The Olympic Games rarely pass without any drama, disqualifications, and losing medals. Even the best athletes on the planet can get kicked out of the games for reasons that are as varied as the number of competitions they participate in. These can range anywhere from illegal doping and breaking Olympic etiquette to some eyebrow-raising things like being deemed too young to compete or having your food spiked. And just because you’ve won a medal doesn’t mean that you’ll keep it.
Our inquisitive team here at Bored Panda has researched some of the most peculiar reasons why Olympians got disqualified or were given bans. We’re sure that this is bound to change how you view the Olympics. It’s all a strange mix of honest effort, sportsmanlike behavior, blatant cheating, doping, and overwhelming bureaucracies that care too much about the rules as written instead of the spirit behind them.
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I wanted to learn more about how professional athletes deal with the massive pressure they’re under and about the importance of one’s mindset when it comes to important competitions, so I reached out to Dr. Josephine Perry. She is a sport psychologist and the author of ’10 Pillars of Success’ which will be out on Audible from August 15. You’ll find Bored Panda’s full interview with her below, dear Pandas.
#1 2000: 4×400 Meters Men’s Relay Us Team
Jerome Young, Michael Johnson, Antonio Pettigrew, Angelo Taylor, Alvin Harrison, and Calvin Harrison competed in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and had their gold medals stripped away, reinstated, and stripped away again. Jerome Young committed a doping offense, so the entire team had their medals taken, but since he didn’t run with the rest of the team in the finals, they got them back. But later in 2008, Antonio Pettigrew admitted to using performance-enhancers, so the entire team was disqualified…again.
#2 2000: Dong Fangxiao, China
Dong Fangxiao competed in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, where her gymnastics team won a bronze medal for China. However, it was later revealed that she was only 14 years old, which was considered underage to compete. Because of that, they were later disqualified from the games.
#3 1972: Rick Demont, USA
Rick DeMont is a former American swimmer who competed in the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. At just 16 years old, he won the gold medal for the men’s 400-meter freestyle and qualified to represent the US. However, his asthma medication, Marax, had a prohibited substance in it. While the US Olympic Committee was aware of the medication, they never cleared it with the IOC, and he was later disqualified and banned from competing in any other events.
Dr. Perry explained to Bored Panda that athletes learn a number of techniques to keep their stress from having an impact on their performance. Two of these are colorful breathing and getting task focused.
“Many will use breathing techniques which help them slow down the physiological responses to their threat system being triggered,” the sport psychologist told Bored Panda. “One I really like using is colorful breathing where we pick our two favorite colors and as we breathe in through our nose for 4 counts we imagine breathing in one of those colors and then we breathe out the other color through our mouth for 6 counts. It stops our brain overthinking and slows our breathing down to only 5-6 breaths a minute.”
Meanwhile, athletes also do their best to focus only on the tasks that are immediately in front of them. That way, there’s “no headspace left to focus on outcomes.” Focusing on our performance instead of the end result is liberating. This way, their performance actually improves.
#4 2008: Ara Abrahamian, Sweden
Ara Abrahamian is an Armenian Swedish wrestler who competed in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. After disputing the judge’s ruling during a semi-final match, he won a bronze medal but took it off during the ceremony, placed it on the mat, and left. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) then stripped him of the medal and banned him for life.
#5 1998: Ross Rebagliati, Canada
Ross Rebagliati competed in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s giant slalom event. However, he tested positive for THC so they disqualified him, despite THC not being a banned substance. Because of that, the Canadian Olympic Association ruled that the IOC had no authority to take the medal away for that reason, so they had to return the medal. But they added cannabis to the list of banned substances two months after the Games.
#6 2000: Andreea Răducan, Romania
Andreea Răducan is a former gymnast who represented Romania at the 2000 Summer Olympics at just 16 years old. While she won the gold medal for the women’s all-around competition, she tested positive for a banned substance that was found in cold medicine, which was given to her by the team’s physician. Even though she was later found not guilty of doping and the physician was banned from practicing in the 2004 and 2008 Games, her medal was not reinstated.
