2012 Summer Olympics

2012 Summer Olympics: London's biggest embarrassments

There was plenty of poor sportsmanship, rule bending and bad behavior in London. Here's some of the worst

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    NBC Olympics

    Taoufik Makhloufi, track and field, Algeria

    Makhloufi, a contender in the 800 and the 1,500, didn’t get very far in his 800-meter heat on Monday: He hung at the back of the field, then stepped off the track after the first half lap. As punishment for jogging, Makhloufi was kicked out of the Olympics.

    “The referee considered he had not provided a bona fide effort and decided to exclude him from participation in all further events in the competition,” the International Association of Athletics Federations said in a statement.

    Makhloufi’s national federation argued that the runner was suffering from a knee injury, and provided a doctor’s note excusing him from the half-mile. As a result, Makhloufi was reinstated. In fact, he’d been sandbagging. Makhloufi had also qualified for the 1,500 final, and wanted to save his energy for that

    The tactic worked. Mahkhloufi won the 1,500 with a huge sprint in the last 200 meters, finishing seven-tenths of a second ahead of silver medalist Leo Manzano of the United States. After the race, skeptical sportswriters asked Mahkloufi how his knee had recovered so quickly.

    “Every person who wins a race forgets about his aches and pains,” Makhloufi explained. “I was told that competing might be a bit dangerous for me. Being thrown out did not have a huge affect on my morale. Following the medical test it was proven I was suffering from a knee injury and I was allowed to compete.”

    This is the second straight fishy result in the 1,500. Beijing winner Rashid Ramzi, a Moroccan-born Bahraini, was stripped of his gold medal for doping.

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    NBC Olympics

    Cameron van der Burgh, swimming, South Africa

    After winning a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, van der Burgh confessed to cheating by performing three dolphin kicks underwater. That’s two more than allowed by FINA, swimming’s governing body. But van der Burgh knew he wouldn’t be caught, because judges don’t look at what happens underwater.

    His excuse? Every swimmer does it.

    “It’s not obviously, shall we say, the moral thing to do but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it and has proven to get a way with it like they did last year,” van der Burgh said.

    This is similar to the rule-breaking that makes race walking dishonest. The rules of that sport state that there must be no loss of contact with the ground, as discernible to the naked eye. However, high speed videos prove that race walkers leave the ground on every stride.

    NBC showed us underwater views of every race. Van der Burgh’s candidness ought to convince FINA to employ the same technology in 2016.

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    AP/Matt Rourke

    Philip Hindes, cycling, Great Britain

    Britain’s three-man cycling team won a gold in the team sprint thanks to a bit of gamesmanship by Hindes. A few meters into the gold-medal race with France, Hindes wiped out on his bicycle.

    Track cycling rules allow for riders to ask for a restart if they’re impeded by “mechanical issues” during the first half lap. But there was nothing wrong with Hindes’ bike. He’d crashed on purpose, to cancel his team’s poor start. Britain not only won the rebooted race, it set a world record.

    “I did it on purpose,” Hindes said after the race. “Just to get the restart — just to have the fastest ride. It was all planned really. When that [the wheel skid] happens, you can lose so much time. My only chance was to crash and get the restart.”

    The crash hadn’t been a quick-witted reaction to save the race, either. Hindes and his teammates had planned to crash if they got off slowly.

    “I think they knew I’d done it on purpose,” he said. “We were speaking yesterday — that if anything happens, someone has to crash. So I did it.”

    British Cycling officials tried to claim that Hindes, who was born in Germany, didn’t know what he was talking about.

    “English is not his first language,” an official explained.

    Can Hindes be faulted for taking advantage of a quirk in his sport’s rules? Figure skater Tonya Harding did the same thing at the 1994 Winter Olympics, where she was allowed to restart her program after showing a judge a broken lace. But not all events are so forgiving. When Mary Decker Slaney tripped during the 3,000-meter final in Los Angeles, her race was over.

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    AP/Patrick Semansky

    Ali Mazaheri, boxing, Iran

    Mazaheri was disqualified for three holding offenses during the first round of his heavyweight bout with Cuba’s Jose Larduet. But it’s the way he behaved afterward that puts him on this list. Mazaheri threw off his gloves and his headgear, then stalked out of the ring without taking the referee’s hand. By leaving the ring before the decision was announced, Mazaheri forfeited his right to appeal. He then claimed the match was “a fix … In my previous fights I had done really well. It was a setup … I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

    The Iranian media took its boxer’s side.

    “Iranian boxer Ali Mazaheri has been disqualified after a bizarre display of refereeing that gave his Cuban rival Jose Larduet a controversial victory at the 2012 Olympics,” began a story on Press TV. “Mazaheri was disqualified for a series of seemingly innocuous offences.” (The author may have had a point, since the referee was suspended as a result of his decision in the fight.)

    Columnist Ari Siletz blamed the German referee’s decision on the same Western Iranophobia that prevents the country from building nuclear warheads.

    “Whenever there’s a regulation against an accepted tradition there’s room for double standards,“ Siletz wrote. “The ref can be lenient to some referring to tradition and he can disqualify others by referring to regulations. Yet Mazaheri also had a part in this tragedy. He should have been careful not to give excuses to the ref to disqualify him. He failed to take into account the fact that on the international scene Iran is usually on the punishment side of the double standard. Whether the regulations deal with boxing or with nuclear technology.”

    Iranian boxing fans posted thousands of comments on London 2012’s Facebook page, declaring Mazaheri the winner, and demonstrating that, in the age of social media, there are more ways than ever to demonstrate poor sportsmanship.

