Category Archives: Gymnastics

Teams suspended from Olympic competition

In November, it was announced that no Bulgarian weightlifters will compete at the Rio 2016 Olympics, as a punishment for an excessive amount of doping positives among Bulgarian lifters. Such a suspension is not unique, but – fortunately – still relatively rare. We’ll take a look at other exclusions in Olympic history.

Just look at Bulgaria’s Olympic weightlifting history already reveals a few similar cases. In 1988, the team withdrew after two gold medallists (Mitko Grabnev and Angel Genchev) had tested positive for doping. Twelve years later, three Bulgarian medallists, including gold medallist Izabela Dragneva, were caught with performance enhancing drugs, which was followed by a suspension of the rest of the weightlifting team. In 2008, Bulgaria chose not to compete in the Olympics, with no less than 11 national team members facing doping suspensions in the run-up to the Games. Those low points are now followed by a suspension ahead of the Games.

One of the players in Bulgaria’s tainted Olympic weightlifting past: Izabela Dragneva.

Another group of athletes possibly facing suspension are the Russian track and field athletes. Following a recent report by WADA, the International Assocation of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has supended Russian athletes from competing internationally. Depending on how quick they can reform, they may also miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

A similar exclusion came in 1988, when Mexico was banned by the international football federation (FIFA), after they were found to have knowingly used at least four players over the age limit in an U20 tournament. All Mexican representative teams were banned for a period of two years, including the Olympic team that had already qualified for Seoul. They were replaced by Guatemala.

Another age-related suspension was handed out in 2010 by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). In gymnastics, there is a minimum age for competitors, and North Korea was found to have submitted false birth dates for at least two competitors. They were suspended from international competition for two years, which included the 2012 London Games.

In the past, it has happened several times that nations were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. The first such occasion came in 1920. Despite the fact that Olympic renovator Pierre de Coubertin was not in favor, the (perceived) aggressors of World War I – Austria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey – were not invited. The Germans were not invited in 1924 either, leaving them to return on the Olympic podium only in St. Moritz 1928. Twenty years later, Germany could also not enter the Olympics. Following World War II, the country had been divided by the four allied nations, and the German National Olympic Committee therefore did not formally represent any recognized nation. However, Japan was not allowed to compete in the 1948 Games either, suggestion this formal reason might merely have been an excuse to not invite the war aggressors.

Activist Dennis Brutus campaigned for Apartheid-era South Africa to be banned from the Olympics – with eventual success.

The 1964 Olympics were marked by the suspension of the South African NOC, a year earlier. The South African NOC did not allow mixed-race competition, which was in conflict with the IOC’s non-discrimination policies. In 1970, South Africa was expelled from the International Olympic Committee and only reinstated in 1992. A similar fate befell Rhodesia – present-day Zimbabwe – when its invitation for the 1972 Olympics was revoked shortly before the opening ceremony, and the NOC was suspended. Most African nations did not recognize the (white) Ian Smith regime, and threatened to boycott the Munich Games if the nation were allowed to compete. Rhodesian athletes had already missed the 1968 Olympics when strict interpretation of passport rules meant they could not enter Mexico. Competitors from Taiwan suffered from the same issue in 1976, when they were unable to enter Canada.

Following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, a United Nations resolution prohibited teams representing that country at sports events. Individual athletes were allowed to compete, and so the IOC created Individual Olympic Participants, allowing such athletes to take part in Barcelona 1992.

In 1999, the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was suspended from competition, among others for not allowing women to compete in sports. As of 2012, four Afghan women have competed in the Olympics.

In more recent years, several National Olympic Committees have been suspended by the IOC for not abiding by the rules of the Olympic Charter. Frequently, this concerns government intervention in the NOC, but there may be other reasons. Such suspensions include:

  • Venezuela in 1993
  • Iraq in 2003-2004
  • Panama in 2007-2008
  • Kuwait in 2010-2012 and again in 2015-present
  • Ghana in 2011

Two such suspensions had effects on a nation’s participation in the Olympics. Afghanistan was banned in 1999, causing them to miss the 2000 Olympics – although the Taliban probably couldn’t care less. In 2013, India was also suspended, forcing one of its athletes to compete as an Individual Olympic Athlete during the first week of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The suspension was lifted during the second week, allowing the remaining two competitors to contest their events under the Indian flag.

