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The 8 Biggest Olympic Scandals in History

While China prepared to host the Games in Beijing, Chinese athletes were reportedly pushed beyond the limit in the country’s bid to win more medals than the Americans. According to a report from the New York Times, a diver lost a retina; female athletes were pressured to resume training soon after childbirth; and athletes were told that if they didn’t secure a gold in the Beijing Olympics, all of their other athletic feats were for nothing. 

The scandals of the Beijing Olympics weren’t limited to the government’s treatment of the athletes: Migrant workers were reportedly denied proper wages and protections while building infrastructure for the Games, leading to accusations of human rights violations. Chinese government agencies also made headlines for gathering intelligence on “potentially troublesome foreign organizations,” according to security experts who spoke to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Spain’s men’s and women’s basketball teams got in trouble for making a racist gesture while posing for an Olympics advertisement. The newspaper advertisement, put out by Spain’s Basketball Federation to wish the team good luck in the Games, showed all 15 members of the men’s team posed against a court floor adorned with a Chinese dragon, pulling their eyes to the sides in what one player said was meant to be a “friendly gesture” toward the Chinese. Later, other photos of the Spanish women’s basketball team posing the same way surfaced, as well as the Spanish women’s tennis team and the Argentinian women’s soccer team. The teams insisted the gesture was one of camaraderie, but the racist tone behind the gesture was hard to ignore.

8. The U.S. swim team concocts an elaborate lie at the 2016 Games in Rio  

Ryan Lochte holds a press conference in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the opening ceremony

Ryan Lochte holds a press conference in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the opening ceremony. 


In 2016, Ryan Lochte was competing in the Rio Summer Olympics. As a 12-time Olympic Gold medalist and celebrated member of the United States swimming team, all eyes were already on Lochte — but the scrutiny got even more intense when he and three of his teammates claimed they had been held up at gunpoint after a night out in Brazil. 

According to Lochte’s initial account, the swimmers were robbed by men who appeared to be police officers. (Lochte even added this detail: His teammates dropped to the ground when faced with the gun, but he refused the “attackers'” orders.) But Lochte’s account fell apart quickly under probing from Olympic officials and eventually the true story crystallized: Lochte and the other swimmers were confronted by security guards after vandalizing a gas station bathroom. 

Lochte ended up capitulating somewhat in an interview with since-disgraced NBC News host Matt Lauer, saying he had “over-exaggerated” what had happened, but maintained that the events were open to interpretation. The incident tarnished Lochte’s reputation, and he’ll miss an opportunity to try to reinvigorate his career at this year’s Tokyo Games — at the June swimming trials in Omaha, he failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: The Olympics Are a Disaster for Host Cities

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