Olympics History: The greatest controversies

Nishad Vellur

The Olympic Games are replete with controversies on and off the field. Let us take a look at a few of them.

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Dow Controversy (2012)

Even before the start of the event, controversies revolving around Dow Chemical Company, Games’ official sponsor, hit the 2012 London Games with many calling for the withdrawal of the said company as its sponsor. Critics argued that the top Olympic sponsor should not be involved in the project because of its links to a company accused in the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India.

Jesse Owens (1936)

The 1936 Olympic Games, now known to many as ‘Hitler Olympics’, was also noted for the infamous snub by Hitler to American athlete Jesse Owens. Owens won four gold medals in the Games, a feat in clear contrast to Hitler’s views as he had intended the 1936 games to showcase his Aryan ideals and prowess. Owens’ medals included: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. Hitler later refused to shake his hand or hand him his medals.

Black Power salute (1968)

The black power salute is considered as one of the most powerful political statements made in the history of Olympics. It was a protest made by two African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City on October 16, 1968 by raising their fists at the podium after the 200m race. Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia`s Peter Norman second and the US` John Carlos in third place. The two US athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride; Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the US.

Olympics boycott (1980)

1980 Moscow Olympics was marred by the boycotting of the United States and a number of other countries because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then American president Jimmy Carter issued an ultimatum on January 20, 1980 that the US would boycott the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan within one month. According to reports, sixty-five countries did not participate in the Olympics despite being invited. While most of these did not go to Moscow because of the boycott, a number didn`t participate for economic reasons.

Ben Johnson (1988)

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of the title after he was tested positive for stanozolol three days of setting a world record and winning the 1988 Olympic gold. Johnson beat Lewis in the 100m final at the Olympics on September 24, lowering his own world record to 9.79 seconds. He won one gold and two bronze medals during the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Later, he admitted to doping when he set world record in 100m sprint during the 1987 World Championships in Athletics.

Munich massacre (1972)

A Palestinian group Black September held hostage members of the Israeli Olympic team on 5th September and eventually killed during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Palestinians demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails. In the process the kidnappers had killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer.