4 Times Olympians Refused Their Medals

Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Hannah Peters/Getty Images

South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam provided one of the indelible images of the 2012 London Olympics when she staged an hour-long, tearful protest after losing to Germany’s Britta Heidemann in an individual epee semifinal match. Shin’s coach claimed Heidemann’s winning hit came after the final second on the clock, which was being controlled by a 15-year-old British volunteer, had elapsed. Shin was required to stay on the piste while the judges considered--and ultimately rejected--her appeal. After Shin lost the bronze-medal match, the International Fencing Federation offered her a special consolation medal, which she reportedly refused.

Here’s a look at a few other athletes who have turned down Olympic medals for various reasons.

1. U.S. Men’s Basketball Team, 1972

At the 1972 Munich Games, the United States met the Soviet Union in the men’s basketball final. The Americans trailed the far more experienced Soviets by five points at halftime and by 10 points with less than 10 minutes remaining, but mounted a furious rally and took a one-point lead on a pair of free throws by Illinois State guard Doug Collins with three seconds remaining. Then things got weird.

International rules prohibited a team from calling a timeout after a free throw, so the Soviets inbounded the ball. The Soviet coach and bench ran onto the court to demand a timeout and Bulgarian referee Artenik Arabadjan stopped the clock with one second remaining. Arabadjan denied the Soviets a timeout, but allowed them to re-inbound the ball. After the Soviets’ ensuing pass was deflected and the buzzer sounded, the Americans began to celebrate.

R. William Jones, the secretary general of the International Amateur Basketball Federation, approached the scorer’s table and ordered that the Soviets be awarded a timeout and three seconds be put back on the clock. Despite the fact that Jones didn’t have the authority to make such a demand, the referees complied. Aleksandr Belov caught a full-court pass on the third inbound attempt and converted the game-winning layup before the buzzer, giving the Soviets a 51-50 win.

After their protest was dismissed, the Americans decided to boycott the awards ceremony and refuse their silver medals. The 12 members of the U.S. team have received numerous invitations to accept their medals since then, but they have always declined, and the awards remain in a vault in Lausanne, Switzerland. U.S. team captain Kenny Davis and teammate Tom Henderson have provisions in their wills that none of their descendants ever accept a silver medal from the 1972 Games.

2. Ara Abrahamian, 2008

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Competing for Sweden at the Beijing Games, Ara Abrahamian lost his semifinal bout in Greco-Roman 84kg wrestling because of what he considered “blatant errors in judging.” Abrahamian had to be restrained from wrestling officials after the incident and initially refused to participate in the bronze-medal match before changing his mind. Abrahamian won the bronze, but removed the medal from his neck during the award ceremony, dropped it in the middle of the mat and walked away. The IOC disqualified Abrahamian for insulting the other athletes and the Olympic movement and stripped him of his medal.

3. Ibragim Samadov, 1992

After placing third in the 181-pound light-heavyweight category at the Barcelona Games on a technicality, Unified Team weightlifter Samadov threw his bronze medal on the ground and walked off the podium to boos. Samadov lifted a total of 814 pounds – the same number as gold medalist Pyrros Dimas of Greece and silver medalist Krzysztof Siemion of Poland – but was awarded the bronze because he weighed one-tenth of a pound more than his fellow medalists. “I don’t know why he did it,” Dimas said. “But I think this sort of incident kills the spirit of the Olympic Games.”

Samadov had been heckled by Greek fans when he failed in his final attempt to surpass 814 pounds and was reportedly upset when a Greek Olympic Committee member awarded him his bronze medal on the podium. After giving Samadov a chance to explain himself, the IOC ordered Samadov to leave the Olympic Village and stripped him of his medal.

4. Hugo Wieslander and F.R. Bie, 1912

At the 1912 Stockholm Games, Native American Jim Thorpe (pictured) won the gold medal in the pentathlon and decathlon. Less than a year later, a newspaper reporter discovered that Thorpe had played professional baseball in 1909 and 1910, and therefore should have been ineligible to compete in the Olympics. Thorpe admitted that he had violated his amateur status and the IOC asked him to return his trophies and medals.

After removing Thorpe’s name from the record book, the IOC recognized Hugo Wieslander of Sweden, who finished second in the decathlon, and F.R. Bie of Norway, who was second in the pentathlon, as the rightful winners of each event. Both men refused to accept their gold medals. In 1982, the IOC decided to restore Thorpe’s gold medals, but the organization continues to recognize Bie and Wieslander as co-winners.

Why Are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long?

iStock/ZamoraA
iStock/ZamoraA

What's the reason behind the cursed distance of a marathon? The mythical explanation is that, around 490 BCE, the courier Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news that the Greeks had trounced the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The trouble with that explanation, however, is that Pheidippides would have only covered a distance of approximately 25 miles. So what accounts for the extra 1.2 miles?

