The Summer Olympics will always overshadow the winter installment, what with its mix of NBA superstars and adorable gymnasts. Yet the cold-weather games should not be neglected. After all, they’ve given us Tonya Harding, “amateur” Soviet hockey and a whole lot of questionable judging. See below for a bevy of fun topics to discuss while tuning in and tipping a hot toddy.
Austria accepted the sloppy thirds of 1976. Guess when your country has the population of New Jersey, you take what you can get.
6. Psychic Judging
Ice dancing is a sport for anyone who’s watched figure skating and thought, “I wish this involved less athleticism.” (It essentially bans skaters being lifted, getting thrown or even jumping, leaving just the… yeah.) Many don’t find this terribly thrilling to watch, including apparently some of the people judging it. At 1998 Nagano, a judge taped a fellow judge trying to decide the winners before, technically, the event has occurred. Apparently this is frowned upon, prompting International Olympic Committee vice president Dick Pound to call for the sport to be dropped. Tragically, it’s still around.
5. No Professionals to See Here, Comrade
If an elite athlete does virtually nothing except play his sport in return for money and housing, is he a professional? Not if the Communists are writing the checks! Heading into the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet hockey team had won four straight gold medals… and found the time to play acknowledged pros from the NHL/World Hockey Association during three series in the ’70s, narrowly losing the first before taking the next two. While this made the Miracle on Ice all the sweeter— USA! USA!—the Russkies took the gold again in 1984 and 1988 before the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 and Michael, Larry, Magic and the rest of the Dream Team obliterated any lingering notions of amateurism in 1992.
4. The Denver Double Cross
Denver won the right to host the 1976 Winter Olympics. But if you look up the event, you’ll discover the Olympics occurred in Innsbruck, Austria. Were they lost? Nope. It’s just that while Colorado was happy to get the Olympics, the state was less enchanted by the prospect of paying for them. After a bond issue was rejected in 1972, the Olympics had to scramble to find a new host… and were rejected again when Whistler, Canada also declined the offer. Finally, Austria accepted the sloppy thirds of 1976. Guess when your country has the population of New Jersey, you take what you can get.
3. Skates and Schemes
Olympic teammates aren’t always close, particularly if they’re competing in the same event, but they usually don’t attempt to cripple each other. Tonya Harding (who rather awesomely described herself as “Charles Barkley on ice”) and Nancy Kerrigan both represented America in figure skating in 1994. The pair was assured Olympic immortality when Tonya’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, arranged an attempt to break Nancy’s leg, which failed but did make the U.S Figure Skating Championships a lot more memorable. Ultimately Nancy claimed silver while Tonya finished eighth—but avoided prison! Both women remained tabloid fixtures post-Olympics, with Tonya appearing in a sex tape sold by that same ex while Nancy found love with her agent… who was married to someone else, just to ensure everything about this incident makes you feel icky.
2. Karl Craziness
For an event where hundredths of a second make a difference, the following proved to be extraordinarily drawn out. At the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, Austrian alpine ski racer Karl Schranz was in the midst of a slalom run when he stopped, alleging a man had wandered onto the course. His appeal accepted, Schranz took another run and came up with the first-place time, denying Jean-Claude Killy his third gold of the Olympics. But wait, there’s more. Upon reviewing footage later that day, officials insisted that Schranz had missed gates before the mystery man interrupted him. A vote was taken and three out of five members of the jury voted to disqualify Schranz, giving Killy his golden hat trick, taking away the Schranz victory and ensuring everyone watching had absolutely no idea what the hell they’d just seen.
1. Gold for All!
Every so often, Canada can be pushed no further. When Jamie Salé and David Pelletier finished their routine in Salt Lake City in 2002, the consensus was that Russia’s streak of gold medals in figure skating pairs would stop at 10. Then the Russians won anyway. Canada lost its shit, demanding to know how the “Disgrace on Ice” had occurred. Seems there was a perfectly good explanation: France had fixed the event. French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne insisted she had been ordered by the head of the French Skating Federation to support the Russians whatever happened. So naturally, six days after the event, the Canadians were given gold medals at a ceremony, and to ensure maximum weirdness, the Russians also attended wearing their gold medals, in an incident that announced to the world, “Anyone who benefits from blatant judging misconduct had better be prepared to share.”