Luger Shiva Keshavan was forced to compete as an independent athlete in Sochi 2014, as his nation’s NOC (India) had been suspended.

Back in 1962, the Indonesian NOC had also been suspended by the IOC, as they had refused to allow athletes from Taiwan and Israel compete in the Asian Games. Angered by the fact that France and the US (which had refused to allow competitors from East Germany) were not suspended, Indonesian President Sukarno created the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO). Held in 1963, the IOC banned all athletes that had competed at these Games, which caused Indonesia and North Korea to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics, even if they were allowed to enter athletes who hadn’t contested the GANEFO. North Korea competed again in the second (and last) edition of the GANEFO (1966), which meant they were suspended by the IOC, causing the nation to miss the 1968 Olympics as well.

Year Country Reason
1920 Germany Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Austria Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Hungary Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1920 Turkey Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1924 Germany Not invited as WWI aggressor nation
1948 Germany Not invited as WWII aggressor nation (no formal NOC)
1948 Japan  Not invited as WWII aggressor nation
1964 South Africa Suspended by IOC
1968 North Korea Suspended by IOC
1968 South Africa Suspended by IOC
1968 Rhodesia Could not enter host nation
1972 Rhodesia Invitation revoked
1976 Rhodesia Suspended by IOC
1976 Taiwan Could not enter host nation
1988 Mexico (football) Suspended by IF
2000 Afghanistan Suspended by IOC
2012 North Korea (gymnastics) Suspended by IF
2014 India Suspended by IOC
2016 Bulgaria (weightlifting) Suspended by IF

Medals changing hands after the Olympics

The Australian Athletics Federation is looking to overturn Olympic results from 1948 and 1980. It hopes to help Shirley Strickland to a bronze medal in the 1948 200 m and Ian Campbell to a gold in the 1980 triple jump. Although it’s not very likely that they will be successful, medal changes years after the fact are not without precedent in Olympic history. In fact, even if the 1948 result changes 67 years after the fact, it wouldn’t even be a record.

We’ve made a compilation of occasions in Olympic history when the medal results changed at least a month after the end of the Games. All doping related cases have been excluded – they warrant an article of their own.

1904

All Olympic record books list the silver medallist in the 1904 lightweight boxing event as Jack Egan (sometimes spelled Eagan). He lost the final on decision to Harry Spanjer, while Russell Van Horn took third place. But more than a year later, Egan was discovered to have been fighting under an alias. This was not uncommon at the time, as many more wealthy citizens did not want to be associated with sports. Egan’s real name was Frank Floyd, and he came from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. While this may not seem serious, by the rules of the AAU it was illegal to fight under an assumed name, a so-called ringer. In November 1905, the AAU decided that Egan would be disqualified from all AAU competitions, and he would have to return his prizes. The Atlantic Association that had knowingly accepted Floyd’s application as Egan was also expelled from the AAU.

This late decision to revise the Olympic results in this event has, as far as we know, never been published since the events in 1905, and was only rediscovered in 2008 by Taavi Kalju (a member of the OlyMADMen, just like the authors of this blog). More than 100 years after the fact, Peter Sturholdt can be recognized as a new Olympic medallist – all the more remarkable considering he never won a single fight.

1912

The star athlete of the 1912 Olympics was American Jim Thorpe. He had overwhelmingly won both the pentathlon and the decathlon events.  The King of Sweden gave him his gold medals and told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

In early 1913, it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor league baseball in the United States. For this he was retroactively declared a professional by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and the IOC and his records at the 1912 Olympics were declared void. He had to return his gold medals. What is not so well known is that Thorpe should never have been disqualified in the first place.

An all-round athlete, Thorpe also played professional football, baseball and basketball

Over the years numerous attempts were made to get the IOC to reverse the decision, mostly started by Thorpe’s children. Some efforts succeeded gradually. In 1973, the AAU restored Thorpe’s amateur status for the years 1909-1912. This was followed in 1975 by the United States Olympic Committee making a similar restoration.

In 1982, the Thorpe family, aided by Bob Wheeler, one of Thorpe’s biographers, and his wife, Florence Ridlon, succeeded in their long struggle to have Jim Thorpe’s medals restored by the International Olympic Committee. It was revealed in Sports Illustrated that a key factor in this decision was a discovery by Ridlon, who found a pamphlet in the Library of Congress which gave the rules and regulations for the 1912 Olympic Games. It stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against any Olympic athlete’s eligibility in 1912 had to have been made within 30 days after the awarding of the prizes. The announcement of Thorpe’s professional baseball career occurred in January 1913. Thus it was almost six months after the end of the Olympics and his disqualification was completely unwarranted.