“This feels counter-intuitive but the less we focus on winning, and the more we focus on performing exceptionally well, the better our results tend to be as it means our threat system is less likely to get triggered,” Dr. Perry said.
Bored Panda also wanted to find out the importance of an athlete’s mindset, determination, and drive when it comes to their physical performance. Dr. Perry noted that she feels that mindset is “incredibly important when it comes to sporting performance,” as any sport psychologist would.
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“Often, athletes tell me they would do far better if they could just switch off their brain and compete as their body would do what it needs to without the unhelpful interference in their heads,” the sport expert shared with Bored Panda how some of her clients feel.
“Having worked with many professional athletes though I would say that they don’t need more determination or drive—they usually have that naturally in bucketloads—often they need holding back a little so they can look after themselves, their mental health and bring other things into their lives so they are not so completely consumed by their sport,” she said that professional athletes need to learn to slow down and balance out their passion for their sport.
#7 2012: Nadezhda Ostapchuk, Belarus
Nadezhda Ostapchuk is a shotputter from Belarus who competed in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Apparently, her coach admitted to spiking her food with a banned substance because he thought it wouldn’t be in her system by the time of her drug tests. She won a gold medal but failed her drug test, resulting in her being disqualified from the Games, receiving a one-year ban, and her medals being stripped from both the 2012 and 2008 Games.
#8 2000: Marion Jones, USA
Every couple of Olympics, a track and field athlete completely dominates the rest of the field. That was American Marion Jones in 2000 as she laid waste to the world’s best athletes. She was the toast of the games and later played professional basketball.
In 2005 and 2006, though, the sprinter became caught up in the BALCO steroid scandal. In 2007, she admitted that she had been using steroids during the games and was stripped of her multiple 2000 games medals.
#9 2008: Tony André Hansen, Norway
Humans aren’t the only ones tested for illegal drugs at the Olympics. Horses competing in the equestrian events are also scrutinized, and at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing the horse Camiro, ridden by Norwegian Tony André Hansen, tested positive for capsaicin. Although commonly used for minor injuries in a topical ointment made from chili peppers, capsaicin can be a stimulant and is thus on the list of substances banned by the Olympics. Hansen and Camiro had won bronze in a show-jumping event but were stripped of the medal.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games haven’t been without their fair share of drama, either. For instance, US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson missed the Olympics because she tested positive for marijuana use.
Sprinter Sha’Carri, from Texas, is considered to be the sixth-fastest woman in history. The BBC notes that her best-ever time for the 100-meter sprint was done in a lightning-fast 10.72 seconds.
However, the sprinter tested positive for cannabis during a qualifying race and, in early July, it was announced that she wouldn’t represent the US at the Games. This decision has reignited the debate about marijuana use by professional athletes.
#10 2000: Izabela Dragneva, Bulgaria
Izabela Dragneva is a retired Bulgarian weightlifter who also competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics. She won the gold medal, making her the first woman in Olympic history to win a weightlifting competition. But after she and other members of the Bulgarian weightlifting team failed their drug tests, the entire team was disqualified and suspended from competing for a year.
#11 2004: Tyler Hamilton, USA
Tyler Hamilton is a former American road bicycle racer who competed in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. He won a gold medal, but a drug test found someone else’s blood in his bloodstream, a form of blood doping. He later went on to confess to various forms of doping and included former teammate, Lance Armstrong, in his confession. In 2012, the IOC ordered for the medal to be returned.
#12 1968: Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, Sweden
Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall competed in the shooting portion of the pentathlon at the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympics. Though his team won a bronze medal, he drank prior to competing, and the team was forced to give back their medals, despite alcohol not being a banned substance at the time. The 1968 Games were the first to introduce drug testing, and Liljenwall was the first to be disqualified for it.
Image credits: David Brown
The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned marijuana since launching its list of prohibited substances back in 2004. Substances get banned if they meet two out of three criteria, i.e. the substance harms the athlete’s health, the substance is considered to be performance-enhancing, and the substance goes against the spirit of the sport.
In 2019, WADA removed cannabidiol, aka CBD, a component of cannabis, from its list of banned substances which has, in turn, fuelled criticism for banning Sha’Carri from the Olympics.
