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The Olympic Games aren't just a competition: they're a sign of global unity. If you can just see past all the boycotts, political strife and xenophobia that's gone into the event over the years then you can see that it's really just about heart. And medals. But mostly heart.
Of course, even the best laid plans can be ruined.
The “Blood in the Water” Match (Melbourne, 1956)
Politics almost always butts in during each Olympics. You've already gathered the nations of the world together for competition; giving them a reason to compete other than those totally rad medals is going to bring out some harsh feelings to say the least.
The Blood in the Water Match refers to a polo game between Hungary and the USSR. During the month of October of that year Hungary was staged to revolt against its government and break away from the rest of the Soviet Union. The first of November saw the tides change and the Soviet Union used its military strength to put down any ideas of rebellion.
Hungary's polo team had been moved to Czechoslovakia for their own safety during the conflict. However, by the time the games had started, the revolt was put down. When it came time to play their Russian rivals a strategy was devised that nearly ended in a riot: they would taunt their opponents in their own language, attempting to enrage and distract them. Sounds good on paper, right?
From the match's start, violence erupted as both teams exchanged kicks and punches. Hungary played a lead of four to zero to the last few minutes of the match. Then the blood hit the water, and things got real.
Hungary's main scorer Ervin Zador had been punched in the face hard enough to create a gash. As he left the pool the audience (comprised primarily of the USSR's opposition during the Cold War) became outraged and rushed the pool, shouting and spitting, until police came to settle things down a bit. Hungary took the match and later the gold.
Black Power Salute (Mexico City, 1968)
Players are advised not to make overtly political statements during the games for obvious reasons. First, despite their competitive nature, the games are about creating unity among nations. Second, and more importantly, Ervin Zador only has so many eyes to punch.
1967 saw the birth of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a group of advocates trying to organize a boycott of the Mexico City games to protest racial segregation around the world. In particular, sociologist Harry Edwards advised black athletes not to participate, but this ultimately failed. You don't train for your whole life to not show up for the Olympics. The games continued unhindered.
Or they would have, had this not happened. The three medalists from the 200-meter dash endorsed OPHR's message and took it with them to the winner's circle. Gold medalist Tommie Smith (who has broken the then world record with his performance) and bronze medalist John Carlos gave the black power salute during the Star-Spangled Banner while silver medalist Peter Norman endorsed their efforts. All three men wore OPHR ribbons, mission accomplished.
While not stripped of their medals, all three men were removed from the Olympic Village and faced harsh criticism upon returning home. While none of the men would compete in the Olympics again, Norman was essentially blacklisted by the Australian team. Despite qualifying for the team he was never again accepted.
1936 Olympic Games
Bidding for the 1936 games took place five years prior to the games themselves. Only two cities bid that year: Berlin and Barcelona. Members of the International Olympic Committee then cast individual votes for their favorite city, leaving Berlin with a sweeping victory of 43 to 16. Berlin would host the Olympic games and everything would be smooth like silk.
Then Hitler happened.
Despite Hitler's rise to power, Berlin remained the host amid much controversy. The Nazi regime used the event to reinforce their stance of Aryan superiority when comprising their team. However, wanting to improve their image on the global stage, they removed many signs of antisemitism from greater Berlin. They also forcibly removed many Romani citizens out of Berlin and into concentration camps because, again, these are Nazi's we're talking about.
Two nations discussed potentially boycotting the games: the United States and Spain. Ultimately Teddy Roosevelt demanded that his country participate for the sake of tradition. Spain, ruling in favor of good taste and class, went through with the boycott, sending a grand total of zero athletes.
Not wanting to miss out on the international fun, Spain devised their own event in protest. The People's Olympiad was to take place in Barcelona and feature many of the same sports that would be seen at the Berlin games. An overwhelming amount of support saw over twenty-two countries register six-thousand athletes. A statement was to be made, and that statement was “We don't care for Nazis.”
Then the Spanish Civil war happened.
As war broke out, the games were canceled with many athletes not even making it to Barcelona. Some of those who had made it, however, stayed to fight, experiencing an entirely different kind of competition than what was described in the brochure.
Arash Miresmaeili's Weight Gain (Athens, 2004)
For those of you not hip to Iranian judo, Arash Miresmaeili is the cat's pajamas, having won eleven medals between the World Championships, the Asian Games and the Asian Championships. With five of those medals being gold, it's safe to assume that the man knows judo to some capacity.
During the 2004 games in Athens, Miresmaeili was favored to take the gold well before the competition began, and not just by his nation, either. However, things fell apart before the first round even began. During the weigh-in it was discovered that he was too heavy for the class that he was registered to compete in, and that it was no mistake.
Miresmaeili's first round opponent was slated to be the Israeli Ehud Vaks. Miresmaeili claimed that his weight gain was to protest having to face an Israeli opponent, as he greatly sympathized with the people of Palestine. He was disqualified and Hud was rewarded a bye into the second round only to be defeated by someone who couldn't be bothered to make an issue of his nationality.
Meanwhile, Miresmaeili had become a hero with Iranians. The ensuing media frenzy retold the story of his protest. The (then) president went so far as to claim that Miresmaeili was the true champion of Athens for his actions. He was even awarded $125,000, the same amount the Iranian government awards gold medalists. Not bad for a guy who didn't even compete.
However, the International Judo Federation (which is very much a real thing) launched an investigation into the matter and discovered that the weight gain had not been intentional and that the protest was improvised. Miresmaeili confirmed this, leaving much of Iran in a state of confusion. When the dust settled it was ruled that no punishment could be made against him simply because he was overweight and he was able to keep the reward money despite not doing anything at all.
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