Olympic Cheats

Athletes are constantly striving to set new records and win medals, and in some cases, by any means necessary, even cheating. Cheating in the Olympics is nothing new. In the Ancient Games athletes found to be cheating, either by under performing or using performance enhancements, were publicly shamed, and their names inscribed on a statue in an effort to discourage future athletes from cheating. It would seem that those inscriptions have had little effect. Cheating continues to be a problem at the Olympics, as can be seen in this list of 9 of the most high profile cheaters, and in these London Olympics.

One of the more high profile cheating controversies of these Games was the case of the badminton players who tried to throw their match in order to have a more favorable seeding in the next round. These Games have also seen an Algerian runner, Taoufik Makhloufi, sent home for not trying hard enough. Similarly, the British men’s cycling admitted to deliberately crashing in order to get a re-start. Said rider Philip Hindes

We were saying if we have a bad start, we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really.

The team went on to win Gold, and despite their admission they will still be allowed to keep their medals. The British cycling team’s performances have been so good at these Games, that they have in fact been accused of cheating, not just through deliberately falling, but also by having performance enhancing bikes.

Claims that are not unlike those volleyed against 16 year old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, whose fantastic performancein the 400m IM caused many, including Nature (Nature has since apologized to Ye for their accusations, which were largely based on cherry-picking data), to accuse the athlete of doping (click here for a quick primer on doping, and here for a discussion of doping in running). While the doping allegations against Ye Shiwen so far have proven untrue, this has not been the case for several other athletes at these Games, including Italian gold-medalist race walker Alex Schwazer, who tearfully admitted to doping with EPO. American judoka Nicholas Delpopolo has also been sent home from the Games, in his case for testing positive for cannabis. The question of why cannabis is on the prohibited substance list has to do with the criteria used for identifying a prohibited substances, of which two need to be met. The three criteria are that they;

  • Be performance enhancing
  • Potentially a health risk
  • Against the spirit of sport

Cannabis actually meets all three of these criteria, the performance enhancing aspect of cannabis have to do with its ability to decrease anxiety and fear.

In addition to cheating by not giving it your all, or doping, there is also cheating by design. In 2008, the Speedo LZR suit, helped set numerous records in the pool. The suits were described as ‘technological doping‘, and subsequently banned. The issue of technological doping has also been raised regarding Oscar Pistororius‘ prosthetic legs, and whether they may give him an unfair advantage. And just as athletes are making improvements to their own suits and technology, organizers are also improving the venues, such that they are the fastest ever.

This issue was first raised in the 2004 Athens Games, where Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima used an illegal dolphin kick maneuver to help capture the gold medal in the 100 m breaststroke. The maneuver was later called the Kitajima kick and was accepted as a valid technique, with some restrictions. In breaststroke, swimmers are allowed to take one dolphin kick at the start and one after each turn before starting their breaststroke kick. As there is no underwater video judging, swimmers are able to sneak in an extra dolphin kick. Such was the case with South African swimmer, Cameron van der Burgh, who added a couple extra kicks on his way to capturing the gold in the 100m breaststroke and setting a world record. Later in an interview van der Burgh admitted the maneuver and added,

Everybody does it – well, if not everybody, 99 percent of them. If you’re not doing it you are falling behind and giving yourself a disadvantage. It’s not obviously – shall we say – the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.

As with any other performance enhancer (i.e., drugs, kicks, suits), the idea that the athlete in the next lane is cheating, exerts pressure to do it yourself, or else be left behind.

I can’t Imagine the pressure on these athletes to succeed and excel in their chosen discipline, but someone who probably can is Jonah Lehrer. Hard times have recently fallen upon Jonah after it was revealed that he has been ‘cheating’ with his writings, with self-plagiarism and making up quotes. Sam Harris describes Lehrer as a smart, well-intentioned, and otherwise ethical person who does not seem to realize how quickly and needlessly lying can destroy relationships and reputations. In an article that takes a decidedly Jonah Lehrer view of the Jonah Lehrer situation, Aimee Groth points out that Jonah Lehrer fell victim to his own cognitive bias. Groth cites a line from Lehrer’s review of a study on the bias blind spot, which also seems oddly appropriate when considering why some athletes cheat.

Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves.



9.63 Seconds vs. 7 Minutes of Terror

Over the weekend, there were two great news stories, first Usain Bolt defended his Olympic 100 m sprint title, then NASA successfully landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars. Much of the world collectively watched  (slightly delayed in the US for Bolt’s race) as Usain Bolt (he has one of those names that must be said in full) broke his Olympic record.

After his victory Usain Bolt showed just how classy of a guy he is by stopping mid interview to listen and respect the American National Anthem. That class and excitement that he brings to the sport is part of the reason his fame is so widespread, and that his signature pose can be seen around the world.


The New York Times has a great feature, showing how impressive Usain Bolt’s performance was, and how the 100 m times have changed over the past 116 years. While the improved times are impressive, they pale in comparison to the changes made in the Olympic Gymnastics Vault competition.

The gold medal gymnastics vault of 1956 Olympics vs. the best vault of the 2012 Olympics, click to see in action. Source

Yet for all the excitement of Usain Bolt’s win, perhaps the most exciting thing this weekend was the successfully landing of the Mars Rover, Curiosity, to which Google alluded to in their daily Olympic themed Doodle. To watch the landing in full, click here, but for the abridged version, complete with animation, click here. The landing of Curiosity involved what was known as the “7 minutes of terror“, where for 7 minutes the complicated landing maneuver was performed on autopilot, and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had to wait. Engineers like Bobak Ferdowsi, who became one of many memes to pop-up in light of the successful landing. Once news of the successful landing reached JPL the engineers celebrated much the same as if they had just won the Gold medal.

For both of these great feats that happened this weekend, I think this picture of Bill Nye pretty much sums up my feelings.


Food for Olympic Thought

Much has been written and said about Michael Phelps’ 12 000 calorie diet, whose breakfast looks something like this; 3 fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise, 1 five-egg omelet, 1 bowl of grits, 3 slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar, 3 chocolate-chip pancakes. This is quite a contrast to a male heavy weight rower, where breakfast consists of a large bowl of cereal, half pint semi-skimmed milk with chopped banana, 2 slices wholegrain bread with olive oil or sunflower spread and honey or jam, glass of fruit juice, 1 litre fruit squash. Which is similar to the seemingly normal breakfast of lightweight rower Nick LaCava, whose post-workout breakfast consists of two eggs, oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit.

Turkish weightlifter Mete Binay in front of his 3 500 calorie daily meal intake in Ankara

The diets of these athletes are quite amazing, and they make for great photos. Reuters has a great photo series of Turkish athletes posing with their daily meals.

An Olympic athletes daily meal, looks like a much more manageable meal when it is all on one plate.

Another series of photos by British set designer Sarah Parker and photographer Micheal Bodiam went for a more artistic interpretation of an athletes daily meal, creating an oversized paper setting with miniature-looking real food.

While it is amazing to think about what one of these Olympic athletes eat in one day, it is equally amazing to think about the amount of food that is required in the Olympic village to feed all of these athletes, over the course of two weeks. In order to meet the demands of all of these athletes the Olympic village is stocked with 25 000 loaves of bread, 232 tons of potatoes, 100 tons of beef, 31 tons of poultry, 82 tons of seafood, 21 tons of cheese,75 000 litres of milk, and who knows how much of this cool orange juice, and 330 tons of fruit and vegetables. This will likely comfort some of the vegetarians who are competing and winning at these Games. Yet for all of that food at the village, there will still be some athletes who will observing Ramadan and fasting during the Games. Despite all the food that is available to them, those medal winning athletes still seem hungry.

Watching these Olympic Games it is easy to work up an appetite while channel surfing. To that end, there are some great suggestions for the best British food (not an oxymoron) to make it feel like you are there. For something more patriotic, how about a National dish that looks like that Nation’s flag.

Racquets and Paddles

Here is a round up of the interesting stories related to tennis, table tennis, and badminton that have happened since the Games began.

In Tennis news:

In Table Tennis news:

In Badminton news:


Fab 5 vs. the Magnificent 7

16 years ago I was with my family on Onset Island and we were all completely enthralled with the Atlanta Olympic Games. One of my favorite memories of those Games was watching the US women’s gymnastics team make history by winning the team gold medal, the first time the US had ever won it.

