Top 20 Times Olympic Athletes Cheated

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Top 20 Times Olympic Athletes Cheated

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Cheaters never prosper. For this list, we'll be looking at the most noteworthy times Olympians were caught cheating, whether they were aware of it or not. Our countdown includes Cameron van der Burgh, Marion Jones, Tonya Harding, Russia's Doping Scandal, and more!
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Top 20 Times Olympic Athletes Cheated


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Times Olympic Athletes Cheated.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most noteworthy times Olympians were caught cheating, whether they were aware of it or not.

Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Spyridon Belokas

Greece 1896
During the first ever international Olympics at the end of the 19th Century, Greek athlete Spyridon Belokas didn’t exactly welcome the incoming countries in a sportsmanlike fashion. For the men’s marathon, Belokas came in third place at just over three hours and just five seconds ahead of the Hungarian Gyula Kellner in fourth place. However, Kellner called out Belokas for having traveled part of the distance in a carriage. The formalized complaint was confirmed, and Belokas was retroactively disqualified, preventing a Greek sweep in the event.

#19: Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall

Mexico City 1968
Nowadays it seems like every time an Olympic athlete gets in trouble, doping has something to do with it. That was unheard of, however, prior to the 1968 games. Indeed, the Summer edition was the first instance that doping tests were practiced, and wouldn't you know it, a disqualification followed. But maybe not for the reason you’d think. The Swedish team placed third in the pistol shooting event, but later had to return their bronze medals due to teammate Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall drinking two beers prior to the event; this was heretofore a common way to calm nerves. Liljenwall and the rest of his team may have needed to pound down a couple more after hearing the news.

#18: Cameron van der Burgh

London 2012
Setting a world record at the Olympics can often be the cherry on top of the sundae that is winning gold. However, sometimes records ought to be displayed with a little asterisk next to them. At the 2012 games in London, South African swimmer Cameron van der Burgh posted a new record for 100 meter breaststroke at just over fifty-eight seconds. However, it’s likely that his time would’ve been higher had he not thrown in some extra dolphin kicks in there. The rules permit for one kick, whereas underwater footage showed van der Burgh performing three. Van der Burgh kept his medal, however, and justified the action by saying otherwise, “you are falling behind or giving yourself a disadvantage.” Well, at least he was honest.

#17: Andreea Răducan

Sydney 2000
Don’t you just hate it when you cheat and you aren’t even aware of it? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Andreea Răducan at the Sydney games in 2000. The Romanian Răducan led her team to a gold medal and won a gold herself in the all-around competition, but was later stripped of the latter. Subsequent tests showed Răducan tested positive for the banned substance pseudoephedrine, which her team maintained came from the cold medicine prescribed by the team physician. Răducan was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the disqualification was never rescinded. Răducan went on to claim that, if anything, the medicine only hurt her performance and didn’t help her.

#16: Bertil Sandström

Los Angeles 1932
Honing your physicality to compete on the Olympic stage is a feat all its own, but controlling an animal is another thing entirely. Swedish horse rider Bertil Sandström had continued success at the Olympics, earning silver medals in 1920, 1924 and 1932 for various dressage events. However, the last of those competitions also saw Sandström disqualified in the individual event. Though he was lined up to earn his fourth silver medal, his placement was revoked with the revelation that he’d been using illegal clicking sounds to manipulate his horse, thus giving him an unfair advantage.

#15: East Germany State-Doping

Montréal 1976
Yep, this one happened back when there was an East Germany around to compete. During the 1976 summer games in Montréal, the bisected country surprised everyone when it came away with the second-most gold medals at an even forty, with the women’s swimming team alone nabbing a whopping eleven. Such performances would make any nation proud, however it was later revealed that scores of athletes across sports were being administered performance-enhancing substances. Apparently, this practice was encouraged and covered up for decades, with East German officials going so far as to dump the leftover drugs into the St. Lawrence River. Way to not look suspicious, guys.

