Greatest Ever Olympic Cheats

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I have compiled what I like to think is a fairly entertaining list of cheating stories from the Modern Olympic Games.  With far too many to mention for a short article, I have ordered a top five of my favourites.

5. Madeline De Jesus

In at number five is a lady with a great name and an interesting cheating story.  It fails to tick the boxes of performance-enhancing drugs or even any sort of careful planning in the way that it was executed. Madeline injured herself in the 1984 LA Olympic Long Jump final.  The Puerto Rican persuaded her identical twin sister Margaret, who was watching the Games as a spectator and had nothing of the athletic pedigree that her sister possessed, to run in the relay for her.  The 4x400m relay heats got underway, with fake Madeline competing on the third leg; amazingly, The Puerto Rican team qualified for the final, but that was where the twins’ luck ran out.   The Puerto Rican head coach smelt something fishy.  Madeline’s injury had taken a miraculous turn for the better and she was not replying to her name in the Athletes Village.  Sure enough, the head coach solved the crime and officially withdrew the women’s relay team from the final.

4. Dora ‘Hermann’ Ratjen

Yes, this cheating story has the famous ‘It’s a Man!’ agenda wrapped up beautifully.  It was 1936 and in the lead up to the Second World War, displaying national sporting prowess showed a country’s strength and success.  During his junior career, Dora refused to speak to opponents or officials and created a shy persona that seemed to mask his masculine qualities well enough to enable him to qualify for the Berlin Olympic Games, where he successfully finished 4th.  Then, at the European Championships in 1938, after setting a new World Record of 1.67m, a bombshell was discovered – Dora is a man!  This obviously put an end to his successful career in sport, as he was not talented enough to compete at the same level against athletes of his own sex.  He later claimed that the Nazis had ordered him to compete as a woman ‘for the sake of the honour and glory of Gemany.’  Speaking about his time as a woman he negatively states ‘For three years I lived the life of a girl. It was most dull.’ 

3. Fred Lorz

It is the getting away with it that is the real triumph when cheating in sport.  And Fred Lorz failed at this final hurdle.  Competing in front of thousands of Americans at a home Olympics in St. Louis in 1904, Lorz crossed the finish line first in the Marathon.  However, quite amazingly, he achieved this feat by travelling over ten miles of the race in a car after cramping up roughly nine miles in to the race.  To add more madness to this cheating classic, the car Lorz was travelling in broke down and Lorz decided, as nothing had stopped him so far, that he would run the final five miles and enter the Olympic Stadium in the lead.  A fool-proof plan.  However, it did not take today’s state-of-the-art camera technology to reveal the hoax as many of his fellow marathoners had realised exactly what Lorz had done, and so the truth was almost instantly revealed and Lorz’ cab-ride shortcut was exposed to the world. Lorz readily admitted to cheating and stated ‘it was all just a joke’ and in a final bizarre twist to this story, it was revealed that eventual winner Thomas Hicks had also been disqualified for using a performance-enhancing stimulant.

2. Boris Onischenko

So far we have had the infamous ‘identical twin exchange’, the transcending of one’s own sex and hitch-hiking a shortcut in a marathon, but it is the intriguing high-tech planning that went into this next cheating story that has gained it the merit of second position.  In the 1976 Montreal Games, three-times world champion Boris Onischenko took part in the Modern Pentathlon in what would most probably be his last Games, aged 38.  In the Fencing event, Boris the Cheat used a modified weapon with a button that, when pressed, rigged a touch on the scoring board without any contact being made.  During a bout against British Captain Jim Fox, the judges and spectators witnessed the scoreboard light up when Onischenko had completely missed his rival.  After an awkward silence and a succession of tumbleweeds rolling past the embarrassed Russian, officials disqualified Onischenko and discovered buried in the handle behind a layer of leather, a complex wiring system which, when a pressure pad was depressed, automatically triggered the sensors.  As a top sporting scam and great engineering job, the story of  ‘The Sword that Scored on its Own’ attracted worldwide publicity and gained Boris the name ‘Disonischenko’ in the Press.

1. Ben Johnson

It was September 1988 in Seoul, an Olympic 100m final that included Carl Lewis and Linford Christie.  When people talk of cheating greats and drug scandals in sport, surely this sprint race pops up in their minds.  In a truly amazing example of athleticism, Ben Johnson exploded out of his blocks and ran away with the Olympic 100m crown in a huge new world record of 9.79 seconds whilst raising his hand in the air before the finish line.  However, it did not take long for Johnson’s urine samples to surface containing large amounts of stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid aka the King of performance enhancing drugs.  This caused his disqualification three days later.  After at first trying the classic denial of knowingly taking the substance, Johnson admitted using steroids since his previous world record in 1987.  But what seemed to make him look even worse to the public was when he and his coach Charlie Francis complained that they only used doping to try and establish an equal playing field with the other top athletes.  Sadly, they had a point, as seven of the eight 100m finalists that day were later in their careers associated with performance enhancing drugs in some way. 

After making an unsuccessful return to topflight athletics, Johnson was again found guilty of doping in 1993 and truly secured the title of ‘national disgrace’.  Canada was outraged and Federal sport minister Pierre Cadieux suggested he move back to Jamaica.  Johnson appealed against his lifetime ban in order to give his comeback one last chance.  After posting an abysmal time of 11.0 seconds in a 100m race in Ontario, guess what happened?  I will give you a clue; it rhymes with Mailed Thug Test.

Cheating has been evident in sport since the earliest of beginnings.  Records suggest that athletes would find ways of enhancing performance as far back as Ancient Greece, where physicians would administer herbs and mushrooms to Greek Olympians as stimulants to get an edge over the competition.  Australian Aborigines similarly would eat coca leaves for anti-fatiguing stimulant use in attempting to beat their opponents and I think this directly correlates with the complex performance-enhancing drugs of contemporary society.  Bottom line, sport brings with it a competitive intensity but cheats most often than not get caught out, and in the cases presented above, publicly shamed.

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First published on: 18 December, 2012 12:00 am

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