Underneath The Glory, The Olympics Have Been Plagued By Crimes And Scandals For Decades

The Olympic Games are consistently astounding and filled with high drama, not just because the athletes are paragons of human physical and mental capability, but because the competition has a bit of a dark side. Examining the worst crimes committed at the Olympics helps us peel back the thin veneer of gold surrounding the event and reveal the truth underneath. 

And it goes beyond how the Olympics typically bankrupt host countries, or how often athletes are caught cheating. Over the decades, myriad scandals have almost ruined the Olympics, from terrorist bombings to regular doping accusations. Out of the scores of Olympic crimes committed, there are a few that truly stand out as some of the worst things that have ever happened at the Olympics.

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  • Terrorist Group Black September Took The Israeli Team Hostage At The 1972 Olympics In Munich
    Photo: XX Russell McPhedran / Wikimedia

    On September 5, 1972, the Palestinian paramilitary terrorist group Black September raided the Olympic Village and held a number Israeli athletes hostage. The terrorists killed two of the Olympians, and held nine more as they demanded 232 prisoners be released from Israeli jails in exchange for the athlete’s lives.

    However, when negotiations completely broke down, the terrorists fled with the hostages in tow. At the Munich airport, German police opened fire on the terrorists, and the ensuing gunfight ended with the deaths of every hostage and five of the terrorists. In retaliation, Israel bombed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) hideouts and ordered a handful of Mossad agents to eliminate Black September members around the world.

  • Nancy Kerrigan Was Attacked To Prevent Her From Qualifying For The 1994 Winter Olympics

    Nancy Kerrigan Was Attacked To Prevent Her From Qualifying For The 1994 Winter Olympics
    Video: YouTube

    On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding attended a practice together a little more than a month before the Olympic Games at Lillehammer, Norway. At the end of their practice session, a man hired by Harding’s former husband, Jeff Gillooly, bludgeoned Kerrigan's right thigh with a police baton. 

    Harding was automatically accused of masterminding the attack, and her career suffered for it. Harding maintains, to this day, she wasn’t responsible, and had no prior knowledge of the crime. Kerrigan, meanwhile, quickly recovered and went on to the Olympics, where she won the silver medal in the ladies' single skating event.

  • The Hungarian Team Fought For Their Homeland In The Infamous ‘Blood In The Water’ Match In 1956

    The Hungarian Team Fought For Their Homeland In The Infamous ‘Blood In The Water’ Match In 1956
    Video: YouTube

    In the months that led up to the 1956 Olympic Games, Hungary was fighting for independence from the Soviet Union. Their revolution was stopped short when 200,000 Soviet troops crossed the border and killed thousands of Hungarians in the street, during which the Hungarian water polo team was whisked to another country for their safety. Because they didn’t know what was happening in Hungary, they feared everyone they knew and loved was dead.

    The Hungarian team was primed and ready when they faced off against the Soviet Union in the water polo event. They needed to be victorious over the Soviets no matter what, not for the medal or for themselves, but for all of Hungary. The match was so intense, it came to literal blows; the Soviets played dirty, but the Hungarian team prevailed.

    The game was so brutal it was dubbed “Blood in the Water," to signify what the match meant for every Hungarian. It was also literal. The Hungarian team captain, Ervin Zador, bled profusely from a blow inflicted by a member of the Soviet team. With a score of 4-0, Hungary did more than just win the gold that day.

  • A North Korean Bomb Killed 115 People At The 1988 Seoul Olympics

    On November 29, 1987, Korean Air Flight 858 detonated in mid-air, killing all 115 passengers onboard. The two agents who planted the bomb took cyanide pills to escape authorities, but one of them, Kim Hyon-hui, survived. When authorities discovered she was a highly-trained North Korean espionage agent, she was extradited to South Korea.

    When she saw that life in South Korea was vastly different from what she was taught in North Korea, she realized she was being used and broke down during her interrogation. She confessed that the order to destroy the plane came from Kim Il-sung himself, and that he wanted to destabilize South Korea and frighten visiting nations at the 1988 Olympics.

    Although she was sentenced to death, the South Korean president at the time, Roh Tae-woo, pardoned her. He said the North Korean government was to blame for the bombing, and for her brainwashing. Kim never stopped repenting for her actions, and provides important insights into North Korean activity to this day.

  • A Russian Figure Skater Was Allowed To Compete In 2022 Despite A Positive Drug Test

    A Russian Figure Skater Was Allowed To Compete In 2022 Despite A Positive Drug Test
    Photo: EUPA-IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

    At the 2022 Beijing Olympics, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva was allowed to compete in the women's competition even after it was announced that she had tested positive for a banned heart medication in December 2021. A panel of three arbitrators from the Court of Arbitration for Sport approved her participation. CAS director general Matthieu Reeb said at a news conference:

    Preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances. There were serious issues of untimely notification of the results of the athlete's anti-doping test performed in December 2021. Such late notification was not her fault.

    But members of the International Olympic Committee said they would withhold any medals she potentially won, as well as the medals of her competitors, until they looked further into the drug test results, a process that could take several months. They also said Valieva and any other potential winners would not receive an awards ceremony during the 2022 Winter Games, and the Russian figure skating team, which earlier in the Games had won the team competition with Valieva's help, would not receive medals, either.

    The World Anti-Doping Agency and US Olympic and Paralympic Committee were "disappointed" in the CAS decision. Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the USOPC, said in a statement:

    This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia. It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved, to the highest of standards.

     

     

     

     

  • Countless Students Died Protesting Mexico’s Corrupt Government At The 1968 Olympic Games

    Countless Students Died Protesting Mexico’s Corrupt Government At The 1968 Olympic Games
    Photo: Marcel·lí Perelló / Wikimedia / Public Domain

    One of the biggest tragedies in the history of the Olympics has to be the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968. 10 days prior to the opening of the Olympics in Mexico City, 10,000 students gathered at Tlatelolco Square to protest their corrupt, authoritarian government. 

    As the protest escalated, military forces surrounded the students and began shooting into the crowd. The situation quickly devolved into chaos, and according to the government dozens of people were killed. The students however, were adamant that hundreds were killed. No official count has ever surfaced on how many died. The event is still under investigation.