The Olympics are a time for joy, a time for peace, and a time for the best athletes in the world to gather together in a spirit of friendly competition and brotherhood. At least, you know, on paper. More often, the Olympics devolve into a world of protests, attacks, and downright surreal nonsense. Here’s a look at some of the craziest instances of the latter.
The Summer Games have long included numerous shooting events, using pistols, rifles, and even bows. Usually, though, the targets aren’t alive, and we can thank the 1900 Paris Summer Olympics for that. In addition to the normal events, the Parisians decided to also hold a series of competitions to see who could kill the most live pigeons. Naturally, this resulted in a spectacular bloodbath that horrified onlookers, as athletes splattered dozens of formerly live pigeon-parts across the French countryside. The resulting backlash led to a ban against shooting live targets, leading two years later to the development of the "clay pigeon," which is still in use today. Progress!
And the crowd goes wild
There are pros and cons to competing in front of your home fans, as a representative of the host nation. The honor is great, but so is the pressure to win. That pressure was never felt so strongly as it was during the boxing competitions at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. After Bulgaria’s Alexander Hristov was awarded a 4-1 decision over hometown hero Byun Jong-il, South Korean boxing officials swarmed the ring, assaulting New Zealand referee Keith Walker. Fans from the crowd rushed the ring, resulting in a general melee — armed security guards eventually seized control, but not until Walker had been punched several times. Following the match he fled the country, in fear for his life.
Marathons are easier if you use a car
The marathon at the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics was an epic disaster from start to finish. Many of the contestants had never run a marathon before, and the event organizers purposely withheld water from the runners as a scientific test to see what would happen. Spoiler alert: bad things. One athlete nearly died from internal hemorrhaging after excessive dust inhalation ruptured his stomach lining, while another was chased off the course by a pack of feral dogs.
Fed up with the nonsense, and suffering from severe cramps, American Fred Lorz decided to skip the second half of the marathon entirely and instead hopped aboard a car, riding in old-timey luxury to the finish line. When he got out, officials didn’t realize he had driven there and declared him the winner. Lorz went along with it as a joke, until some organizers finally wised up and stripped him of his victory. The real winner, Thomas Hicks, staggered to the finish line an hour later, half-dead from the strychnine his handlers had been giving him as a stimulant in place of water. You can’t make this stuff up.
Marathon leader tackled by fan
At the 2004 Athens Summer Games, Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei de Lima seemed on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream, by winning the gold medal and bringing glory to his country. But it wasn’t to be — Leading the marathon with just four miles to go, de Lima was suddenly attacked by a crazed, kilt-wearing spectator named Cornelius "Neil" Horan, a defrocked priest with a history of drunkenness and mental illness. De Lima managed to fend off Horan and eventually finished the race, but not until he had been passed twice by other racers. He was forced to settle for the bronze medal, but on the bright side, chagrined Olympic organizers later gave him a special award for exemplifying the Olympic spirit.
Angel Matos earns a lifetime ban
It’s rare that a taekwondo competitor becomes a household name. Basketball? Sure. But taekwondo, not so much. But Angel Matos briefly made worldwide headlines at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, only for all the wrong reasons. During the bronze medal match, Matos sustained a foot injury and requested treatment from his coaches. This is allowed, but only for one minute — more than that, and it’s assumed the injury is too severe to continue. Matos went over his allotted time, so the refs disqualified him and awarded the win, and medal, to Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov. Matos went ballistic, kicking Swedish judge Chakir Chelbat in the head — no matter what sport you’re in, judicial abuse is an absolute no-no.
He may not have won a medal, but Matos did earn something long-lasting that day: a lifetime ban from both the Olympics and the World Taekwondo Federation. Oops!
When doves cry
Finally, we end where we began: with a bunch of birds being senselessly slaughtered. Unlike the 1900 Games, the birds killed during the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Seoul Games were murdered accidentally, though we’re not sure if that’s better or worse. In a moment of both high tragedy and unintentional high comedy, South Korea decided to mark their big Olympic moment by releasing a flock of doves into the sky, in a symbolic gesture of peace and harmony. Unfortunately, they were released too close to the Olympic flame, which incinerated all the doves on live television. The crowd in the arena couldn’t tell what was happening, so they simply applauded wildly. Honestly, there are no words.