We have such a high investment in sports because throughout history we’ve used them as both a means of entertainment and a status symbol. Sports represent conflict in its purist form, pitting athlete against athlete to determine just who really is the best.
Then you find out cheating runs rampant in most (if not all) sports and the whole thing is a façade. The image of genuine sports has muddied for quite some time but the cheaters will always live on in infamy.
After a string of Olympic defeats, Germany began placing its hopes on new athletes at the 1936 games. Among those athletes was Dora Ratjen, a woman who competed in the High Jump events. Sadly, Dora placed in forth, just being squeaked out of the coveted bronze. Sadder still, Dora was actually a dude.
Whether or not Dora’s admission into the games was a deliberate cheat or not is still something that remains a mystery. When Dora was born a genital defect led the midwife to believe he was a she. He had been raised as a girl but eventually the mistake had been realized. So had he intentionally entered as a woman then yes, he cheated. However, a much wilder theory persists: the German Government had actually entered several men in women’s games. The truth may never be known, though the second theory is widely rejected.
Boxing is already a pretty brutal sport by most measures. After all, how many sports encourage and require you to actively punch your opponent in the face in an attempt to knock them out? Given its grizzly nature, boxing cheats tend to take things to an unusual extreme, but no attempts to sway the odds compare to Panama Lewis.
Panama Lewis was the trainer of Lewis Resto, a team I am now retroactively dubbing “Too Many Lewises.” Lewis was set to face the then undefeated Billy Collins Jr. Because he was one part intimidated and three parts a bastard, Panama removed some of the padding from Lewis’ gloves, meaning his punches would hit harder. While his trainer was going behind his back to ensure his victory, Lewis decided he wanted to make this bout a sure thing and dipped his hands in Plaster of Pairs, meaning his punches would hit incredibly hard. Here’s what happened to Collins:
Both men were tried and found guilty of various crimes. Panama Lewis had his boxing license revoked but went on to train fighters overseas. Collins was forced to retire from his various injuries and nine months later drove his car off a cliff, ending his life. Many believe the incident to have been suicide rather than an accident.
As a child, Stella’s family immigrated to America from Poland. As she grew up she learned to love sports and eventually won a spot on American Olympic team in high school. However, she wasn’t a legal American resident and wouldn’t be until she was twenty-one. She continued her athletics in America, winning many local meets and gaining notoriety.
She eventually returned to Poland to compete in the Olympic games. In 1932 she won the gold in the One-Hundred Meter Sprint, starting a long legacy of victories. She went on to break several world records in her lifetime (eighteen total). Stella went on to become one of the most prolific Polish athletes in history before her death in 1980.
…then her autopsy revealed she had male genitalia and while she possessed feminine characteristics, her biological gender could not be determined. She had been born with a pair of XX and XY chromosomes. The matter is really perplexing when you know that in 1936 she had to undergo a gender check to compete in that year’s Olympics.