Ah, the Olympics: the intense competition, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and ... a butt pinch by Hitler? If you are sick and tired of the greatest moments in the Olympic Games sort of stories, this Neatorama list is for you. Here are the 5 Dubious Moments in Olympics History:
1. Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, Ski Jump
No, despite all predictions, Eddie the Eagle didn't crash [YouTube Link]
If, at 5 feet 8 inches and 181 lb, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards looked more like a construction worker than an world class athlete, that's because he was one. The then 25-year-old plasterer from Cheltenham, England, was the only British applicant for the 1988 Winter Olympics ski jumping competition in Calgary, so he was accepted. This was even more remarkable when you realize that there was no ski jumps in Britain at the time.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Calgary, things started to go wrong for Eddie: his plane landed late and his bag ripped open on the airport carousel, so he had to jump on and chase his pants. Then it got worse:
By the time he arrived at Calgary, he had been given the ironic soubriquet Eddie the Eagle (critics suggested that the Briton, who was 20lb heavier than the average ski jumper, flew like a brick). He was widely expected to wind up in traction rather than on the medallists' podium. But first, he had to get out of the airport without major injury. For a few minutes, it seemed unlikely that he would. "As we were walking to the arrivals lounge, I saw a huge sign saying, 'Welcome to Calgary, Eddie the Eagle.' I said: 'Who's that for?' And somebody replied: 'You, you twerp.' So I walked towards it. It was 2.30 in the morning and the automatic doors had been turned off, so I walked into the glass and my skis bounced off the doors." And he says he doesn't want slapstick. "That's when I got the nickname Mr Magoo." (Source)
Olympics purists were also appalled that Eddie was making a mockery of their sport. True to form, Eddie the Eagle's thick glasses fogged up so much as he wobbly jumped that he couldn't see. Needless to say, he landed dead last (though he didn't crash).
Eddie's warm demeanor, fun personality, and, let's face it, lack of success, made him a darling to the press and to people around the world. So he became a legend:
"They said I was afraid of heights. But I was doing 60 jumps a day then, which is hardly something someone who was afraid of heights would do." But he was afraid of jumping? "Of course I was. There was always a chance that my next jump would be my last. A big chance." (Source)
Afterwards, the Olympics committee instituted the "Eddie the Eagle rule," stipulating that athletes must place in the top 30% or be in the top 50 to qualify for the games.
Nevertheless, it was Eddie's moment in the sun:
The high point of Eddie’s career was when the President of the Games gave his closing speech. He said: ‘at this Olympic Games some competitors have won gold and some have broken records, and one has even flown like an eagle.’ At that moment, 100,000 people in the stadium got up and roared ‘Eddie, Eddie.’ It was the first time in the history of the Games that an individual athlete had been mentioned in the closing speech. (Source)
2. Jamaican National Bobsled Team, Bobsleigh
The Jamaican National Bosled Team, however, did crash [YouTube Link]
The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada also saw another great example of guts over glory in the Jamaican National Bobsled Team.
Now, the whole thing got started when two Americans, Mayor of Warrenton, Virginia, George B. Fitch and his business partner William Maloney noticed that pushcart derby in Jamaica looked very similar to bobsled (technically called bobsleigh). So they decided to persuade the Jamaicans to train for the winter Olympics.
At first, they tried to recruit Olympic-class sprinters, but there were no takers ... but the Jamaican military was game! The first members of the Jamaican National Bobsled Team were soldiers. They started practicing on push carts and makeshift sleds on the flat concrete floor at a military base in Kingston.
The epic struggle of the Jamaican bobsledders (they crashed spectacularly in the third heat of the four man bobsleigh event) won the hearts of viewers worldwide. Their courage, determination, tenacity and sheer what-in-the-world-were-they-thinking-bobsledding-in-Jamaica even landed them a movie deal: the Jamaican National Bobsled Team were immortalized in the 1993 Disney comedy Cool Runnings.
The Jamaican National Bobsled Team actually improved dramatically afterwards. In 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, they placed ahead of the US, Russian, French, and Italian teams!
