Let’s have a look at some of the most epic, controversial snow sports moments in history. They are some of winter games’ most unpredictable moments. They’re insane and some of them, heart-wrenching. They are not world records, personal bests and definitely not necessarily gold medals.
2002 Salt Lake City Olympics: French Judge confesses to throwing the competition (Pairs Figure Skating)
Russian competitors Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze made noticeable errors in their long program, while Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier performed a flawless routine that had the crowd chanting “Six! Six! Six!” and when the judges ruled 5-4 in favour of the Russians and loud boos rang from the arena, the Canadian Olympic officials filed a protest. Protests filed by the losing party have become relatively common in the Olympics and the exercise is often a symbolic and ultimately fruitless gesture. But in this case, some dirt actually turned up. In the subsequent investigation, it was revealed that the swing vote, French judge Marie-Rene Le Gougne, was up for a seat on the International Skating Union’s powerful technical committee, and reports surfaced that she confided to a British referee a few days earlier that she had been pressured by her own national committee to throw her vote for the Russian pairs. Le Gougne changed her story a few days later in an effort to save face, but her contradictory statements only exacerbated the coverage into a full-blown media frenzy dubbed “skate-gate.” In the end, Le Gougne was suspended for three years, the Canadians were awarded a second pair of gold medals, and the sport underwent reform with judges’ scores being kept secret and chosen at random.
2002 Salt Lake City Olympics: Speed skater wins country’s first Gold Medal by waiting for everyone else to fall (1000 meter Short Track Speed Skating)
Australian Steven Bradbury devised a strategy of waiting in the back of the pack on the off chance that his competitors might trip up. Amazingly, the strategy worked when a disqualification in the quarterfinals got him through to the semis and a crash sent him to the finals. In the final, favorite Apollo Anton Ohno and the three other competing skaters collided in an epic crash; the trailing Bradbury was close enough to the pack to cross the finish line before any of the fallen skaters, becoming Australia’s first gold medallist in the Winter Olympics.
1998 Nagano Olympics: Hermann Maier flies off the course at 70 mph, gets up and walks away (Downhill)
In downhill alpine skiing, skiers travel at extremely high velocities (typically 96kmph or more) down courses that closely follow the mountain’s fall line.
In 1998, Nagano Olympics race officials were worried about the downhill course—specifically a steep angle between the 6th and 7th gates. They altered this portion but the section still posed a danger. Austrian Hermann Maier finished first in the World Cup standings before the Olympics but had a reputation for recklessness within the skiing circuit—in fact, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, “caution was not a word in Maier’s vocabulary.” Maier didn’t slow down before the aforementioned dangerous turn in Nagano and went flying off the course at 112kmph, tumbling to a halt some 50 meters away. In a sport where injuries—and even deaths—aren’t unheard of, Maier shocked TV audiences by getting up and walking away with nothing more than a bruised shoulder. Benefiting from a 24-hour weather delay on his next event, the Super-G, Maier used the extra rest to get back in full form and took home the gold. He also came in first in the Giant Slalom three days later.
1998 Nagano Olympics: Gold medalist got busted for marijuana (Snowboarding Parallel Giant Slalom)
At the 1998 Nagano Games, snowboarding was introduced in an effort to make the Olympics appeal to a younger audience. Still, there was some trepidation about the perceived rambunctious lifestyle of the snowboarding community and how it would fit in with the formality of the Olympics. Nothing better illustrated this clash of values than when Canadian Ross Rebagliati became the inaugural winner in the Parallel Giant Slalom and was promptly stripped of his medal three days after the event for testing positive for marijuana. Rebagliati claimed to have ingested it second-hand at a party and the Canadian Olympic delegation successfully appealed the IOC’s decision on the basis that marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. He got his medal back before the Games ended.
1988 Calgary Olympics: Ski Jumper rallies national pride by finishing last (Men’s Normal Hill Ski Jumping)
English plasterer Michael Edwards travelled to Lake Placid, New York two years before the Calgary Olympics to fulfil his dreams of making the event as a downhill skier. When money ran short, he decided to switch to ski jumping because it was significantly cheaper and there would be no competition at the national trials. Edwards became the first Olympic ski jumper in British history but was far below the standards of the rest of the field. Edwards crashed at the World Championships the year before the ’88 Games and was ridiculed by the international press, who dubbed him “Mr. Magoo” due to his thick-rimmed glasses and heavy frame. To the British, however, Edwards became a great source of fascination, which turned into a full-fledged national craze as he became the first Olympic ski jumper in the country’s history and successfully landed his attempt at the Calgary Games. Although he didn’t even score half the points total of any other competitor, he earned admiration worldwide and was given the nickname “Eddie the Eagle” by the President of the International Olympic Committee during the closing ceremony. Sadly, many others in the Olympic community did not take him seriously, and they raised the qualifying standards to prevent Edwards from participating in the future. This didn’t stop him from trying, but he failed to qualify on three successive occasions. Today, Edwards still plasters for a living and estimates that 70 percent of his income comes from speaking engagements.
1968 Grenoble Olympics: Women cheat by heating up their sleds (Women’s Luge)
There have been a limited number of cases of cheating in the Winter Olympics (far fewer than in the Summer Olympics), but that doesn’t mean it’s totally eradicated. Just ask Ortun Enderlein. Enderlein, the defending luge champion, and her two East German teammates aroused suspicion by showing up just before their runs and leaving the scene hastily after. Enderlein won gold and her teammates placed 3rd and 4th, but upon closer inspection, it was discovered that their sleds had been heated immediately before the races, which reduced friction with the ice and resulted in faster times. The three were disqualified and the East German Olympic Committee blamed the affair on a “capitalist revanchist plot.”