Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympics: Day 12- Phony! Hey, Everybody, This Guy's A Phony!

Vancouver, for all its faults, has been mercifully cheater-free so far. Hopefully that won't change, fingers crossed. But, it does happen. If it gets you a medal, and you get caught, they will ask for the medal back and redistribute as necessary. If you took drugs, the Olympic standards are famously fierce: two years for first offense, life for second offense.

Strict, but I happen to like something the ancient Olympics did: first, they would fine you. Then, they would use the fine money to create a bronze statue of Zeus, referred to as a Zane. Then, they would inscribe on that statue your name, your parents' name, your city-state, and a warning against doing whatever it is you did. Then, they would place that statue along the road leading to the ancient Olympic Stadium. Imagine if you were to go to London two years from now, and as you're walking up to the stadium, you pass a bunch of Zeus statues shaming the likes of Marion Jones and Ben Johnson.

Let's not go too far with the ancient-punishment line, though; we'll stop at the statues. I'm not too keen on punishing false starts with whippings. And we might want to leave the parents out of it these days.

We don't have the money here to erect any Zanes of our own, but hey, fun to blog about. Since the ancients already have their Zanes, they'll be left alone. We'll also skip the infamous East German team because there are too many people over too many years to peg to a specific incident, and we need specific names for a Zane. Besides, a lot of the actual athletes thought the steroids were vitamins. In chronological order:

*Spiridon Belokas, Greece, 1896
It would have to start with a Greek, wouldn't it? It was the original modern Games in Athens, and there isn't much in detail about what happened: the crowd was over the moon that Greeks were not only winning, but sweeping the podium, at least until fourth-place Gyula Kellner of Hungary tattled on Belokas, who had ridden in a carriage for part of the race. Belokas lost his bronze, lost his running shirt, and was duly ostracized. Ironically, he would be the only runner from 1896 to return to the field when Athens hosted again in 1906; he would DNF.

*Fred Lorz, United States, 1904
We already covered Lorz on Day 7, who hitched a ride in a car during the 1904 marathon, from miles 9-19, and only stopped there because the car broke down. He was slapped with a lifetime ban, which wasn't very lifetime-y, as he won the Boston Marathon, cleanly, as soon as 1905.

*Dora Ratjen, Germany, 1936
This can't be pinned entirely on Ratjen, on claims of being ordered to do so by the Nazis as a member of the Hitler Youth- the Germans were just wacky that way back then, having already left Olympic Trials winner Gretel Bergmann off the team due to "mediocre performance" (she was Jewish) and struck Bergmann's German record from the books in the process- but after the high jump, in fact two years after, it was revealed that Dora was actually Herman; a hermaphrodite, posing as a full-on woman for the Games. The funny thing: Ratjen came in fourth, behind, among others, German teammate and full-on woman Elfriede Kaun.

Bergmann's then-German record was restored in 2009. She's still alive, living in New York.

*Boris Onischenko, Soviet Union, 1976
This one took a bit of ingenuity. The Soviets were leading the team modern pentathlon (now discontinued) and were supposed to be a runaway winner going into the fencing segment. Onischenko wanted gold. He really wanted gold. He also knew a little something about wiring, not usually thought of as an Olympic discipline. In his competition, the epee, his British opposition noticed that he had registered a hit even though he hadn't actually hit anything. Onischenko's sword was replaced with a sword with properly-working wiring and he still won easily. Afterwards, when they opened up Onischenko's sword, it was found that he'd rewired the circuitry to include a push-button circuit breaker. Every time he hit the button, he would score a hit. This was just the time he got caught; David Wallechinsky writes of his performance having surged as early as 1970. He'd done well to pick epee for that stunt; epee allows for some fairly wild flailing to score.

In case you weren't aware, Olympic fencing is not like movie fencing. You don't have swords clash over and over with parrys and blocks. They might dance a bit but someone's going to lunge before too long; they're trained to scream like they've scored afterward if it's not completely obvious what happened.

Onischenko left Montreal posthaste and was never seen outside the Soviet Union again. Britain, the country that busted him, won gold.

