Ranking five best and worst summer Olympics (cont.)
1. Munich, 1972
The Munich Olympics did not lack for outstanding performances. Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals in swimming, the charismatic Soviet teenager Olga Korbut helped make gymnastics a sport with mass appeal and U.S. wrestler Dan Gable won gold at 141 pounds without surrendering a single point.
Frank Shorter became the first American to win the Olympic marathon in 64 years and Lasse Viren resurrected Finnish dominance in the distance events, winning the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, the latter in world record time.
But these were the Games when Palestinian terrorists killed two Israelis in the Olympic Village, kidnapped nine more and murdered those athletes during a shootout with German police at the Munich airport. Sports Illustrated headlined the story on the tragic events: "A Sanctuary Violated."
There also was highly questionable officiating. In the gold medal basketball game, officials twice put time back on the clock in the final seconds, allowing the Soviet Union to score a buzzer-beating basket for a 51-50 victory and end the Americans' Olympic unbeaten streak at 62 games.
U.S. swimmer Rick DeMont lost his gold medal in the 400 meters when it turned out U.S. swim team doctors were unaware he was using a banned asthma medication even though DeMont had listed it on his medical form.
In track, befuddled IAAF officials went back and forth debating whether pole vaulters could use a new pole that had been introduced at the beginning of the season. The officials ultimately banned the poles just two days before the Olympic competition and gave defending Olympic champion Bob Seagren a pole he had never used before. Seagren finished second to East Germany's Wolfgang Nordwig who had only vaulted with the old pole and was unaffected by the ban.
Two American 100-meter competitors were eliminated before the quarterfinals because their coach had misread the schedule and did not get them to the track on time.
And in an ominous sign of doping controversies to come, East Germany's Renate Stecher, who looked more like a linebacker than a sprinter, won the women's 100 and 200 meters. Nearly a quarter-century later it was revealed Stecher had been given an anabolic steroid for two years before the Munich Games.
2. St. Louis, 1904
For starters, St. Louis wasn't even supposed to have the Olympics. The Games had been awarded to Chicago but St. Louis, then the nation's fourth largest city, threatened to hold its own athletic competition in conjunction with the 1904 World's Fair that marked the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. President Theodore Roosevelt entered the debate and chose St. Louis. It was not one of Roosevelt's better decisions as the fair's popularity overwhelmed the Olympics.
Barely a dozen national teams showed up in St. Louis, a difficult destination for most of the world to reach in the days before planes and paved highways. Even modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin didn't make the trip from France.
Most embarrassing was the finish of the men's marathon where American Ed Lorz entered the stadium first and was considered the winner. Right before the medal ceremony, however, the truth came out: Lorz had actually stopped running after nine miles, hitched a car ride back to the stadium and had run the final miles after the car broke down (this was 1904, after all).
The actual winner was another American, Thomas Hicks. Today Hicks would have been disqualified for receiving doses of strychnine sulfate and sips of brandy during the race from his trainers.
Spread over 4 ½ months the Games played second fiddle to the hubbub of the world's fair, which drew 50 more nations than the Olympics. The fair, which helped popularize the ice cream cone and was immortalized by the song "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" was a hit. Not so the Olympics.
3. Paris, 1900
A dry run for the St. Louis debacle took place four years earlier when the Olympics were held the same time as the 1900 Paris World's Fair. De Coubertin was given a secondary role in planning, and fair organizers spread the Games over 5 ½ months between May 14 and Oct. 28.
It was hard to tell what was an Olympic event and what was part of the fair. Olympic historian David Wallechinsky wrote: "Many athletes died without ever knowing that they had participated in the Olympics."
There were no closing ceremonies and no medals. About the only positives were that 28 nations competed, double the number at Athens four years earlier, and that women participated for the first time.
Paris did redeem itself with the superbly organized 1924 Olympics, the Games made famous by the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.
4. Moscow, 1980
The U.S.-led boycott of the Games to protest the Soviet Union's ongoing invasion of Afghanistan resulted in 65 nations staying home from the only summer Olympics ever held behind the Iron Curtain. Eighty nations arrived at the Soviet capital, the lowest number since the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia.
Use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs continued as East German athletes ran up big medal totals in women's swimming and track and field.
There was also evidence of cheating by Soviet bloc officials, particularly in the men's triple jump. Phantom fouls were called on Brazilian world record holder Joao Carlos de Oliveira and on Australian Ian Campbell, who appeared to have the longest jump of the competition. The fouls cleared the way for Soviets Jaak Uudmae and three-time Olympic champion Victor Saneyev to finish 1-2.
And in the javelin, an apparent foul by the USSR's Dainis Kula was ruled a fair throw by Soviet officials, allowing Kula to reach the final round and ultimately win the gold medal.
5. Montreal, 1976
The Olympics that featured Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Cuban track star Alberto Juantorena and a powerhouse U.S. men's swim team are best remembered for what went wrong: a boycott by more than 20 African nations; tainted medals in women's swimming by a steroid-addled East German team; and financial disaster for the host city.
Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, whose quarter century of leadership oversaw a collapsed economy and political corruption, called for his fellow African nations to boycott the Montreal Games after New Zealand's rugby team had visited South Africa. That nation's apartheid policies were anathema to the rest of the continent.
Even though rugby was not an Olympic sport, Nyerere agitated for New Zealand's ouster from the Games. When the International Olympic Committee rightly argued that it had no jurisdiction over rugby and that New Zealand was welcome, the Africans stayed home, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania's Flibert Bayi, world-record holder in the 1,500 meters.
Four years earlier at Munich, East German female swimmers had failed to win one gold medal. At Montreal they dominated, winning 11 of 13 events. Their huge bodies and deep voices raised questions to which one East German Fraulein answered: "We're here to swim, not sing."
After German unification two decades later, documents proved the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs by East German athletes in a variety of sports, including women's swimming.
The legacy of the Montreal Olympics did not end with the closing ceremonies. Poor financial planning and budget overruns saddled Montreal and Quebec residents with more than 30 years of debts totaling $1 billion. And the white elephant of an Olympic stadium stands empty after the departure of the Montreal Expos in 2005.
Honorable mention: London, 1908; London, 1948; Seoul 1988; Atlanta 1996; Athens 2004.
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