Thanks to the Olympic trials being televised, excitement over the games in South Korea is already in full swing. And thanks to the movie I, Tonya, everyone is reliving one of the most entertaining feuds to hit the Olympic stage. Of course, the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t the only dramatic episode to rock the games, whether in the bitter cold of winter or heat-fueled summer. How do these fights happen? Here are the secrets behind the biggest feuds in Olympics history.
2016: Michael Phelps vs. Chad le Clos
Michael Phelps’ glare at his South African opponent was easily one of the highlights of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. But exactly how did this rivalry come to be? The duo seemed to be on friendly terms even after le Clos beat the world’s greatest swimmer in the 200 meter butterfly at the 2012 games to take home the gold. But Phelps’ choice to come out of retirement and compete in the event again didn’t sit well with his competitor. Le Clos started running his mouth ahead of the games, to which Phelps delivered the greatest angry face in Olympics history.
1980: The real Miracle on Ice
You don’t have to be a hockey fan to know about Team USA, composed of college players, defeating the stacked Soviet squad on their way to winning a gold medal. But what many people outside of the sport don’t know is how much the team didn’t get along before the games in Lake Placid. Most of the athletes played college hockey at the University of Minnesota or Boston University — two programs that hated each. Perhaps the real miracle was that kids from rival schools found such stellar success.
2002: Sale and Pelletier vs. the Russians
Figure skating fans were absolutely stunned after Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier performed a flawless routine — and then narrowly lost the gold medal to Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. A revelation that one judge had been pressured to score the Russians higher led to a week-long debate over the state of the sport. The madness finally ended with both pairs getting gold medals and sharing the podium.
While we’re on the subject of the Salt Lake City games …
2002: The Salt Lake City scandal
The Olympic Committee didn’t have much love loss for the planning board in Salt Lake City ahead of the 2002 games. In fact, just about everyone involved in the process was squabbling when it came to light that officials responsible for the Salt Lake City bid were accused of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud, and racketeering. Two officials were found guilty just two years before the games went to Utah, though the ordeal seriously threatened the Olympic Games as a whole.
2008: Taekwondo takes a turn
It doesn’t matter what sport you’re competing in — taking a shot at a ref is probably the worst idea you can make. Such was the scene, however, at the Summer Games in Beijing. Cuban fighter Angel Matos was disqualified from a bronze medal match because he allegedly took too long waiting for medical attention after taking a hit. Matos’ response to the disqualification? Kicking the referee square in the face. Needless to say, the action also resulted in Matos’ lifetime ban from the World Taekwondo Federation.
1994: Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding
Oh yes, the feud to end all Olympic feuds. It’s the story of two talented skaters who were always in competition with each other. The competition took the world by storm before of the 1994 games in Norway when Kerrigan was attacked at the practice rink by an assailant who whacked her right knee with a baton. It was revealed that the attacker, who was caught on tape, had been hired by Harding’s ex-husband. Harding then slapped the U.S. Olympic Committee with a lawsuit when it tried to keep her from competing. Kerrigan took home a silver medal in those games — and Harding placed eighth.
2016: Lilly King’s infamous gesture
The Rio Olympics certainly featured some ill will poolside. Swimmer Lilly King gained her fair share of attention after she beat Russian opponent, world champion breaststroker Yulia Efimova. Efimova had previously served a 16-month suspension for doping — a slight that has followed Russia around for the past few Olympics. King made her feelings on the matter known when she mocked Efimova’s “No. 1” hand motion and shook her finger in Efimova’s direction.
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