The Most Shocking Olympic Scandals of All Time

There’s no question that the Olympic Games unite nations across the globe. Every two years, spectators are treated to a series of sporting events that inspire, celebrate, and honor amateur athletes at the top of their game. But with all that excitement comes a whole lot of drama. When it comes to our modern-day heroes who’ve fallen from grace, there are some Olympic scandals that are just too shocking to forget.

1. Marion Jones’ steroid use (and lying to the feds)

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones speaks to the media outside a United States federal courthouse

She was sentenced to prison time for lying to prosecutors. | Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images

Marion Jones took home three gold and two bronze medals for her memorable track performance at the 2000 Olympic Games. But sadly, her performance at the Sydney Summer Olympics was overshadowed by one of the biggest scandals of all time. A few years after her attention-grabbing feats, Jones made headlines for another reason — her alleged steroid use.

According to the Washington Post, “In December 2004, the International Olympic Committee opened an investigation into allegations surrounding steroid use by Jones, once considered the greatest female athlete in the world.” In 2008, Jones was sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation for “lying to federal prosecutors investigating the use of performance-enhancing substances.” Jones was stripped of her Olympic medals following her admission of steroid use.

2. The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan feud

Figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

She claims she knew nothing about it. | Vincent Amalvy/AFP/Getty Images

Known as “The Whack Heard Round the World,” the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan feud needs no introduction. As the two figure-skating hopefuls were preparing to compete for spots on the 1994 Olympic team, Kerrigan was struck with a blunt object to her right knee. An attack that The New York Times said “jeopardized Kerrigan’s chances of qualifying for the Winter Games” in Lillehammer, Norway the following month.

Both skaters made it to the Olympics that year, and the media was all over it. Less that two weeks before the Games, Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband, plead guilty, implicating Harding while he was at it. Harding did, however, still compete in the Games, mainly because she threatened to sue the U.S. Olympic Committee. But her guilt must have caught up with her, because she gave an underwhelming performance. Kerrigan, on the other hand, skated her way to a silver medal.

When Harding returned to the U.S. after the Olympics, she plead guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution. She was sentenced to three years probation, a $100,000 fine, and was forced to resign from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

3. Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal

Lance Armstrong of team Radioshack waves to fans after the twentieth and final stage of Le Tour de France

Armstrong was stripped of his titles. | Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong may be best-known for his seven Tour de France wins, but those weren’t the only titles he lost in his swift fall from grace. Once considered America’s unmatched cycling hero, Armstrong made headlines in 2012 amidst his highly-publicized doping scandal. And the controversy didn’t end there.

In addition to losing his Tour de France titles, Armstrong was stripped of the bronze medal he won in the Road Time Trial at the 2000 Sydney Games. According to the Bleacher Report, the once-decorated athlete “admitted years-long usage of blood transfusions, human growth hormone, testosterone and EPO, among other things.”

4. Jim Thorpe’s stint in the minor leagues

American footballer and athlete Jim Thorpe

They removed his titles for playing minor-league baseball. | Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

He may have competed over a century ago, but Jim Thorpe’s athletic abilities would still stand up against today’s top athletes. Thorpe competed in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm. Crushing his opponents, Thorpe quickly became one of the most revered athletes, a legacy that would last for decades to come.

While Thorpe’s athletic accomplishments are vast, his standing as a top Olympian remains a debate. When the International Olympic Committee discovered that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball prior to competing in the Olympic Games — a violation of the rules — they stripped him of his medals and removed his marks from the official record.

5. The 1972 basketball game buzzer controversy

The US basketball players jubilate on September 09, 1972 for a short moment as they mistakenly celebrate what they thought was a victory

It was the only year the U.S. lost. | AFP/Getty Images

Since 1936, the U.S. had earned gold in basketball. During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, however, all of that changed. The gold medal was supposed to be a slam dunk for the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union defeated them in the final three seconds. But that’s not the way Americans see it.

With seconds left, the U.S. sunk two free throws, putting the score at 50-49, the U.S. in the lead. But when the Soviets were given another chance, the score officially ended 51-50, the first ever Olympic basketball loss for the U.S. The U.S. team already began celebrating in the middle of the court, but much to their surprise, the game wasn’t over yet.

“To this day, 40 years after that final buzzer sounded, 12 silver medals lay unclaimed in a storage room maintained for the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland,” The Huffington Post reports. That’s because the U.S. team from ’72 truly believes that they won the gold, not silver, medal.

6. Ben Johnson’s steroid use

Ben Johnson of Canada is set in his block prior to the start of the men''s 100M Final at the 1988 Olympic Games

He was stripped of his gold medal and rejected by his country.| Tony Duffy/ALLSPORT/ Getty Images

Ben Johnson was once considered Canada’s most beloved Olympian. Born in Jamaica, Johnson won a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics, and went on to set a world record at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he earned a gold medal.

While Johnson isn’t the only Olympian to get caught doping, this scandal is undoubtedly one of the most memorable. In the eyes of his country, Johnson was a hero. But as the Bleacher Report explains, “Ben Johnson went from putting his country on the map to his country not wanting anything to do with him.”

Following the discovery of a type of steroid called stanozolol in his urine, Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and his 1987 World Championship gold medal.

7. The botched badminton games of 2012

Yu Yang and her teammate Wang Xiaoli during their women's double badminton match against Kim Ha-Na and Jung Kyung-Eun of South Koreaat the London 2012 Olympic Games

They purposely lost in order to up their chances in the next round. | Adek Berry/AFP/GettyImages

At the 2012 London Games, eight badminton players put on poor performances so obvious, it reeked of foul play. In fact, these thrown matches sparked a much-needed debate surrounding the sport. As a result, four women’s doubles teams, including two from South Korea, one from China, and one from Indonesia, were disqualified.

According to The New York Times, “The eight players were found to have tried to lose their matches intentionally, apparently because they had determined that a loss would allow them to play a weaker opponent in the next round.”

We wonder what kind of scandals await at the 2018 Olympic Games …

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