#14: Tony André Hansen

Beijing 2008
Why don’t we make a horse sandwich by returning to the sport here? Wait, that sounded weird. In any case, Norwegian Tony André Hansen had reason to complain when his horse Camiro was found to have the banned substance capsaicin in his urine. Hansen was then prohibited from competing in the individual jumping event, and the entire Norwegian team was subsequently stripped of their bronze medals in team jumping after another test proved positive. Hansen appealed twice to have the motion overturned, but was rejected both times. Camiro too was suspended for a period of time, but we don’t put too much blame on him considering he’s a horse.

#13: Michelle Smith

Atlanta 1996
Now we’re starting to wade into murky waters, if you’ll mind the swimming pun. At the 1996 games in Atlanta, Irish swimmer Michelle Smith took home four gold medals and one bronze. Though she was never stripped of her medals, an investigation two years later by the International Swimming Federation saw her banned for four years for tampering with her urine sample with alcohol. Smith had reportedly tested positive for androstenedione, a precursor for testosterone, which itself wasn’t even outlawed by the Olympic Committee until 1997. Smith made an appeal, but the ban was upheld, virtually ending her competitive swimming career at twenty-eight.

#12: Marion Jones

Sydney 2000
In one of the biggest doping scandals in Olympics history, US track and field star Marion Jones eventually saw the forfeiture of the three gold medals and two bronze she won at the 2000 games in Sydney. In fact, allegations against Jones for doping go all the way back to her high school years in the early 1990s. Jones repeatedly denied these claims, and despite passing all prior drug tests, allegations swirled again when her ex-husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, who'd also admitted to using steroids, testified that Jones had been using EPO for years before and after the Sydney games. Jones finally admitted to lying under oath about it, and even served six months in prison over the ordeal.

#11: Dong Fangxiao

Sydney 2000
Sheesh, the 2000 games in Sydney were just a hotbed for cheating, weren’t they? And we’re not even done with those games yet! Though this scandal certainly can’t take away Dong Fanxiao’s athletic prowess, it did take away her bronze medal. After helping the Chinese gymnastics team place third, supposedly at the age of seventeen, Dong later registered as a technical official at the 2008 games. Trouble was, her new certification’s birth year clashed with the one from 2000, meaning she was actually fourteen in Sydney and two years too young to compete on the senior team. Fans have since been critical of underage athletes being pushed, as Dong’s bone necrosis forced her to retire at just fifteen.

#10: Emperor Nero

Greece 67 AD
We guess if you’re the literal Emperor of Rome, you can pretty much get away with anything. But history will still judge you when you’re gone. Way, way, way back in 67 AD, Emperor Nero participated in the Olympic games. Only, his performance was very unusual. After artistic sensibilities were incorporated into the athletic events, Nero did everything from singing to theatre. Unsurprisingly, Nero “won” every event he participated in, including a chariot race that he quit after being thrown on the grounds that he would have won. Growing up, we all had that friend we’d let win no matter what, and it sounds like Nero was that to all of Rome.

#9: Tonya Harding

Lillehammer 1994
Here’s a story so dramatic, it inspired a film. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were on the same team, but still had an intense rivalry. Before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by Shane Stant. He was contracted to break her knee by Shawn Eckhardt, an associate of Harding’s then-husband Jeff Gillooly. The goal was to make sure Nancy couldn’t compete so Tonya could claim gold at the Championships and at the Winter Olympics. Nancy recovered and won silver in the Winter Olympics, while Tonya placed 8th. Harding later took a plea bargain by admitting to obstruction of justice, and subsequently received a lifetime ban from the United States Figure Skating Association.

#8: Ben Johnson

Seoul 1988
Ben Johnson was a star in the 1980s, winning medals, breaking records and establishing himself as Canada’s premier sprinter. Johnson then won the 100 meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but unfortunately, there was a dark truth behind his success. Despite denying rumors for years that he was on performance-enhancing drugs, his urine tested positive, which he later confirmed. It was later claimed that many athletes were using anabolic steroids at the time, and that Johnson just happened to get caught. He was stripped of his medals and world record, with many home supporters still wondering why he did it.

