Violating the Olympic spirit
By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 2

Olympic history is filled with moments of high drama, many of which take place outside the competition. Through the years, many American Olympians have been the center of controversy resulting in a ban or suspension. Below is a sampling of some of the more prominent cases:

Jim Thorpe
Medal or no medal -- Thorpe was the greatest athlete of his era.
Jim Thorpe
Thorpe blew out the competition in the 1912 Stockholm Olympcs decathlon, trouncing the silver medalist by an extraordinary 700 points, and he also easily won the pentathlon. At the end of the games, King Gustav V of Sweden told Thorpe, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." Shortly after the Olympics, however, it was discovered that Thorpe had played some minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910. Thorpe confessed, but wrote, "I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know about such things. I was not very wise in the ways of the world and did not realize this was wrong."

He was not excused. The IOC stripped him of his gold medals and his amateur status. After a decades-long campaign, the IOC finally restored Thorpe's gold medals in 1982, almost 30 years after his death.

Babe Didrikson
Didrikson, who had won two gold medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, was banned from amateur competition by the AAU later that year, for allowing her photo to be used in a car adversitement, which violated amateur rules. Didrikson denied that she authorized the ad, but shortly after went on tour with the "Babe Didrikson All-Americans," a basketball team, and also played with the House of David baseball team.

Didrikson also started playing competitive golf, and won the Texas Women's Amateur in 1935. But she was banned from amateur competition by the USGA, because she had competed as a pro in baseball and basketball. In 1943, she was reinstated as an amateur and dominated women's golf throughout the rest of the 1940s.

Eleanor Holm
Holm had finished fifth in the 100 meter backstroke in the 1928 Amsterdam Games and won gold in the event four years later in L.A. She held the world record and was favored to repeat as gold medalist in Berlin in 1936, but on the ship over to Europe she just had too good a time, drinking until the wee hours and also shooting craps. She was voted off the team while still aboard ship, and American Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage upheld the decision.

Holm didn't compete in Berlin, but she had a great time anyway. In 1972, she told Sports Illustrated, "I had such fun! I enjoyed the parties, the Heil Hitlers, the uniforms, the flags ... [Hermann] Goring was fun. He had a good personality. So did the one with the club foot [Joseph Goebbels]."

Rick DeMont
DeMont, 16, won the 400 meter freestyle at the 1972 Munich Games by .01 seconds, but tested positive for ephedrine and was stripped of his gold medal and banned by the IOC from competing in the 1500, in which he held the world record.

DeMont, who suffered from asthma, had disclosed to the USOC that he took prescription medications for allergies, and those meds contained the banned substance. But the USOC never informed the IOC, and DeMont was out. It was a sensational story at the time. "I got more attention than I think anybody can ever handle," DeMont said later. "People were sympathetic, that was nice, but it was still in my mind a terribly negative thing."

The next year, DeMont became the first swimmer to break four minutes in the 400 freestyle, and was named World Swimmer of the Year.

Vince Matthews
These guys would probably burp during a moment of silence.
Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett
Matthews, the gold medalist in the 1972 Summer Olympics 400 meter dash, and Collett, the silver medalist, were suspended by the IOC for what it called a "disgusting display" on the victory stand. The two had stood on the top step of the platform and chatted while the national anthem played, and continued their very informal behavior despite boos from the crowd while stepping down from the platform (Matthews twirled his gold medal, Collett gave friends in the crowd a black power salute.) Both were barred from competing in the 400 meter relay.

Matthews, in a New York Times article, said, "I wasn't acting any differently than I usually do, but we were like goldfish in a fishbowl, in front of all those people. If they wanted me to stand at attention, I could've probably done that, but it wouldn't be me, and I was led to believe that the Olympics was for the athlete. We consider ourselves athletes, not politicians, or marching bands. Our athletic competition was over, and we were both happy."

Butch Reynolds
In August 1990, Reynolds, the 400 meter world record holder and a 1988 gold and silver medalist, was suspended for two years by the IAAF after testing positive for steroids. He appealed to the IAAF to lift his suspension so he could compete in the 1992 Summer Games, but his appeal was refused. A U.S. court order allowed him to compete in the 1992 Olympic trials, and he made the 1600 meter relay team, but the IAAF refused to let him compete in Barcelona, and extended his suspension because he had competed while under suspension.

Reynolds sued the IAAF and in late 1992 won a $27.3 million judgment, both for lost income and in punitive damages, as the court found that the IAAF acted maliciously and that, as Reynolds contended, it was quite likely the 1990 drug test was faulty. But the judgment was reversed on appeal, and Reynolds never collected.

The sprinter returned to compete in the 1996 Olympics, but went down with an injury 100 meters into his semifinal heat.



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