Cheating their way to gold: the Olympics’ biggest con artists

By Greg Nicolson 27 July 2012

In the lead-up to London, at least 107 athletes failed drug tests and were banned from competing at the games, said World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey on Tuesday. Cheating’s nothing new, so in the spirit of the Games, we award medals to the Olympics’ best swindlers, frauds and fakes. By GREG NICOLSON.

Gold – The East Germans

The infamous 1991 admission from the coaches of the East German women’s swimming team may have made its way to the headlines, but really, it was like revealing there’s corruption in SA or that the Nats were racist. 

“We confirm that anabolic steroids were used in former East German swimming,” they said in a statement. 

Not that anyone had had any doubts. The legends around this team are rife, like the one where female swimmers were reportedly worried there were men in their changeroom, only to find out it was the deep-voiced East Germans. 

The coaches’ admission covers athletes from a golden era of swimming – athletes like Kornelia Ender, Petra Schneider, Ute Geweniger, Barbara Krause and Ulrike Richter, who won virtually every time they raced.

Drug use, however, was so widespread among East German athletes that 190 athletes launched a legal campaign demanding £8 million in compensation for being used as the pawns of communist propaganda.

Silver – Marion Jones

The American track star was the darling of Sydney as she became the first woman to win five medals at an Olympics. Jones had dealt with accusations of drug use since her days breaking American high school records, but had vehemently denied the attacks. Her shot putter husband’s use of steroids leading up to Sydney contributed to their divorce, said Jones.

Then, in 2007, after lying to US federal agents and the public, Jones admitted to using steroids ahead of the 2000 games. The star was forced to return her medals and do six months in prison for perjury. 

IAAF boss Lamine Diack said, “Marion Jones will be remembered as one of the biggest frauds in sporting history.”

Bronze – Boris Onischenko

Onischenko wins points for ingenuity and bringing old school swindling back to modern sport. “Boris the cheat” was actually an accomplished athlete. He’d earned the Soviet Union medals in the modern pentathlon in Munich and Mexico City before the scandal in Montreal in 1976.

Boris dominated his early fencing bouts until he came up against Briton Jim Fox. He lunged at Fox and the scoreboard recorded a hit. Problem was, Fox was retreating at the time, and there was no way he could have been hit. “It was like waving a magic wand,” said Fox. 

Eventually, officials dismantled the equipment, and wired into the handle was a pressure pad that would register a hit when pressed, regardless of whether there was or wasn’t an opponent. 

The engineering suggested he had help from someone higher up in the USSR team, but Boris took the rap. He was disqualified. 

The Soviet team threatened to throw him out the window; he was sent packing from the athlete’s village and he was stripped of all his sporting medals. Two months later, Boris was said to be working as a taxi driver in Kiev.

Honorable mention: Race walkers

We all know Olympic race walkers aren’t really walking. They’re running like they need to go to the bathroom, ensuring they keep at least one foot touching the ground only when passing judges.

Honorable mention: Gender benders

Long before the scientific debate over Caster Semenya, there were the real gender cheats. The Guardian sums it up: “Dora Ratjen, fourth in the women’s high jump in Berlin in 1936, was actually a man called Hermann. And Stanislawa Walasiewicz, who won the women’s 100m in Los Angeles in 1932, turned out on death to have had ‘primary male characteristics’. 

“Ironically, when Walasiewicz lost her title in Berlin in 1936, a fellow Pole wrongly accused the new champion, Helen Stephens, of being a man.” DM

Photo: Marion Jones (Reuters)



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