#7: Chinese, South Korean & Indonesian Badminton Teams

London 2012
Not giving your all during an Olympic competition is actually against the rules, as we found out at the 2012 London Olympics. During the group stages of the women's badminton doubles tournament, the event became surrounded with controversy as multiple teams were accused of not using their best efforts. Actually, they allegedly started to purposefully lose matches so they could get easier matchups for the knockout stage. It got ridiculous, with teams making basic errors that were uncommon in professional sport. The three teams were ejected from the competition for “conducting themselves in a way that was abusive and detrimental to the sport.” One could argue the tournament structure is more at fault, but that doesn’t change what the rules were at the time.

#6: East Germany Luge Squad

Grenoble 1968
Named at the time as the “world’s most perfect female luger,” East Germany’s Enderlein was a favorite to win at the 1968 Winter Olympics in France. And she did win first place with surprising speed, as did her East German teammates, who won 2nd and 4th place. But something seemed off. An event supervisor tested the luge’s steel blades with snow, which supposedly “hissed and vapourised.” The officials concluded that the sleigh had been heated to melt the track’s ice and increase speed. The team was disqualified, but the incident has remained contentious, with some home officials claiming Enderlein’s innocence, with rumors of intrigue behind the allegations.

#5: Boris Onischenko

Montreal 1976
A world-class pentathlete, you’d think that the USSR’s Boris Onischenko might have been able to win through skill alone. But it seems Boris wanted to be certain of victory. During his fencing bout against the British contender Jim Fox, the Brits noticed something was off. Boris was getting points without even touching his opponent. In electric épée fencing, a point is registered when the tip of the weapon is depressed with enough force to complete an electric circuit. However, his modified weapon had a switch on the blade that would complete the circuit without making contact, meaning he just had to make it look convincing. Once he was found out, his peers shunned him, he was stripped of his awards and he was given a life-time ban.

#4: Madeline de Jesús

Los Angeles 1984
Puerto Rican athlete Madeline De Jesus was competing in multiple events, but pulled her hamstring during the long jump. So instead of sacrificing the opportunity to compete in the 4x400 relay, she came up with something out of a movie plot. Margaret, her identical twin sister who was also an athlete, would swap outfits with her, allowing Margaret to compete in her place and no one would be the wiser. And it worked... until Madeline’s coach found out, and instead of going along with the ruse, he pulled the entire team from the event. Madeline and Margaret were banned from future international competitions, and their unknowing teammates also received a suspension.

#3: Fred Lorz

St. Louis 1904
Here’s another wacky one. During the 1904 Summer Olympics, Frederick Lorz was competing in the marathon. He ran the first 9 miles, but stopped from exhaustion. That's when his manager decided to give him a helping hand. Fred was driven the next eleven miles of the marathon, after which he continued on foot into the Olympic Stadium and was greeted as the winner. Fred obviously knew this was pure cheating, but went along with it anyway, purportedly as a joke. He later confessed what had happened, and another runner was awarded the medal. Sounds a lot like our friend Spyridon Belokas, huh? First a carriage, then a car; what’s next, a hoverbike?

#2: Russia’s Doping Scandal

Sochi 2014
As we learned from the East Germans back in 1976, it’s one thing for an athlete to cheat, but for an entire country to allegedly sponsor the cheating is quite another! After the 2014 Winter Olympics, a Russian state-sponsored doping scandal came to light, with many of their athletes actively participating in taking performance-enhancing drugs and attempting to hide that fact from screenings. Once discovered, Russia as a whole was temporarily banned from future Olympic games. Though some of the disqualifications were nullified and some medals returned, the fallout from the investigation was - needless to say - extensive.

#1: Spanish Paralympics Basketball Team

Sydney 2000
This scandal is so jaw-dropping, you’ll wonder how anyone could let it happen. During the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, there was more concern for doping than finding out if athletes were actually legitimate Paralympians, So Fernando Martin Vicente, the head of the Spanish Federation of Sports People with Intellectual Disabilities, had an idea. A terrible idea. The team recruited players who faked having an intellectual disability. They went on to win gold by a huge margin, and Spain celebrated! But... one of the players was an investigative journalist. Carlos Ribagorda blew the whistle on the entire scheme. The team was disqualified and Vicente resigned.
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