Five-Ring Circus

Doping, Match-Fixing, Clock Mismanagement: A Guide to the Scandals of the London Games

Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang
Wang Xiaoli (R) and Yu Yang (L) play a shot during their controversial double badminton match against Kim Ha Na and Jung Kyung Eun of South Korea on July 31, 2012.

Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the scandals and controversies at the 2012 London Olympics, better known as “The Grifters’ Games.” Here’s a helpful list of some of the biggest, and some predictions of what’s next. (Note: This post has been updated to include last week’s North Korean flag mix-up.)

Badminton: Eight female badminton players were expelled from the games after deliberately trying to lose their early-stage matches in order to secure better matchups in the later rounds.


Boxing: Azerbaijani bantamweight Magomed Abdulhamidov was named the winner of a match in which he was knocked down five times in the final round by his Japanese opponent. (The decision was eventually reversed, and the referee was expelled from the Olympics.) “Everybody here should look at themselves and realize why this sport is considered a joke,” NBC’s announcer said. Last year, Azerbaijan was accused of offering a $9 million bribe to an international boxing organization in order to secure at least two gold medals for Azeri fighters. Also, Indian boxer Sumit Sangawan lost a match against a Brazilian opponent despite evidently dominating the second and third rounds.


Diving: After Chinese diver Wu Minxia won a gold medal in synchronized springboard diving, it was revealed that, although her grandmother died a year ago and her mother had been battling breast cancer for the past eight years, nobody had told Wu any of these things, in order not to distract her from her training.


Fencing: South Korean fencer Shin A Lam lost a match she should have won due to a timekeeper’s error. (The timekeeper was reportedly a 15-year-old girl who volunteered to help out at the Games.) Shin sat on the piste for an hour as her coaches went to find the cash they needed to protest the match. The protest was eventually made, and denied. The International Fencing Federation will give the South Korean some sort of “consolation medal” for being nice enough to leave the floor, eventually.

Gymnastics: Despite a preliminary round score that ranked fourth among all competitors in the all-around competition, American gymnast Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify for the individual all-around final because of a rule that prevents more than two gymnasts from each country from advancing to the finals. Also, Uzbek gymnast Luiza Galiulina was expelled from the games when a drug test found a banned diuretic in her system.


Judo: South Korean judoka Cho Jun-Ho won an early-round judo match only to have officials from the International Judo Federation reverse the judges’ decision and award the match to his Japanese opponent.

Sailing: British sailor Ben Ainslie complained that a Danish sailor and a Dutch sailor teamed up to accuse him of committing a penalty that he claims he didn’t commit.

Soccer: The coach of the Japanese team instructed his players to lose (or at least not to win) a preliminary match against South Africa. By succeeding in not winning, Japan avoided having to travel 400 miles to Glasgow for their next game. Also, at an early-round soccer match between North Korea and Colombia, the scoreboard mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag. The North Koreans refused to take the field, delaying the match by an hour.


Weightlifting: Albanian lifter Hysen Pulaku was expelled after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.

Which will be the next sports hit with scandals?

Beach volleyball: The two-woman Canadian team is banned from the competition after officials discover they have illegally hidden a third player underneath the sand.

Cycling: Two French BMX riders are expelled after they admit stealing their bikes from two kids who’d propped them up outside a convenience store.

Synchronized swimming: Allegations of collusion rock the games when the Spanish team is discovered to have planned their routines in advance.

Team handball: Scandal erupts when the officials working the gold-medal game admit that nobody actually knows the rules to team handball.

Did I miss anything? Email me or let me know in the comments.