Reporting Luke McKinney
The Olympics used to be warring city-states showing off how they could kill each other, naked, but since then it’s gotten nasty. Good sportsmanship is giving everyone a fair chance, nobly accepting loss, and a whole bunch of things some people just aren’t interested in after a lifetime of training and an entire nation screaming for their triumph. (No surprise, as that’s a GI Joe villain origin story.) The result is some diamond-plated dick moves, which isn’t Bond villain prophylaxis but a collection of tactics less sporting than Professor X convincing everyone he’s just won the 100 meter sprint.
We won’t be including drug use because that’s way past poor sportsmanship. And because the only way to eliminate drug offences from the Olympics would be to stop watching or make them legal, then create new steel-reinforced Event Cages to contain the rippling steroid-monsters unleashed on the athletic world. Also, redefine every event to be Thunderdome — Aquatic Thunderdome, Archery Thunderdome, Exploding Shuttlecock Badminton Thunderdome — and prepare for it to become the even-more-most-viewed event of all time.
Fred Lorz – Marathon (1904)
The marathon is the archetypical Greek Olympic event despite
a) never being in the original Greek Olympics
b) being damn stupid even then.
The legend goes that Pheidippides ran himself to death over 25 miles just to tell the Athenians that they’d won, like some kind of suicidal Anti-Revere. And the 1904 St. Louis Olympics still made him look smart. Athletes had to complete the marathon in 90-degree heat, without water, in a constant cloud of dust kicked up by “support” vehicles which had clearly been sent from an evil mirror universe…and by this point the Olympic committee had added an extra mile to the event because merely killing fictional ancient Greek heroes wasn’t tough enough for them.
After nine miles of having his own lungs turned inside out as proof that people had a faster way of getting from place to place, Fred Lorz decided “Screw this.” It’s a pity the Olympics is about physical challenges because that alone should have won him the gold medal in Smart Thinking. He hopped in his manager’s car, but after eleven miles of internal combustion he decided he felt much better about finishing the race. He hopped out of the car, leisurely jogged to the Olympic stadium, casually crossed the finish line and was about to nonchalantly accept the victor’s laurel wreath, presumably while whistling.
At this point someone announced that he was a blatant cheat. At this point plus one half second Lorz suddenly explained that it was a “joke”, pre-empting the entire internet’s “my unbelievable dick move was a joke” strategy a century early. No-one has used a car so unsportingly since Dick Dastardly, for whom dick moves are named. There have been more believably innocent jokes in Gotham city. Even if he had been joking, stealing the victory cheer from the cast-iron lunatics actually completing the hell he’d left behind is a dick move big enough to have its own gravitational field.
John Carpenter – 400 m (1908)
The last time London held the Olympics America had three of the four final runners, a guaranteed two-thirds majority of the medals, and that wasn’t enough for John Carpenter. He “won” the race by constantly and illegally blocking the only non-American contestant and just for added dickishness, Wyndham Halswelle was British. Looking at his name again, we realize we didn’t need to tell you that.
An official added the quotation marks to the previous paragraph by noticing this and disqualifying John, and possibly making a satirical remark about how Americans couldn’t even run a bloody race without invading another country’s territory.
John argued that blocking was entirely within US rules, a point which was completely irrelevant on foreign soil and moves this past cutting modern satire into near-surgical mockery. The officials replied with the fact that they were in Britain, at a British event, perhaps adding that while Americans had made it quite clear that they didn’t like British rules a few hundred years ago the fact they could actually see Big Ben from where they were standing meant they still applied. If you’re allowed to use rules from other sports during an event, you might as well pull out a kendo stick and trip your contestants. (Not a bad idea — we’d pay to watch the 100 m Kendo Sprint.)
William Robbins and John Taylor, now absolutely guaranteed Olympic medals in a race of three people, decided that advanced intercontinental sulking was a better response and refused to compete. The U.S. contingent effectively took their athletes and went home, because other people wouldn’t let them ignore rules they didn’t like. Luckily three foreign boors are easily within the bounds of one proper chap to balance out, and Wyndham decently ran the race to take the gold in fifty seconds, only 1.6 seconds slower than the new world record he’d just set in the semifinals. Even though he could have been the first man to tango his way to Olympic gold, with bonus ass-backwards finish while shouting rude things about the colonies. To which we doff our hats, for he is a better man than we.
Toni Merkens – Cycling (1936)
Toni Merkens and Arie van Vliet were excellent amateur cyclists. Both competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but only one was German, and sorry if that spoiled the ending. Van Vliet was about to take the race on the final corner when Merkens confused the 1000 m sprint for Mad Max, crashing across the lanes to drive his rival up onto the bank. It couldn’t have been a more blatant cycle turning attack if he’d turned into TRON and left a solid wall trail in front of him.
Van Vliet signaled the foul and the officials told him they were considering the issue, though he may have suspected something when they let Merkens through to win gold in the final before coming to a conclusion. At this point van Vliet might as well have been protesting to eliminate gravity for the next event: it would have been cool but there was absolutely no chance of it happening. The Dutch team mounted an official complaint, which the Germans treated the same way they treated pretty much everything Dutch for the next nine years.
In sports’ only disciplinary action intended to take the piss out of everyone except the guilty, Merkens was later fined 100 Reichsmarks instead of being disqualified — which was the officials way of admitting that he had totally cheated, and even more admitting totally were never going to do anything about it. Cash fines simply don’t happen in amateur games. They’d basically asked Toni if he’d like to buy an Olympic gold for 100 marks, and he recognized a bargain when he saw one.
Horse Botherers – Show jumping (2004)
We’re not including people who take drugs because they’re unsporting and unimaginative, but people who drug horses need to be included in every negative list in existence. When Cian O’Connor won the only Irish Olympic gold in 2004 the entire country was delighted enough to pretend that was really a sport. What followed next was a scandal involving more drugs and crime than Trainspotting. Cian’s horse, Waterford Crystal, was found to have been drugged, and when he demanded a retest the backup samples were stolen on their way to the laboratories. Understand: this was a scheme so underhanded it involved “roadway heist to steal horse urine.” Even worse, the actual medalist might not have been involved.
The offices of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland were broken into, secret files were faxed to news services, another of Cian’s horses was either drugged or put to pasture in a pharmacy, and blood tests showed up bizarre and unnatural substances. It was like a vampire action movie for horses. Which is weird, because My Little Pony isn’t due for a gritty reboot for months. Cian was stripped of his medal and the entire Irish show jumping team was disqualified. Pretending to care about show jumping is bad enough, but losing the medal too? That’s the worst international defeat my country has ever suffered, Vikings included.
In his defense, Cian insisted that the only thing he’d ever done to horses was ride them, and this was the one situation where that’s a plea of innocence. Even the officiating organization pointed out that while he obviously couldn’t keep the gold it might not be his fault. It seems the guilty parties had invented a whole new level of unsporting which meant they weren’t even playing in the sport. Cian didn’t contest the result, served a ban from the sport, gave up his medal - and just this week he just went back and won a new medal to replace it.