How bad have things been at the Games? Setting aside the terrorist acts of Munich and Atlanta, this list focuses on accidents, scandals, or weirdness that took place during the matches or right after.
Taekwondo Competitor Kicks the Referee
In the 2008 taekwondo bronze-medal final, the referee ruled that Cuban Angel Matos had taken too much injury time. He disqualified Matos and named his opponent the winner of the medal. What does a martial artist do when he's mad? In Matos's case, he kicked the ref full in the face, pushed a judge, and spat on the ground. He claimed his opponent's country had paid the referee off. Hours later, the World Taekwondo Federation banned Matos and his coach from all official WTF events, including the Olympics. Virtually no one took Matos's side in this case...except for Fidel Castro, of course.
Cyclist Dies From Steroids During the Race
It was really hot during the 100K team trial in Rome in 1960, but most cyclists seemed OK. But Knud Jensen of the Danish team got dizzy. His teammates tried to help him, but as soon as they let go, he collapsed, cracking his skull on the pavement. He died shortly afterwards at the medical tent. His trainer confessed he had given Jensen Roniacol, which increases blood flow. One of the autopsy doctors said he found amphetamines in Knudsen's system. It was the first (known) doping scandal in Olympics history. But was it actually illegal? Amazingly, the Olympics didn't have drug testing before this incident, but they took action, and had rules in place by the 1968 games.
Russia Steals the Gold
The gold-medal game was over. The clock hit zero, the buzzer sounded, the fans stormed the court, and the ABC TV graphic said "Final." The US had beaten the USSR by one point -- an important, symbolic victory in those Cold War days. And yet...it wasn't over. There was confusion about when the Russians had a called a timeout during the final seconds, and both sides accused the other of, if not cheating, at least not understanding the rules of international play. In an unprecedented move, the president of FIBA, the international basketball association, came down from the stands and ordered the referees to put three seconds back on the clock, giving the Soviets one more chance to score. Which they did. The Americans protested right then, as well as after the game and even after the Olympics were over, but a FIBA jury upheld the result. The US players did not attend the medal ceremony to receive their silver medals. To this day, they have never accepted them.
Wrestler Tosses His Medal
The American basketball team could have done more to protest their loss, the way Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian did in 2008. He already felt he had been cheated out of the gold medal by a corrupt referee, and judges who wouldn't consider his appeal or review video of the match. He then competed in the bronze-medal match and won...but he wasn't happy. At the medal ceremony, he shook hands with the presenter and one of the other medal-winners. Then he walked to the center of the wrestling mat, put down his medal, and walked away. When reporters followed, he accused the judges and referees of corruption. The IOC then stripped him of his medal. Eventually, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed all the penalties against him (including fines and a suspension), but Abrahamian didn't compete in 2012 and his career is pretty much over.
Runner Trips, Falls, Cries, Blames
American Mary Decker had broken records and won every award except for a gold medal. 1984 was her chance to do it in her home country. During the 3000 meter race, she was running in a pack behind South African Zola Budd. Their legs got tangled and Decker fell. Budd kept racing, but intentionally slowed down out of either confusion, guilt, or fear of the US crowd, which was booing her. Decker immediately gave a press conference, saying that Budd had tried to apologize, and she had replied, "Don't bother." The fall hurt her hip, but instead of using a cane or crutches, she let her boyfriend (a fellow Olympian) carry her around, which looked like a blatant cry for sympathy. The Americans filed a protest but video review showed it was just an accident. Decker and Budd eventually made up, but Decker became known as "America's Crybaby." Neither she nor Budd ever won an Olympic medal.
Jason Ginsburg attended USC, which has won more Summer Olympics medals than any other American university. He works for Discovery Channel.