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The Biggest Olympic Scandals of All Time

Since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896, the competition has served to represent the ideals of cooperation, respect and excellence. The Olympics serves to foster better international relations and discourage discrimination of any kind. But that doesn’t mean they’ve always been scandal-free. After all, the athletes competing at the Olympics are just human, and hey, we all make mistakes — especially when pressure, a gold medal and bragging rights are involved.

With that said, here are the biggest scandals in Olympics history.

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1. Ryan Lochte’s robbery scandal

Ryan Lochte — along with fellow 2016 Rio Olympians Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen — attempted to cover up their drunken misconduct with a robbery story that ended in an international scandal.

According to The New York Times, Lochte and his teammates were celebrating after the final session of the eight-day swimming competition with a night on the town.

They were traveling by taxi and asked the driver to pull over at a gas station. From there, things got messy.

According to Lochte, who gave a statement to NBC News the next morning, the taxi was stopped by armed men he believed to be police officers. One of the men held a gun to Lochte’s head before taking money from his wallet.

The Brazilian government claimed no robbery took place and that while the security guards at the gas station were armed, they only stopped the athletes so they would pay the gas station manager for damage done to the property. Apparently, the swimmers, in their drunken debauchery, vandalized the property and publicly urinated on the grounds.

Lochte admitted he had exaggerated his version of events and was banned from competing for 10 months.

Brazilian prosecutors are also charging Lochte for providing false testimony to police.

2. Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan scandal

Seven weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, ice-skater Nancy Kerrigan stepped off the ice after a practice in Detroit when she was hit in the knee by a clublike instrument.

According to People, authorities determined the attacker, Shane Stand, was hired by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt. Harding told ESPN in the documentary 30 for 30 she knew nothing about the attack.

Luckily, Kerrigan’s knee was not broken, as was intended in the attack. Instead, it was merely bruised and she went on to win silver in the 1994 Olympics. Harding wound up in 8th place.

Though Harding long maintained her innocence, she was convicted of hindering the investigation and was sentenced to three years probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine. Eventually, she was banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life.

3. Hope Solo’s controversial comments

Solo caused an international scandal in 2016 when she called the Swedish soccer players “cowards” for their defensive style that eliminated the U.S team in the quarterfinals.

Representatives were quick to respond.

“The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions.”

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Sports Illustrated reports U.S. Soccer terminated her goalkeeper contract and banned her for six months.

This scandal was just another one added to the list of misconduct accusations against Solo in recent years. In 2014, Solo was accused of fourth-degree domestic violence in an incident with her nephew and half-sister. She was also suspended from U.S. Soccer for 30 days in 2015 after a DUI incident in Los Angeles.

4. Dong Fangxiao’s falsified age

At the 2008 Sydney Olympics, China’s women’s gymnastic team took home the bronze medal, but the medals were revoked from the team and given to the U.S. team instead when it was revealed one of their gymnasts, Dong Fangxiao, was just 14 when she competed.

The minimum age to compete in the Olympics is 16, a decisions made in 1997 to protect minor athletes.

5. Ben Johnson’s doping scandal

Canadian Ben Johnson won the 1988 100-meter final in record time at just 9.79 seconds.
Just 24 hours later, Johnson failed a drug test. CNN reports the steroid stanozolol was found in his urine. His gave back his gold medal.

Johnson was far from the only competitor doping in the sport that summer. According to CNN, six of the eight finalists either failed drug tests or were implicated in drug use throughout their careers.

“It is something that I can’t watch because of what happened to me, you know?” Johnson later said in an interview with CNN. He added, “It is a sad note how they left me, wringing me out. I don’t really watch it. I just move on with my life.”

6. Russia’s doping scandal

The Russian doping scandal first began in Rio in 2016. After an investigation, the Russian Olympic Committee was barred from attending the Pyeongchang Games due to claims of widespread doping.

According to The New York Times, it was later decided that clean athletes could compete as “Olympic athletes from Russia,” and 169 athletes were cleared to participate. Another 28 recently won their appeals.

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The Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled there was insufficient evidence that the 28 athletes on appeal breached anti-doping regulation at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. As the NYT notes, the ruling means athletes thought to be part of the doping scheme might still compete in the 2018 Olympics.

But the International Olympic Committee has yet to make a formal decision allowing the athletes to participate.

“The result of the C.A.S. decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the Games,” the IOC said in a statement. “Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.”

Still, the appeals ruling has been considered a blow to the integrity of the Olympics.

7. The Atlanta bombing

In the early morning of July 27, 1996, a 40-pound pipe bomb exploded in the middle of Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Olympic Games.

Security guard Richard Jewell saw the bomb before it detonated and began clearing the area. He was lauded as a hero for preventing even more catastrophic damage. Still, two people were killed and over 100 were injured in the blast.

Eric Robert Rudolph was convicted of the crimes in 2005 and confessed to the bombing. Rudolph was responsible for a number of bombings in the Atlanta area and said he committed the crimes because he was angry about the legalization of abortion. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences plus 120 years in prison.

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