the bid process.

Spain’s Success

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(Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport)

Although extremely successful, sporting wise, Spain isn’t a country you’d necessarily associate with the Winter Olympics.

So in 2002, when German-born cross-country skier Johann Mühlegg won three gold medals, it gained the attention of everyone in his newly-adopted country (he became a Spanish citizen in 1999) – even King Juan Carlos who congratulated him.

Just a day after bagging the hat-trick, the Spaniard tested positive for darbepoetin (which is similar to the now-famous EPO), was stripped of the medals and disqualified.

Ironically, Muehlegg used to be a customs officer. Anything to declare?

Ps. He moved from Germany (for whom he had competed for in the Olympics but never won) to Spain because he accused his country’s skiing federation of poisoning him. Despite his fears, he was cured with a prescription of holy water from a local woman.

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