The 10 Most Shocking Olympic Tragedies

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The 10 Most Shocking Olympic Tragedies

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
For an event meant to bring people together, many have used the Olympics as a way to tear us apart. For this list, we'll be looking at various tragedies and controversies that occurred during, or in the runup to, the Olympic Games. Our countdown includes Beijing Displacements, The Centennial Olympic Park Incident, The Munich Massacre, and more!
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Top 10 Most Shocking Olympic Tragedies


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 most shocking Olympic tragedies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at various tragedies and controversies that occurred during, or in the runup to, the Olympic Games.

Which of these stories do you find the most shocking? Let us know in the comments below!

#10: Francisco Lázaro Overheats (fran-CEASE-coh LAZZA-roh)

This Portuguese marathon runner was his country’s flag bearer during the 1912 summer games in Stockholm. This only makes the tragedy hit that much harder. Before the marathon, Lázaro covered his body in animal fat to help prevent sunburn. It was also said to help with running speed. Unfortunately, this layer of fatty wax prevented his skin from sweating, and he suffered a fatal imbalance of electrolytes. He collapsed 19 miles into the race and passed away with a body temperature of 105. He became the first athlete to die in the modern Olympics, and 23,000 people attended his memorial service in the Olympic Stadium.

#9: Beijing Displacements

The 2008 Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, with nearly 11,000 athletes competing in 302 events. But to make this a possibility, many citizens of Beijing were forcefully displaced to make room for the venues. Unfortunately, sources differ on how many people were actually moved. The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions claimed that it was upwards of 1.5 million people. The Beijing committee says it was 15,000, while others claim it was closer to 300,000. Either way, thousands - if not millions - of people were ordered out of their homes and forced to move elsewhere. Protester Ye Guozhu (yeeah gwoh-JOO) was even sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” which is a law native to China.

#8: Nicolas Bochatay’s Practice Run (boh-shah-teh)

Swiss speed skier Nicolas Bochatay was attending the 1992 games in France, as speed skiing was being performed as a demonstration sport. These are events meant to promote a particular sport at the Olympics and are not played for medals. Speed skiing is obviously quite dangerous, with skiers descending slopes at 120 miles per hour. During practice, Bochatay went off a bump in the slope to catch some air. Unfortunately, a Snowcat was hidden behind the bump, and Bochatay crashed into it at a high speed. He died immediately from significant internal injuries. Witnesses claim that the Snowcat had flashing lights and a siren, but these were not visible to Bochatay, owing to the bump.

#7: Hungary & the USSR’s Water Polo Match

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were tinged with a fierce political atmosphere, especially when it came to Hungary and the USSR. The Soviet Union brutally occupied Hungary, and an uprising was violently suppressed just a few weeks before the Olympics began. As such, many were watching the water polo match between Hungary and the USSR with bated breath. Hungary won 4-0, serving as a sports revenge of sorts. However, the match was largely overshadowed by Valentin Prokopov (por-KOH-pawf) punching Hungarian Ervin Zádor (ari-vin ZAH-dore) in the face and causing a massive gash. Spectators nearly rioted in response, and police were forced to break up the screaming mob. It became known as “The Blood in the Water Match,” and photos of Zádor’s bleeding eye were widely circulated in the media.

#6: Knud Enemark Jensen Collapses (k’NOOD EENA-mark YEN-sin)

This young Danish cyclist was competing at the 1960 summer games in Rome. The team time trial race was held on a brutally hot day, with temperatures reaching up to 104. Jensen’s teammate Jorgen B. Jorgensen (yeurin b yeurinsun - urine YURN-sun) even dropped out after the first lap after suffering heat stroke. Jensen also began exhibiting signs of heat stroke, and he informed his teammates that he was getting dizzy. He eventually collapsed straight onto the road and fractured his skull in the fall. Jensen was immediately rushed to a military tent but died without regaining consciousness. Following an autopsy, heat stroke was given as the official cause of death.

#5: The USA Gymnastics Scandal

The United States has a serious problem with its Olympic gymnastics program; it has been hit with hundreds allegations of sexual misconduct since the late ‘90s. The story was broken by The Indianapolis Star in September of 2016, and over 250 women came forward naming team doctor Larry Nassar as the chief perpetrator. These included some of the most popular gymnasts in the country, including McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman (raze-min), and Simone Biles. The governing body of gymnastics has been accused of enabling and covering up Nasser’s crimes, and the FBI continuously failed to investigate the allegations. Nasser pled guilty to numerous charges and has been sentenced to life in prison.

#4: The Estadio Nacional Disaster

On May 24, 1964, Peru and Argentina played a notorious soccer match that is now known as the Estadio Nacional Disaster. The game was serving as a regional qualifier for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was being watched by 53,000 spectators. With just six minutes to go, the referee disallowed a goal that would have tied the game. The home fans literally rioted and invaded the field, and police fired tear gas into the surging crowd. Everyone ran to escape the gas and caused a bottleneck at the closed steel shutters that led to the street. The crush resulted in over 300 deaths, and a further 500 were injured.

#3: The Tlatelolco Massacre (tlatay-LOLE-coh)

Mexico was in a state of great political and social turmoil throughout the summer of 1968. Labor unions were being suppressed, and young university students were growing tired of the authoritarian political party. Students began protesting against the upcoming Olympics, as they felt that an inordinate amount of money had been spent building the facilities rather than helping citizens. On October 2, 1968, 10,000 students marched to the Square of the Three Cultures to protest the Olympics and the general political system. They reportedly chanted “We don't want Olympics, we want revolution!”. However, it was here that the Mexican Armed Forces indiscriminately opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds and injuring more than a thousand. The Olympics opened ten days later.

#2: The Centennial Olympic Park Incident

The 1996 Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, and they began on July 19. Just over one week later, on the night of July 27, Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park was bombed by domestic criminal Eric Rudolph. In his own words, the deranged Rudolph wished to “confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world.” The pipe bomb directly killed one and injured over a hundred more. Luckily, security guard Richard Jewell discovered the bomb before its detonation and evacuated the surrounding area. He saved hundreds of lives but unjustly underwent a trial by media once he was suspected by the FBI. Rudolph was eventually caught in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison.

#1: The Munich Massacre

This is by far the most infamous tragedy to have ever befallen the Olympics. It occurred during the 1972 Summer Games, which were being held in Munich, Germany. Members of a Palestinian militant organization named Black September entered the Olympic Village and broke into the Israeli apartments. They then killed two members of the Israeli delegation and took nine others hostage. The assailants made various public demands while authorities attempted an ambush to free the hostages. Tragically, this ambush failed, with 11 people from the Israeli Olympic delegation and one police officer ultimately losing their lives.
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