Go for the Gold! Olympic Controversies

Origin and History of the Olympic Games
The Modern Olympic Games
The Olympic Principles and Traditions
Politics and the Olympics
Olympic Controversies
The Olympics in Photos

Olympic Controversies
From Grolier Online’s New Book of Knowledge

Even when politics and violence do not mar the Games, winning in the Olympics has not always been a simple matter. Throughout the history of the modern Olympic Games, there have been occasional disputes.

An early example of this came in the 1908 Games. About 400 yards before the finish line of the 26-mile marathon, Dorando Pietri of Italy collapsed several times from exhaustion. Officials helped him to his feet each time and eventually guided him across the finish line first. Since Pietri did not finish the race under his own power, protests were made and the victory was finally awarded to the second-place runner, the United States' John Hayes.

The Olympic achievements of the great American athlete Jim Thorpe were long disqualified. A year after he won both the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Games, it was discovered that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball. In other words, he had been paid to play a sport and thus was ineligible to participate in the Olympics. Thorpe's gold medals were taken from him. Sixty-nine years later, however, the International Olympic Committee reinstated Thorpe's achievements and returned his gold medals to his children.

Doping is the use of prohibited drugs by an athlete to enhance his or her performance in a sport, and it has become a major concern at the Olympic Games. The need for strict control of doping was realized at the 1960 Games when a cyclist died due to taking stimulants. Since then, many athletes have been accused of doping, and some have even had their medals taken from them because they tested positive for some kind of prohibited drug. For instance, at the 1988 Summer Games, Carl Lewis of the United States at first lost track-and-field's 100-meter dash to Ben Johnson of Canada. However, Johnson later failed a drug test and the gold medal was instead awarded to Lewis.

There are five basic types of drugs that are banned from the Olympic Games, each meant to improve an athlete's performance in a different manner. Not only is the use of these drugs unfair to the other competitors, it is also potentially unsafe for the user.

Stimulants provide increased energy to the body. However, these drugs can sometimes overstimulate the body, pushing it beyond its natural level of endurance and causing severe damage to various systems and internal organs.

Steroids develop muscle in the body at an accelerated rate, making an athlete stronger more quickly. Steroids have been shown to inhibit natural body growth in young users, and there have been cases in which these drugs have caused liver and kidney cancer.

Strong pain-killers may mask a severe physical injury, allowing an athlete to continue competing while making the injury even worse. These kinds of prohibited drugs can also be especially addictive.

Beta-blockers slow the rate of the athlete's heartbeat, creating a state of artificial relaxation. However, these drugs can slow the heart's beating until it stops completely.

Diuretics help remove water from the body, thus reducing an athlete's weight. If too much water is removed from the body, however, dehydration will result.

In 1967 the International Olympic Committee created the Medical Commission to address the issue of doping. Its aims were to ensure equality and health among the athletes as well as to uphold medical and athletic ethics. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), an independent organization, was established in 1999 to combat the use of prohibited drugs in sports worldwide. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, WADA began monitoring the entire process of routine drug testing performed by the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission. Because of this increased vigilance, many potential Olympic athletes have been disqualified and banned from the Games even before they have competed.


Accelerate: to speed up

Collapse: to fall down or inward

Dispute: argument

Disqualify: to declare unfit

Endurance: quality to withstand stress and hardship

Ineligible: to declare unfit by law

Overstimulate: to over excite

Potential: having possibility

Prohibit: to forbid by an authority