On 27 February 1982, Wheeler and Ridlon founded The Jim Thorpe Foundation, expressly for the purpose of moving to have his medals and honors restored. On 13 October 1982, only eight months after the formation of The Jim Thorpe Foundation, but fully 70 years too late, the IOC Executive Board approved, in a sense, the restoration of Jim Thorpe’s medals, declaring him co-winner with Sweden’s Hugo Wieslander (decathlon) and Norway’s Ferdinand Bie (pentathlon). At a meeting of the IOC Executive Board, this time on 18 January 1983 in Los Angeles, commemorative medals were presented to Bill and Gail Thorpe, two of Thorpe’s children.

1924

The inaugural Olympic ski jumping competition ended with a clean sweep for the Norwegians – or so it seemed.

Anders Haugen – Olympic medallist after 50 years.

Almost 40 years later, Thoralf Strømstad – a silver medallist in the cross country and Nordic combined at the 1924 Games – contacted Norwegian ski historian Jacob Vaage, claiming that the points from the ski jumping event for Thorleif Haug had been miscalculated, and that his final points should be behind Haugen’s. Vaage checked the case and had to agree with the 77-year-old Strømstad. In 1974 IOC decided to award the bronze medal to Haugen, at that time an elderly gentleman of 86. He was invited to Norway, and at a nice ceremony Haug’s bronze medal from 1924 was handed over to Haugen by Haug’s youngest daughter. Thorleif Haug himself died already in December 1934 from pneumonia at the age of 40. But Haugen was pleased to meet some of his Norwegian competitors from 1924: Narve Bonna, Einar Landvik and also Thoralf Strømstad, the man responsible for justice being made after 40 years.

1952

America’s Ed Sanders created carnage in the heavyweight boxing division in Helsinki as he battered his way to the final with three brutal knockout victories. His opponent in the final, Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson, appeared to be completely intimidated by the American’s reputation and spent most of the fight backpedalling around the ring. When Sanders did get into range Johansson would simply grab hold of his opponent. Eventually an increasingly irate referee grew tired of warning the Swede and disqualified him for “not trying”. This also had the effect of denying Johansson his silver medal and the second step on the podium remained vacant.

Ingemar Johansson, who waited almost three decades to receive his silver medal.

Johansson did become a household name as a professional when he became the first European to win the World Heavyweight Championship for over 20 years after knocking out Olympic champion Floyd Patterson. In 1982, 30 years after his Olympic embarrassment, Johansson was finally awarded his silver medal after the IOC were persuaded to reverse their decision.

But Johansson was not the only boxer from 1952 to receive his medal late. In 1950, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) had decided to eliminated the bronze medal match, having the losing finalists place an equal third. This was accepted by the IOC, on condition that they would not receive a bronze medal. This is indeed what happened in Helsinki.

But 1970, the president of the Finnish Boxing Association brought up the subject with AIBA, noting the absence of bronze medals in the boxing events to be an injustice. The AIBA President, Rudyard Russell, concurred and contacted the IOC. They received approval for the matter through IOC director Monique Berlioux, although no formal decision was made during an IOC Session. Six of the 20 losing semi-finalists received the medal in a ceremony in Finland on 2-3 April 1970, while the others received theirs in the mail.

1964

The pair’s competition at the Innsbruck figure skating was won by the Soviet husband-wife pair of Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, beating the favored German pair of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Shortly after the Innsbruck Olympics, it was revealed that Kilius/Bäumler had signed a professional contract prior to the event to perform with Holiday on Ice. This should have disqualified them as professionals, but strangely no definite action was initially taken against them by the IOC or the International Skating Union.

Kilius and Bäumler (left) at the 1964 medal ceremony

A few weeks later they won the World Championships, defeating Belousova and Protopopov. It was felt that the West German Olympic Committee, lobbying the IOC for the 1972 Olympic bid, wanted to present themselves in the best possible manner and encouraged the German skaters to return their medals. The IOC formed a special sub-committee to examine the case, and the minutes of the Executive Committee note, “A special sub-committee under Ivar Vind had studied the case of the German figure skaters. They had been found ‘non-amateurs’. Willi Daume said that ‘The German NOC will do what is necessary.’

