CLOSE

7 Dubious Ways to Gain an Olympic Edge

The Winter Olympics are supposed to be a shining beacon of sportsmanship and goodwill, but things don't always work out that way. Sure, you know all about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but there have been all sorts of other scandals in which an Olympian used dubious tactics to gain an advantage. Some tricks were successful, others failed, and some of them deserve gold medals for shear gall.

1. See a Mysterious Black Figure

Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy was on his way to sweeping the three alpine skiing events at the 1968 Games in Grenoble if he could take the slalom gold, and his run in the event had been blisteringly fast. Killy's Austrian rival, Karl Schranz, wasn't faring so well. In the middle of his slalom run, he stopped and claimed that a mysterious black-clad figure had crossed his path. Schranz demanded a second run with no distractions, and this time he beat Killy to take the gold.

Race officials huddled, though, and realized that Schranz had actually missed a gate well before the alleged black-clad figure crossed his path. The judges eventually decided to disqualify Schranz for missing the gate. On top of that, none of them had even seen this mysterious figure scamper across the course. The officials yanked Schranz's medal and gave it to Killy.

This episode is still quite controversial. Killy backers swear that Schranz made up the story about the black-clad figure after realizing he'd missed a gate, while Schranz fans claim that the French judges or police snuck a man across the course to distract Schranz and help local boy Killy.

2. Accuse the Competitors of Loafing

lake-placid-1932
Americans can do a lot of things well, but we haven't always been the most gracious Olympic hosts. Take the speed skating at the 1932 Games at Lake Placid. European skaters were used to skating one-on-one around the track in this event, which is how you'll see things work in Vancouver. When they showed up for the Games, however, they were informed that they would all be on the ice at the same time and would start in a giant pack—a style that's now used in short track skating but was then a totally unfamiliar format outside of North America.

The Europeans were already behind the 8-ball thanks to these weird starts, but things got even stranger in the second heat of the 1500 meter event. The judges stopped the heat when it was halfway over, berated the competitors for "loafing," and restarted the race. No big surprise: Americans swept the four speed skating gold medals, and only two Europeans medaled.

3. Whack the Coach

Although hockey can be a violent game, its players usually adhere to a certain code of ethics regarding fighting. Of course, some players take a pretty loose interpretation of these unwritten rules. Just ask Sweden's Karl Oberg. During a match against Canada at the 1964 Games, Oberg lost his cool and smacked Canadian coach David Bauer in the head with his stick. That sounds pretty bad, but it gets worse: Bauer's full title was Father David Bauer. He was also an ordained Catholic priest.

Father David apparently preferred divine retribution to pulling a sweater over the other guy's head. He ordered his players not to retaliate against Oberg, and although they were all itching to drop the gloves and go after the thug, the Canadians left him alone and cruised to a 3-2 win.

4. Break Out the Citrus

It's not just Olympians who can be a bit uncouth; the fans can get out of control, too. At the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, spectators were not happy about the scores the German figure skating pair of Marika Kilius and Franz Ningel received after their performance, so they bombarded the judges and the referee with a barrage of oranges. The citrus artillery continued and the ice had to be cleared three times. The German pair still only finished in fourth place.

5. Get Physical

Short track speed skater Cathy Turner didn't take the ice to make friends. The American skater repeatedly bumped and clipped skates with other competitors throughout the 1994 Winter Olympics, but her most controversial moment came in the final of the 500 meters. With two laps to go, she passed Chinese skater Zhang Yanmei. During the pass she brushed Zhang's thigh, but Turner went on to win the gold.

An enraged Zhang protested that Turner hadn't just brushed her thigh; the American had actually grabbed her. Judges couldn't tell from the video replays, so Turner's medal stood. Turner, who also worked as a singer, then wowed the crowd with one of her compositions, a song called "Sexy Kinky Tomboy."

6. Send in the Professional Amateurs

While you'll be able to see your favorite NHL players take the ice in Vancouver, professionals weren't always welcome at the Games. Prior to the 1998 Games, ice hockey players were supposed to be amateurs, so most countries sent their best players who hadn't made the pro ranks yet.

Of course, Communist countries found a loophole in this system. The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and other countries declared that there weren't any professional hockey players in their countries. Their teams were made up of amateurs employed by the government, so they weren't technically NHL-style pro hockey players.

This flouting of the rules so enraged other countries that Canada skipped the hockey events at the 1972 and 1976 Games, with Sweden joining the boycott for the 1976 Winter Olympics.

7. Buy Off a Judge

time-olympicsWhen the Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier skated at the 2002 Games, they performed so marvelously that television commentators and fans felt certain they were a lock for the gold. However, when the scores came out, it turned out that their Russian rivals won despite an obvious technical error in their routine.

A little bit of digging showed that the judges from Russia, China, Poland, Ukraine, and France had all felt the clearly inferior Russians' routine was gold-worthy. The French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne then admitted that she'd only voted for the Russians because her boss at the French skating union twisted her arm. There was allegedly a deal in place to boost the French ice dancing team's scores in exchange for a little assist for the Russian pairs skaters.

In the end, the Canadian pair had their medals upgraded to gold, but the Russians got to keep their golds as well.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
Getty Images

To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
Getty Images

David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Scary Baby Names
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios