The Winter Olympics have been marked by controversy and scandal since the first Games in 1924. From cheating by East German lugers to the sordid Tonya Harding figure skating fiasco, here are six events that made headlines:
1. 1924: Timing Controversy in Speedskating Event at First Winter Olympics
At the Games in Chamonix, France, Norwegians contended the 500-meter speedskating final had been mistimed in favor of American Charles Jewtraw, a heavy underdog who won the gold.
“[B]ack then, races were timed by hand—by cold, frozen hand—on stopwatches,” author Jack Harris wrote in The Winter Olympics. “And the 500 meters is such a short race that slow trigger fingers by race officials could dramatically alter the finish.”
Jewtraw’s win, by 1/5 of a second, stunned him. too. In a 1983 interview with Sports Illustrated, Jewtraw said he had never competed in the 500 prior to the gold-medal race and hadn’t even trained for the Games.
“I wasn’t even nervous the day of the race,” he said. “Why would I be? I knew I couldn’t win.” But by finishing in 44 seconds, his time bested contenders from Norway and Sweden.
“The whole American team rushed out on the ice,” he said. “They hugged me like I was a beautiful girl.”
2. 1968: A ‘Dark Shadow’ Clouds Alpine Skiing Event
France’s Jean-Claude Killy earned three gold medals in alpine skiing in Grenoble, France, but his victory in the slalom was nearly taken away. Competing in a thick fog, Austria’s Karl Schranz, Killy’s top rival, claimed a mysterious figure in black emerged on the course during his second run. He skidded to a halt and asked for a re-run.
With three witnesses verifying his account, the request was granted and Schranz produced a gold medal-winning time. But he was disqualified two hours later after a jury ruled he had missed two gates before seeing the strange figure in the second run. Killy kept his gold.
Schranz’s supporters contended the mystery man had been a French policeman or soldier who had purposely interfered with the run to ensure Killy’s victory. The French hinted Schranz had made up the story.
“I was descending and I saw a dark shadow ahead of me,” Schranz said at a news conference. “I wanted to avoid it, and I stopped. It was apparently a ski policeman.”
When asked if he missed the gate before the incident, Schranz said he was “hypnotized by the dark shadow I saw ahead. It is possible that for the moment I missed a gate to avoid it.”
3. 1968: Women’s Luge Race Gets Heated
The women’s luge competition at the Grenoble Games was all but a lock for East Germany. Defending champ and gold-medal favorite Ortrun Enderlein stood in first; teammates Anna-Maria Müller and Angela Knösel were second and fourth.
But when fellow competitors complained that they had witnessed the East Germans warming the blades of their metal runners, an illegal practice, they were disqualified.
“A jury member acted immediately,” International Luge Federation president Bert Isatitsch said, according to UPI. “He went to the starting line and put his hands on the runners. They were warm.”
Isatitsch said East German officials used “foul language” when notified of the disqualification. “One waved his arms around, shouting and screaming,” he told UPI.
After the disqualifications, Italy’s Erica Lechner took the gold. West Germans received the silver and bronze.
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4. 1994: The Harding-Kerrigan Figure Skating Scandal
“Terror on Ice,” “Ice Follies,” “Thin Ice”—newspaper and magazine headline writers had a field day in wake of figure skating‘s most notable scandal. Americans Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding stood at the center of events that inspired documentaries, a Seinfeld TV episode, song parodies and a feature-length movie.
A month before the 1994 Winter Games, a man wielding a metal baton attacked gold- medal favorite Kerrigan during a practice at the U.S. Nationals, paving the way for Harding to win the event and to qualify for the Olympics.
Soon afterward, however, it was discovered that Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had planned the attack. With Kerrigan recovered—and Harding allowed to compete despite her not-yet-confirmed connection to the crime—the women’s figure skating competition became the hottest event at the Olympics. TV ratings soared.
The event was punctuated by Harding dramatically stopping during her long program and officials granting her a re-skate because of a broken skate lace. In the end, Kerrigan took silver behind Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul; Harding finished eighth.
READ MORE: Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan: A Complete Timeline
5. 1998: Ice Dancing Judging Scandal
Ice dancing got a dose of spy games in Nagano, Japan, when a Canadian judge secretly taped a conversation with another judge about picking winners before the competition.
After her complaints to officials had been brushed aside, Jean Senft recorded Ukrainian judge Yuri Balkov discussing skater placements as proof of her accusations. During the call, Balkov said he would vote for Canadians if Senft voted for a Ukrainian pair.
“The athletes are not competing on a fair playing field,” Senft later told CBC News. “This isn’t sport. Somebody had to get proof.”
The Canadians failed to earn a medal, though many believed their performance was at least worthy of a bronze. Balkov was suspended for one year, and Senft was handed a six-month suspension. “For heaven’s sakes, if I were part of it, why would I bring it forward?” she later told Time magazine.
The scandal led Dick Pound, a top International Olympic Committee official, to urge for ice dancing’s removal from the Olympics unless judging reforms were made. (Ice dancing was not removed from Olympic competition.)
“If [cheating] happens at the world championships in some small town, nobody notices,” Pound said, according to The New York Times. “But in the Olympics, hundreds of millions of people are watching.”
6. 2002: Dirty (Ice) Dancing in Salt Lake City
Figure skating judges were again at the center of a scandal when another vote-trading plot among judges, this time in pairs ice dancing, was uncovered.
The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze edged Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier for the gold medal. But Marie-Reine Le Gougne, a French judge, came forward, saying she was pressured by the French ice sports federation to put the Russians first.
“I knew very well who would vote in favor of the Russians and who would vote in favor of the Canadians,” she told Reuters. “I was almost certain that I was the one who would award the Olympic title. What I feared would happen really did.”
After investigations, officials awarded Sale and Pelletier gold medals. (The Russians were allowed to keep theirs.) “We do hope we get the bronze, too, so we can get the entire collection,” Pelletier quipped at a news conference after the ruling.
Le Gougne was suspended from judging for three years and banned from the 2006 Winter Games. The scandal led to sweeping judging reforms in the sport.
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