3. Philip Boit, Cross-Country Skiing
In 1996, Nike decided on a sports experiment / PR stunt - it would pay for two Kenyan long distance runners, Philip Kimely Boit and Henry Bitok, to train in cross-country skiing for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The two Kenyans have never skiied before in their lives - heck, they've never even seen snow until they arrived in Finland to train.
Bitok never qualified for the race, but Boit did. He cross-country skiied in the 10-kilometer classic in Nagano ... and came in dead last. The awards ceremony for the race had to be delayed because the winner, Norwegian cross-country skier and legend in the sport Bjørn Dæhlie, insisted on waiting 20 minutes for Boit to cross the finish line so he could cheer Boit on!
Boit's participation in the Winter Olympics was controversial - many people accused Nike of exploiting the Kenyans and making a mockery of the sport. Boit, however, was determined to ski and even when Nike dropped its sponsorship, he continued to train on dry land in Kenya. He qualified for the 2002 Winter Olympics, and finished ahead of 3 competitors in a sprint race. (Image: BBC)
4. Eric "The Eel" Moussambani, Dog Paddle ... er, Swimming
In an effort to encourage athletes from developing countries to compete, some swimmers were invited to perform even though they never qualified. One of those athletes was Eric Moussambani from Equitorial Guinea.
Eric, who later earned the nickname "The Eel" after his epic performance, learned to swim just a few months before the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. In fact, he had never seen an Olympic-size swimming pool before in his life (he practiced swimming at a hotel's pool, one of the only two pools in the entire country).
When his two other competitors were disqualified for a false start, Eric swam all by himself. Technically, he dog paddled:
Moussambani would plough a lonely lane for his finest 1mins 52.7sec, though it felt like an hour. Equatorial Guinea’s aquatic answer to Eddie the Eagle - Eric the Eel - churned the lane in which Ian Thorpe had raced to a silver medal in 1min 45sec over double the distance the day before.
At first, the crowd clapped politely. But the mood turned upon Moussambani’s turn, for here was a man with an Olympic courage bigger than Thorpe’s feet. Confusion reigned for a moment - was he facing up or down, and did he know himself? A sense of relief washed over the pool as the man from Molabu surfaced to take a breath.
The largely Australian crowd - nearly every man, woman and child probably capable of swimming faster than Moussambani - warmed to the occasion and lifeguards stood by poised to plunge in for the rescue as the swimmer’s stroke shortened, and his legs sank from the surface. With a final desperate lunge, Moussambani was safe. It would be some while before he could get dry; an hour after clambering shattered on to the deck, he had still not made it through the gauntlet of cameras, microphones and media. (Source)
Later, Eric the Eel said, "The last 15 meters were very dificult."
5. Helen Stephens and the Butt Pinch by Hitler
As promised. here's the story of the Hitler butt pinch:
Photo via octopusmagnificens blog
Eighteen-year-old Helen Stephens, nicknamed "Fulton Flash" after her birthplace of Fulton, Missouri, ran in the 100 m dash in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin ... and won.
As was the custom at the time, Stephens made the obligatory visit to Hitler's box after winning gold. In his Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, David Wallechinsky wrote:
She offered a firm handshake (Americans didn't give the Nazi salute), but Hitler offered a firm grope. "He gets ahold of my fanny," the Fulton Flash said, "and he begins to squeeze and pinch and hug me up, and he said, 'You're a true Aryan type. You should be running for Germany.'"
Then Hitler laid on the big offer: a weekend at his retreat in Berchtesgaden. She turned him down. (Source)
Side note: At the Olympics, Helen Stephens beat the reigning champ, Stanislawa Walasiewicz of Poland and there were accusations that Helen was actually a man. After a genital inspection proved otherwise, the matter was dropped.
Walasiewicz, who subsequently changed her name to Stella Walsh was killed in an armed robbery many decades later. In an ironic twist of fate, the autopsy showed that she actually had male genitalia (though she had both XX and XY pair of chromosomes). From that point on, she was often referred to as "Stella the Fella."