The expulsion of Ben Johnson from the Olympics Tuesday because of steroid use could be the biggest incident of cheating to rip the Games. It certainly is not the first.
In 1976, Boris Onischenko was disqualified when his epee was found to be electronically rigged. In 1904, marathoner Fred Lorz committed a fraud that may have inspired Rosie Ruiz to try a similar stunt years later in the Boston Marathon.
And Stella Walsh of Poland, a winner of two Olympic medals in women’s sprinting during the 1930s, was found to be a man in an autopsy some 40 years later.
In fact, cheating in the Games goes back to Nero. In 67 A.D., the Roman emperor fell off his chariot and failed to complete the course. The jury, under extreme pressure no doubt, declared him the champion anyway.
The Olympics also have been marked by inadvertent cheaters. Jim Thorpe was stripped of gold medals won in the 1912 Stockholm Games after being ruled a professional for earning $25 playing baseball. Swimmer Rick DeMont had his 1972 gold medal taken away for testing positive for a drug found in his allergy tablet.
Onischenko, though, was clearly out to cheat. The defending silver medalist in the modern pentathlon was leading in Montreal when his sword was seized following protests by British opponents. They noticed they were losing hits without being touched.
The epee was wired with a hidden push-button circuit breaker which enabled Onischenko to register a hit whenever he wanted. He was whisked away from the Olympic Village, and the Soviets were disqualified.
Lorz also was whisked away--by an automobile--during a major portion of the St. Louis marathon.
After crossing the finish line, the New York native was declared the winner and photographed with the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt. Lorz was about to receive the gold medal when it was discovered he hitched a ride for 11 miles during the race.
Perhaps the most bizarre incident in amateur athletics involved Walsh, who won a gold and silver medal running the 100-yard dash for Poland in 1932 and 1936. During the Los Angeles Games, an official noted that Walsh--the first woman to break the 11-second barrier in the 100--ran with “long man-like strides.”
On Dec. 4, 1980, Walsh got caught in the middle of a robbery attempt in Cleveland and was shot to death. An autopsy soon revealed that the person that had set 11 world records had been a man.
Thorpe never intended to cheat. Part American Indian, the Oklahoma native began the 1912 Games by winning the pentathlon, took fourth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump.
Thorpe then won the three-day decathlon, even though he had not thrown a javelin until two months before the competition. He returned to the United States a hero and was honored with a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.
But in 1913, it was uncovered that Thorpe had earned $25 playing minor league baseball in North Carolina. He was a professional when he appeared in the Olympics, and thus ineligible.
“I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things,” Thorpe wrote in a letter to the Amateur Athletic Union.
The AAU showed no mercy. It took away his medals and removed his name from the record books. Thorpe went on to play pro baseball and football, but drifted during the Depression and died in 1953 without his honor.
It was not until January 1983 that the International Olympic Committee lifted the ban against Thorpe and returned his gold medals to his children.
DeMont was a 16-year-old from San Rafael, Calif., who suffered from asthma. U.S. team physicians failed to check his medication against the list of substances banned by the IOC--a fateful mistake.
The night before winning the 400 meters, DeMont took an allergy tablet. Four days later came the announcement he had been stripped of his medal and barred from further competition. Olympic incidents such as these have not been confined to summer. At the 1968 Winter Games, the East German women who finished first, second and fourth in the luge were disqualified when it was discovered they had used a chemical to heat the runners of their toboggans to increase speed.
The East German Olympic Committee called the disqualification--which stripped the gold medal from defending champion Ortrun Enderlein--the result of a “capitalist plot.”
Call it you will, it was cheating.