Kerri Strugg on SNL

This was one of the many amazing stories to come out of those Games, and those girls became known as the Magnificent 7, and were turned into household names and pop culture icons.

Plaque in Atlanta’s Olympic Park




Earlier this year I had the chance to go to Atlanta and visit the Olympic Park, and the plaque commemorating the Magnificent 7’s win, brought back a flood of wonderful Olympic memories.

Tonight, the US Women’s team won gold for the first time since Atlanta, and sure enough those great Olympic memories came flooding back. We will have to wait until after the London Games are over to determine whether this group of athletes, known as The Fab 5, will have the same cultural impact as the Magnificent 7, for me, maybe it was just the difference between watching the 1996 Games with family around a small TV (which looked strikingly similar to this), and watching the 2012 Games on a computer, the win today just doesn’t resonate as strongly.

Related Stories:

Rule 40 and the (over)reach of the Olympic Sponsors

There is a bit of a controversy brewing at the Olympics, and it has to do with the ominous sounding Rule 40. But what is Rule 40? According to the London Organizing Committee,

Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter limits athletes competing in the Olympic Games from appearing in advertising during and shortly before the Olympic Games. This helps prevent ambush marketing which might otherwise utilise athletes to create an association with the Games.

This rule does not apply to Official Games Sponsors, who have invested millions into the games. Rule 40 is rationalized as a means of protecting the corporate sponsors, whose money helps the Games occur. Athletes are still free to appear in advertisements for those companies during and leading up to the games, however if they are sponsored by any other company, they are not allowed to lend their likeness to any campaign during this time. A time when the athlete is at their most visible and their earning potential is at their greatest. Most all of the competing Olympians (the professional athletes aside) depend on sponsorships in order to make the dream of competing at the Olympics a reality, as the training demands of an amateur athlete often conflict with the ability to maintain a regular job. The restrictions placed on athletes by Rule 40, preventing them from promoting themselves and their life-long sponsors, has caused a bit of a commotion, particularly in the US Track and Field Team, which took to Twitter to protest and demand changes. Many athletes sent out the following tweet,

I am honored to be an Olympian, but  

Given that these Games are being heralded as the social media Games reaching out to Twitter might be an effective strategy for gaining some attention. However, athletes need to be careful with their tweets as Rule 40 also extends into the social media realm;

Participants and other accredited persons are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any websites

Additionally, athletes are not allowed to use the Olympic symbol, the symbol which has been driving them to compete and strive for greatness, in their social media posts;

Participants and other accredited persons must not use the Olympic Symbol – i.e. the five interlaced rings, which is the property of the IOC – on their postings, blogs or tweets on any social media platforms or on any websites


Hopefully the Olympic Ring tattoos are outside the reach of Rule 40 and the other IOC guidelines, other wise a lot of athletes, like Ryan Cochrane, will need to keep those tattoos hidden in their postings.

What these guidelines ensure is that any advertising on social media channels that is associated with the Olympics, is associated with an official Olympic sponsor. The athletes are asking that they be allowed to decide how and why they use their own likeness, especially during the only time when many athletes will have the public spotlight. These guidelines have the potential to hurt unofficial Olympic sponsors who sponsor amateur athletes year round, and desperately need to be revisited. Over at Oiselle Running, there is a great post summarizing these guidelines, explaining what they mean for small sponsors, and including tips on what can be done to affect change, mainly through social media.

Related articles

Offbeat Olympics

Wednesday posts usually have an offbeat theme undercutting them, so with that, here is a quick post with some of the more offbeat stories that have been happening lately with regards to the Olympics.

The double-decker push-up bus with an “enviably pert bum” is one of the installations that will around London during the games. Yet that may not even be the most bizarre thing to be seen. The London Olympic mascots are just plain weird.

How cool is it that both Matt Smith and Sir Patrick Stewart were both torchbearers?! Particularly in light of the recent Doctor Who/Star Trek The Next Generation comic book crossover event. Now as long as David Tennant lights the cauldron the internet will be a very happy place.