Olympics Controversy and Scandal in Swimming

Swimming is not as innocent as it seems

From swimsuits to drug use, Olympic swimming has had controversies. Michelle Smith, Dawn Fraser, and entire countries have been involved in scandals that have, in small or large fashion, tarnished swimming.

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Doping in Swimming

Olympic swimming
Craig Maccubbin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The use of illegal performance enhancers has probably been occurring as long as sports have been around, and they will probably continue. Catching those using them - finding the cheaters - is an ever-evolving process. Some of the substances that have been used are human growth hormone (HGH), Erythropoietin (EPO), Androgenic Anabolic Steroids (AAS), and Testosterone.

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1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 - East German Women's Swim Team

Kornelia Ender, GDR, 1976 Olympic Games. She was later shown to be on performance enhancers.
Kornelia Ender of the German Democratic Republic takes a break during the swimming competition at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. She was later shown to be on performance enhancers. Allsport UK/Allsport/Getty Images

It is now known that East Germany was systematically doping its athletes. Many of them did not really understand what was being done to them at the time, but they do now. What are the warning signs that can be seen in meet results? Medals won by East German Women's Swimming in the Olympics: 1964 - 0; 1968 - 6 (2 gold); 1972 - 5 (0 gold); 1976 - 18 (11 gold); 1980 - 26 medals (11 gold); 1984 - did not attend, boycott; 1988 22 (10 gold). When East Germany collapsed and unified with West Germany (now just Germany) the doping files were found, doctors and sport directors were taken to court, and the sad, brutal East German doping stories became public. No medals were adjusted by the IOC.

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1992, 1996, 2000 - Chinese Women's Swim Team

Le Jingyi, China, womens 100 freestyle gold medal, 1996 Centennial Olympic Games
Le Jingyi, China, womens 100 freestyle gold medal, 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Mike Hewitt/Allsport/Getty Images

From nothing to four Golds at the 1992 World Champs and the 1992 Olympics to 12 Golds at the 1994 World Champs. That kind of improvement is questionable. At the 94 Asian Games, 11 Chinese women swimmers tested positive for dihydrotestosterone; at the 96 Olympics they only won a single gold medal, and no positive tests. 98 World Champs and four swimmers tested positive, plus human growth hormone was found in a swimmer's luggage. Before the 2000 Olympics, China removed four women from its squad for odd test results and no swimmer from China earned any medals. At the 2004 Olympics, none of the swimmers tested positive and they earned one gold medal. That is a a lot of up and down in the medal count, and a lot of positive drug tests.

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1996 - Michelle Smith de Bruin (Ireland)

Michelle Smith, Ireland, womens 200 individual medley gold, 1996 Centennial Olympic Games
Michelle Smith, Ireland, womens 200 individual medley gold, 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images

Big leaps form previous swimming results are always doubtful. Up jumped Michelle de Bruin from Ireland. At the 1996 Olympic Games she won gold medals in the 400 IM, 400 Free, and the 200 IM, plus a bronze in the 200 Fly. de Bruin was accused of doping by another swimmer, Janet Evans. Evans finished 9th and was shut out of the medal round in the 400 IM, so many thought it was just "sour grapes" - but maybe it wasn't. de Bruin tested clean in 1996, but in 1998 she was banned for tampering with a urine sample. The sample had high levels of alcohol. Even though it was tampered with, testers still found traces of androstenedione. Michelle de Bruin was banned for four years in 1998, appealed, lost the case, and retired.

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Swim Suits

Leisel Jones Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer
Leisel Jones Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There is always some controversy when new swim suits are introduced. Is the new suit unfair? Is it somehow cheating, giving those wearing it an unfair advantage? All of the suits used in the Olympics must be cleared by FINA and must be available to all Olympic swimmers. While one suit may be better than others, if it is available to all swimmers, and it is FINA approved, then is it cheating to swim in it?

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1960 - Men's 100 Meter Freestyle Tie? John Devitt AUS, Lance Larson USA

Electronic timing was in its infancy and at the 1960 Olympics, used as a back-up. The men's 100 free had a close finish, as could be expected. For finishes three judges watched for 1st place, three for 2nd, etc. In the 100 meter freestyle, two of three 1st place judges called John Devitt of Australia as the 1st place - but two of the three 2nd place judges called him as the 2nd place finisher! Three stopwatches used for each swimmer showed Lance Larson of the USA with the faster time, 55.1, to Devitt's 55.2. The electronic timer had Larsen at 55.10, Devitt at 55.16. The head judge (who, by the rules, did not have this power) decided that Devitt got the gold, even though the decision should have been based on the back-up timing system.

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1964 - Dawn Fraser (Australia) Tries to Steal a Flag

Australian Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser
Australian Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser. Getty Images
At the 1964 games, Australia's Dawn Fraser won the gold medal in the 100 freestyle for the third time in three Olympics - the only swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympic games. She also went on a late night outing and tried to steal a Japanese flag from the Emperor's Palace. She was caught, apologized, and while no charges were filed, she was banned from swimming for 10 years (later reduced to four years, but she retired at the start of the ban).
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2008 - Laure Manaudou (France) Nude Pictures

Laure Manaudou, France, gold Women's 200 Backstroke, 2008 European Championships
Laure Manaudou, France, gold Women's 200 Backstroke, 2008 European Championships. Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Going into the 2008 Olympic year, the up and down social life of France's backstroke and freestyle swimming great Laure Manaudou took a short, big drop as nude pictures of her were posted on the internet. Apparently some revealing pictures taken by an ex-boyfriend found their way out of his computer and onto the world wide web.

Am I missing any?

Am I missing some? Let me know! I will research and add it to the list. Swim On! Updated by Dr. John Mullen on March 25, 2016