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.
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.
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.
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.
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.