At the 65th IOC session the IOC passed a resolution, which was printed in the Olympic Review, volume 95, page 39, from 15 August 1966 which stated, “We have received the silver medals back, and we will award them to the original third-place finishers. The bronze medals will be awarded to the original fourth-place finishers.” In January 1966, Kilius/Bäumler returned their silver medals to the IOC. Silver medals were awarded to Wilkes and Revell by Canadian IOC Member James Worrall during the 1967 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, while the Josephs received bronze medals from USOC President Tug Wilson at a small private ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, during the 1966 USA Figure Skating Championships. However, no action was ever taken by the ISU, who continued to list Kilius/Bäumler as silver medalists and World Champions in 1964.

However, the controversy did not end there. In 1987, the German NOC rather surreptitiously requested the return of the silver medals to Kilius and Bäumler, which was in keeping with the ISU ruling as well. They asked the IOC to do this, stating that it was known that other skaters had signed similar contracts in that era. At the 1987 IOC Session in Istanbul, the IOC approved this request and the Germans received new silver medals on 5 December 1987, when German NOC president Willi Daume presented replicas of the originals to Kilius and Bäumler on the German television show “Sportstudio”.

Contacted in the late 90s, Debbi Wilkes and Vivian Joseph knew nothing of this, and still thought the German pair had been disqualified. Wilkes and Revell kept their silver medals, in fact, Revell’s medal was buried with him after his death, and the Josephs kept their bronze medals. Thus four silver medals were eventually awarded in this event. The IOC lists did not change the standings for many years, but recognizing that two sets of silver medals have been awarded in this event, now list Kilius/Bäumler and Wilkes/Revell as =2nd and as silver medalists, and have the Josephs in 3rd place with bronze medals. The ISU has never changed the original rankings, continuing to list Kilius/Bäumler 2nd, Wilkes/Revell 3rd, and the Josephs 4th.

1968

In a similar case to the 1952 boxing, American featherweight Al Robinson was disqualified in the final against home fighter Antonio Roldán. In a dubious decision, Robinson was disqualified for head butting. As in 1952, this officially ruled him out of a silver medal. However, US officials protested the decision and Robinson received the medal after returning home. He did not enjoy it for long, as he fell into a coma during training in 1971, and eventually died three years later.

1984

The women’s 100 m hurdles, severely hurt by the Soviet boycott, saw Benita Fitzgerald-Brown edge out Shirley Strong (GBR). Third-place was announced at first as a dead heat between Kim Turner (USA) and France’s Michele Chardonnet, but after reviewing photos of the finish, the judges reversed themselves and gave the bronze medal to Turner. But Chardonnet was not informed of this until she was standing on the infield awaiting the medal ceremony, and she left the field sobbing. The French Athletics Federation protested and 3½ months later the decision was reverted to a dead-heat. Chardonnet received her bronze medal six months after the Olympics ended.

Kim Turner (right) on her way to a shared bronze.

 

1992

Canadian Sylvie Fréchette, the 1991 World Champion and World Cup Champion was favored to win the women’s solo synchronized swimming event at the Barcelona Games. She was expected to be challenged by American Kristin Babb-Sprague, who was stronger in the freestyle final routine. Fréchette was expected to open a lead in the technical figures. But in that segment, Brazilian judge Maria de Silveira gave Fréchette an unaccountably low score of 8.7. De Silveira maintained that she had made a mistake and hit the wrong button, and meant to give her a score of 9.7. But the score could not be changed, per the FINA rules. The Canadians appealed the decision after the technical figures, but this was overturned 11-2, the two dissenting votes coming from the Canadian members of the Jury of Appeal. This let Babb-Sprague take the lead after the technical figures, and Fréchette was unable to overcome that lead, as Babb-Sprague seemingly won the gold medal.

Fréchette hugs Babb-Sprague from the silver medal section of the podium.

But that would not be the end of it. Dick Pound, powerful Canadian IOC Member, led a further appeal to have the results overturned. FINA eventually caved to the pressure and elected to declare Fréchette and Babb-Sprague as co-champions, and awarded Fréchette a gold medal in October 1993.