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    (AP/David Guttenfelder)

    Alex Schwazer, track and field, Italy

    Schwazer was the race-walking superstar of the Beijing Games, winning gold in the 50km and silver in the 20km. Race walking is a grueling discipline. The 50km is the longest event in track and field — five miles longer than the marathon. Even in the 20km, a Russian walker collapsed from exhaustion and had to be carried off the course.

    Schwazer was barred from the Olympics after a pre-race test found he’d been taking Erythropoietin, or EPO. A drug that increases red blood cell production, EPO is popular with endurance athletes, such as Floyd Landis, who used it to “win” the 2006 Tour de France.

    Even before he was caught doping, Schwazer decided to skip the 20km race, claiming he had the flu. He never actually made it to London. In a press conference after the positive test was announced, Schwazer said he began taking EPO because he was under pressure to win the 20km and 50km. Saying he was glad to have been caught — and sick of race walking — he announced his retirement from sport.

    “I’m not made to take drugs or to deceive people, and I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to end. When on the 30th (of July) the doorbell rang I knew it was the anti-doping people, I knew it was all over. It would have been enough to tell my mum not to open the door or to tell them I wasn’t home. But I couldn’t take it anymore.”

    Schwazer’s troubles with the anti-doping people aren’t over yet. The IOC may retest the samples he provided in Beijing. If it finds evidence of drugs, Schwazer will lose his medals, just as Marion Jones lost her Sydney medals when she admitted to drug use.

    Schwazer is also resigning from the Italian police force, the Carabinieri, which sponsored his training.

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    Erik van Leeuwen

    Dimitrious Chondrokoukis, track and field, Greece

    There have been so many athletes expelled for drug offenses — an Albanian weightlifter, a Brazilian rower, a Russian cyclist, a Moroccan runner — that we only have room to tell you about the best. Chondrokoukis, a 24-year-old high jumper, was an up-and-coming star in his sport. In March, he won a gold medal at the World Indoor Championships, jumping 7 feet 7-¾ inches, equal to the Olympic performance of silver medalist Erik Kynard of the United States.

    Chondrokoukis tested positive for stanozolol, the same drug that Canadian Ben Johnson was guilty of injecting before he finished first in the 100 meters in Seoul. Johnson, of course, was stripped of his gold medal.

    Chondrokoukis’ father plans to fight the test result, saying there’s no way his son would be stupid enough to take the drug that inspired stricter doping controls at the Olympics.

    “The paradox of the use of such an easily detectible banned substance by a recent world champion who is under the microscope of doping control authorities, and on the eve of the Olympic Games, is blatantly obvious,” Kyriakos Chondrokoukis wrote to the IOC. “Against this paradox I will fight, we will fight, to answer and determine what exactly happened.”

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    NBC Olympics

    Nick Delpopolo, judo, United States

    Normally, Salon has no sympathy for Olympic drug users. But Delpopolo tested positive for a performance-inhibiting drug — marijuana — and, he claims he ingested it from a pot brownie.

    Being a stoner didn’t help Delpopolo’s judo: He finished seventh in the 73-kilogram (160 pound) class, beating judokas from Hong Kong and Belgium, but losing to a South Korean and a Mongolian. Delpopolo’s post-test excuse: His positive result was “caused by my inadvertent consumption of food that I did not realize had been baked with marijuana” before leaving for London.

    Unlike the use of a steroid, a marijuana test won’t lead to a multi-year suspension. After Michael Phelps was photographed toking from a bong, USA Swimming only made him sit out three months.

    American wrestler Stephany Lee, who didn’t even make it to the Olympics because of a positive marijuana test, told USA Today the IOC needs to stop killing athletes’ buzzes.

    “You can be a drunk and compete,” Lee said. “They are not going to crack you because you come into practice smelling like alcohol. They don’t test you for that. You can be completely alcohol intoxicated, and it’s not going to matter because nobody cares and it is legal.

    “It’s better for you to be a pothead than it is to be an alcoholic. It’s better for you to be a pothead than it is to be a crackhead. It’s better for you to be a pothead than it is for you to be a meth-head. You don’t go on rampages and do all kinds of crazy stuff when you are just a stoner. You just chill.”

    No wonder Delpopolo lost his last two fights.

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    (AP/Saurabh Das)

    Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang (China); Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari (Indonesia); Jung Kyung Eun and Kim Ha Na (South Korea); Ha Jung Eun and Kim Min Jung (South Korea), badminton

    Badminton, of all sports, has inspired the most scandalous behavior among this year’s Olympians. First, there was Lin Dan, who came into the games with a reputation as a hot-headed prima donna after he punched his own coach during a practice game. (Lin won a gold medal in singles.)

    Then, four women’s doubles teams tried to lose matches in order to obtain easier draws in the quarterfinals of the knockout round. Olympic badminton switched from a tournament to a group format this year, so weaker players could get in more matches. But the strongest players determined to game the system. In what was called “an evening of shame,” they deliberately served the shuttlecock into the net and allowed shots to drop. After jeering from the crowd and a warning from the referee, all eight players were disqualified from the Olympics for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

    In China, where badminton, Olympic medals and honor are equally serious matters, Wang and Yu — who had been gold medal contenders — were condemned by a newspaper for “disgrac[ing] the Chinese badminton team.”

    Yu, who was defending Olympic and World champion in doubles, announced her retirement from the sport, on a personal microblog with 1.3 million followers.

    “This is my last time competing,” Yu wrote. “Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton. You have heartlessly shattered our dreams.”