Meanwhile, a number of pro athletes have had to drop out of the Tokyo 2020 games after testing positive for Covid-19. Forbes has the full list so far, but among them are American pole vault champion Sam Kendricks, Argentinian pole vaulter German Chiaraviglio, Dutch tennis players Jean-Julien Rojer and Wesley Koolhof, and German cyclist Simon Geschke.
#13 2014: Russian Bobsled Teams
The 2014 Olympic games took place in Sochi, Russia. President Vladimir Putin took the games as an opportunity to show the strength of his athletes on the world stage. Some of those athletes aimed for a little more help in their events.
The Russian bobsled team dominated the events, winning both the two and four-man events. Both athletes in the two-man, Alexandr Zubkov and Alexey Voyevoda failed their tests. The two offenders were also on the four-man team.
#14 2018: Russian Mixed Curling Team
Russia’s mixed curling team took home the bronze medal during the most recent Winter Olympics which took place in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The male member of the team, Alexander Krushelnitskiy tested positive for the drug meldonium. He was stripped of the medal in February of 2018.
#15 1992: Ibragim Samadov, Ussr
Ibragim Samadov is a former Chechen weightlifter who represented the Soviet Union in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. The gold medal match was so close that they needed two tiebreakers, but both left Samadov in third place with a bronze. At the ceremony, he dropped the medal onto the podium and left, resulting in him being disqualified from competing and receiving lifetime bans from the Olympics and the International Weightlifting Federation.
Image credits: Frank Rothwell OLY
Cyclist Geschke, who is fully vaccinated and displayed no symptoms, criticized the “basic” food provided by the organizers of the Olympics for vegans.
However, Italian rower Bruno Rosetti, who tested positive for Covid-19, actually managed to win a bronze medal even though he missed the final race. This is because of a change in rules that now mean an athlete can still win a medal if they take part in the preliminaries but not the final.
#16 1964: Marika Kilius And Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, Germany
Kilius and Bäumler competed in the 1964 Austria Winter Olympics as pair skaters. They went on to win the silver medal in figure skating, but because of their professional participation in the show Holiday on Ice prior to the Games, they violated IOC’s amateurism rules. While they were stripped of their medals, they were later returned — but not until 1987.
#17 1952: Ingemar Johansson, Sweden
Ingemar Johansson was a Swedish boxer who competed in the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. He competed in the Games at 19 years old and made it all the way to the gold medal match, but he was disqualified for passivity (basically he was blocking more than he was punching) to tire out his opponent. However, his silver medal ended up being reinstated in 1982.
#18 2000: Alexander Leipold, Germany
By the time German wrestler Alexander Leipold competed in the 2000 Olympics, he was an experienced veteran in the sport. The 2000 games were his 4th time competing and he had won the German championship 11 times.
Leipold had the tournament of his life in 2000 and swept his matches. Following his gold medal victory, though, the results of his drug test came back positive. Due to the mishandling of his urine sample, Leipold was only banned from international competition for one year.
Covid regulations in Tokyo mean that athletes can’t do whatever they want. For instance, judo silver medallists from Georgia, Vazha Margvelashvili and Lasha Shavdatuashvili, were thrown out of the Tokyo Olympics because they went sightseeing.
Their spokesperson said that “no one stopped them at the exit, so they thought that they could go outside.” They told AFP: “They wanted just to have a bit of open air, to relax after a tough day of competition, after a tough lockdown period.”
Let us know what you think of these situations from the current and previous Olympic Games, dear Pandas. Which reasons do you think make it alright for an athlete to lose their medal? Which ones do you think are beyond ridiculous and which ones sound completely fair? Let us know in the comments.
#19 2008: Cao Lei, China
Cao Lei is a 165-pound weight lifter who hails from China. She was a prominent competitor in the sport who took home the gold during the 2008 games in Beijing. After failing a drug test following the Olympics, though, she was stripped of the medal.
Lei wasn’t the only Chinese powerlifter to lose her honor. She was joined by fellow Chinese weight lifters Chen Xiexia and Liu Chunhong who also lost the golds they had won at their home country games.