2000

Dong Fangxiao, who was only 14 years old at the time of the Sydney Olympics

 

As a member of the Chinese women’s gymnastics team at the Sydney Olympics, Dong Fangxiao earned a bronze medal. Eight years later, she was entered as an official for the Beijing Olympics. The birth information she used for that application – stating a birth year of 1986 – was different from the one used at the Sydney Games, when she claimed to have been born in 1983.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) launched an investigation, as a birth year of 1986 would have made Dong only 14 at the time of the Sydney Olympics, two years under the age limit of 16. The FIG concluded 1986 was Dong’s actual birth year, and disqualified her from the 2000 Games. The IOC went along with that verdict, and handed the bronze medal from the team all-around to the United States.

Gymnasts are no longer the stars of the Olympics

While the world’s top gymnasts are competing at the World  Championships in Nanning, China, we look into a remarkable trend in Olympic gymnastics.

From 1928 through 1992, a gymnast was always among the top 3 athletes with the most medals at the Olympics. On 10 of those 15 occassions, the gymnast was ranked first. Since then, only one gymnast has reached the top 3, Zou Kai in 2008.

One might argue that this is due increased competition from athletes in other sports (which may be the case), but the number medals gymnasts are winning is also decreasing. At the last three Olympic Games, the top gymnast earned a total of three medals, while the average between 1928 and 2000 was between five and six medals.

Below are the highest ranking gymnasts at each Olympics since 1924, when individual apparatus events were introduced.

Year Overall Rank Gymnast NOC Gold Silver Bronze
1924 7 Francesco Martino ITA 2 0 0
1924 7 Leon Štukelj YUG 2 0 0
1928 1 Georges Miez SUI 3 1 0
1932 1 Romeo Neri ITA 3 0 0
1936 2 Konrad Frey GER 3 1 2
1948 2 Veikko Huhtanen FIN 3 1 1
1952 1 Viktor Chukarin URS 4 2 0
1956 1 Ágnes Keleti HUN 4 2 0
1960 1 Borys Shakhlin URS 4 2 1
1964 2 Věra Čáslavská TCH 3 1 0
1968 1 Věra Čáslavská TCH 4 2 0
1972 2 Sawao Kato JPN 3 2 0
1976 1 Nikolay Andrianov URS 4 2 1
1980 1 Aleksandr Dityatin URS 3 4 1
1984 1 Ecaterina Szabo ROU 4 1 0
1988 3 Viktor Artyomov URS 4 1 0
1992 1 Vitaly Shcherbo EUN 6 0 0
1996 7 Aleksey Nemov RUS 2 1 3
2000 7 Aleksey Nemov RUS 2 1 3
2004 5 Cătălina Ponor ROU 3 0 0
2008 2 Zou Kai CHN 3 0 0
2012 14 Zou Kai CHN 2 0 1

Why is this happening? We suspect that the reason is the increasing degree of specialization for the individual apparatus events. Of the six male gold medallists in London 2012, two (Arthur Zanetti-Rings and Krisztián Berki-Pommelled Horse) only competed in their specialism. None of the other four athletes competed in the individual all-around, with only Zou Kai reaching a second apparatus final – in which he won a bronze medal, too. Things were a bit different among women, though, as Aly Raisman, Aliya Mustafina and Sandra Izbașa reached one additional final (Raisman and Mustafina winning bronze).

If we expand our view a bit, specialization does appear to be a trend. At each Olympics, there are ten apparatus events (six for men, four for women), with at least three medals awarded in each event (in case of ties, more than three athletes per event may receive medals). If we look at the number of gymnasts dividing those medal, that number gradually increasing. For decades, around 11 gymnasts divided the men’s medals, while for the last three Games that number is 16. The lowest number came in 1980, when only eight men divided the medals, with Aleksandr Dityatin taking a medal on each apparatus. Among women the number of distinct medallists has increased from 7 to 10, as shown in the chart below.

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Not just the apparatus gymnasts are specialists – the all-around gymnasts are also becoming specialists. From 1924 through 1992, the men’s winner of the individual all-around always won at least one additional gold medal on an apparatus. Since then, the all-around winner “merely” added a single silver medal, save for Aleksey Nemov in 2000. In the women’s field the all-around winner had already been less successful historically, but 2012 marked the first time the winner (Gabby Douglas) did not win any apparatus medal at all. These trends are visible in the below charts.

Men

Women