*Ben Johnson, Canada, 1988
We won't chronicle every drug user ever- Johnson was the 43rd athlete to get caught since drug testing began in 1968, but Ben Johnson's a gimme. In Seoul 1988, Johnson set what was to be a world record of 9.79. Then the drug tests came back. Bye, Ben. The gold then went to Carl Lewis of the United States. (Johnson would get a lifetime ban after a second positive in 1993 at a meet in Montreal. He was allowed to appeal it in 1999, but then failed a third drug test that he himself had called for.)

*Carl Lewis, United States, 1988
The silver medalist, pre-drug test. In later years, he would admit to taking steroids himself at the 1988 US Olympic Trials, but the USOC had ruled it as inadvertant and allowed Lewis to compete in Seoul. The next guy down was Linford Christie of Great Britain.

*Linford Christie, Great Britain, 1988
Guess. Go on. Guess. It was not a clean 100 meter final that year, folks. Lewis and Christie have both kept their medals, but the rest of the 100 meter final that year reads: Calvin Smith, United States; Dennis Mitchell, United States (who also failed a drug test in 1998); Robson Cateano da Silva, Brazil; Desai Williams, Canada (who was supplied by the same doctor who gave Ben Johnson his steroids but never took any himself); Raymond Stewart, Jamaica (who injured his leg in the final).

*Eduard Paululum, Vanuatu, 1988
Less cheating than stupidity, but he did come up too heavy at a boxing weigh-in and it's too irresistible to leave out. Paululum was supposed to be Vanuatu's first-ever Olympian. Was. Then he gorged on a giant breakfast before the weigh-in. See if you can spot the flaw in this idea.

*Carlos Ribagorda, Spain, 2000
In the 2000 Paralympics, an event which generally gets only a fraction of the attention the Olympics get, people stood up and took note of the Spanish basketball team. People poured their hearts out in admiration that these intellectually disabled people could put together the gold-medal performance that they did, beating Russia in the gold-medal match.

Except 10 of the 12 weren't intellectually disabled. They merely acted like it so they could play against people they could beat. Not only were these ten a bunch of scumbags for taking advantage of the Paralympics like that, they also ruined things for everyone in the intellectually-disabled category, including the two actually disabled guys on the team, as the entire spectrum was deleted from the Paralympics for 2004 after a decision that it was too hard to figure out who was real and who was fake (though they will be restored for 2012).

Thanks a lot, guys.

Carlos Ribagorda, one of the ten, is the one we single out, partially because he's the only actual name I can dig up, and partially because he joined the team with the intent of breaking the story AFTERWARD, which might have done a whole lot more good had he broken the story immediately and not actively participated in the cheat knowing that what he was doing was wrong. Had he said something immediately, maybe Russia gets those gold medals clean. Maybe they have the experience of being awarded those gold medals publicly in Sydney, instead of having them awarded privately at a later date. It's just not the same.

*Adrian Annus, Hungary, 2004
After a teammate, discus thrower Robert Fazekas, got busted with a urine bag and was himself disqualified (his gold medal was thankfully redistributed in time for the medal ceremony), people started looking funny at Annus, who had won the hammer throw. Annus, though, had a brilliant idea: after passing the post-competition test, get the hell out of Athens and declare retirement.

It didn't work. Nice try, though.

His pre-competition and post-competition tests were found to have come from two different people. He only returned his medal (reawarded to rightful winner Koji Murofushi of Japan) after sanctions were threatened on the Hunagrian Olympic Committee.

*Irina Korzhanenko, Russia, 2004
This was Korzhanenko's second drug violation, triggering a lifetime ban. She knew full well and refused to hand over the gold medal she had won, which would have gone to Yumileidi Cumba of Cuba.

Her event? The shot put, which just so happened to be held at the ancient stadium in Olympia, the first bona fide Olympic event to be held there in over 1,600 years. She wasn't hard to spot; Korzhanenko had won by five feet, which was more than the distance between second and twelfth. (There were only 12 finalists.) And she was using the exact same steroid Ben Johnson was using in 1988.

Too bad the Zanes had long since deteriorated.

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