When the modern marathon appeared in the late 19th century, the race distance was inconsistent. During the first Olympic games in 1896, runners jogged along Pheidippides’s old route for a distance of 40,000 meters—or 24.85 miles. (That race, by the way, was won by a Greek postal worker.) The next Olympic games saw the distance bumped to a pinch over 25 miles. And while subsequent marathons floated around the 25 mile mark, no standard distance was ever codified.

Then the Olympics came to London. In 1908, the marathon, which stretched between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium in London, lasted 26.2 miles—all for the benefit of England's royal family.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Like previous races, the original event was supposed to cover a ballpark of 25 miles. The royal family, however, had other plans: They wanted the event to start directly in front of Windsor Castle—as the story goes, the royal children wanted to see the start of the race from the castle nursery. Officials duly agreed and moved the starting line, tacking on an extra mile to the race.

As for the pesky final 0.2? That was the royal family’s fault, too. The finish line was extended an extra 385 yards so the race would end in front of the royal family’s viewing box.

Those extra 1.2 miles proved to be a curse. The race’s leader, an Italian pastry chef named Dorando Pietri, collapsed multiple times while running toward the finish line and had to be helped to his feet. One of the people who came to his aid was a journalist named Arthur Conan Doyle. Afterward, Conan Doyle wrote about Pietri's late-race struggles for the Daily Mail, saying, "Through the doorway crawled a little, exhausted man ... He trotted for a few exhausted yards like a man galvanized into life; then the trot expired into a slow crawl, so slow that the officials could scarcely walk slow enough to keep beside him."

After the London Olympics, the distance of most marathons continued to hover between 24 and 26 miles, but it seems that Conan Doyle's writing may have brought special attention to the distance of 26.2, endowing it with a legendary "breaker-of-men" reputation. Indeed, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation convened to standardize the marathon, they chose the old London distance of 26 miles and 385 yards—or 26.219 miles.

Writing for Reuters, Steven Downes concluded that, "the marathon race may have been as much a Conan Doyle creation as Sherlock Holmes."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Good Luck, Gritty: 8 Sports Mascots that Struck Out

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

This September, Philadelphia introduced us to Gritty, the new mascot of their hockey team, the Flyers. A spiritual cousin to the town's other brightly colored eccentric, the Phillie Phanatic, Gritty is already beloved by his city and the internet alike for his outrageous (though sometimes frightening) appearance and antics. But not all mascots make their way into the hearts of the masses the way Gritty has—and not all of them should. Here are eight mascots who struck out from across pro sports.

1. DANDY // NEW YORK YANKEES

A game at Yankee Stadium is usually more about the business of baseball than a fun day for the family—but starting in 1979, a pinstriped, mustachioed, Phanatic-like creature named Dandy could be found roaming through the stands at Yankee Stadium, in an attempt to delight children in the crowd. His weird Big Bird body was made entirely out of a furry, classic Yankees uniform and was accented with a bright orange handlebar moustache and orange hair sticking out from under his sideways ballcap. Needless to say, Dandy disappeared into obscurity quickly; by 1981, he was toast. In fact, in 1998, longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner claimed he had "no recollection" of Dandy's existence.

2. BOOMER // COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

In 2010, the Columbus NHL franchise introduced Boomer the Cannon, another mustachioed mascot, along with their then-new alternate uniforms. Though Boomer was made in the image of the goal cannon in the Blue Jackets arena, his drab color scheme and generally phallic appearance were off-putting to fans. After his less than stellar reception, Boomer was "unceremoniously resigned mid-season," according to Columbus Alive, the city's entertainment magazine.

3. CHIEF NOC-A-HOMA // ATLANTA BRAVES

One of the longer lasting mascots on our list, and certainly the most offensive, Chief Noc-A-Homa represented the Atlanta Braves for 20 years (though he was first introduced in 1953, when the team was in Milwaukee). One of the many examples of objectionable depictions of Native Americans in professional sports, Chief was given a teepee in the stadium that he was meant to emerge from to perform a ceremonial dance when the Braves would, uh, knock a homer. After disputes over payment, the third Chief Noc-A-Homa was retired in 1986 and hasn't been seen since.

4. BONNIE BREWER // MILWAUKEE BREWERS

The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most vibrant and recognizable mascot cultures in pro sports with their popular sausage race during the sixth inning. However, long before the sprinting meat, there was Bonnie Brewer. Bonnie, clad in lederhosen and a Brewers hat, would emerge in the middle of the fifth inning to help the grounds crew clean up the infield, sweeping each base clean. She would also give the opposing team's third base coach a kiss on the cheek when passing. As antiquated as the role sounds now, the women who played Bonnie fondly remember their experience. "For Pete's sake," Anne Haines, the final woman to play Bonnie, quipped this year, "it got a woman on the field!"

5. PIERRE THE PELICAN // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

True, Pierre still roams the stands of the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, but not in his original form. When Pierre was first introduced in October 2013 as the new mascot of the Pelicans basketball team, he had deep, dark pupils and a red beak, presumably colored with the blood of his enemies and prey. Kids and adults alike were rightfully put off by Pierre's appearance, and almost immediately the team announced that he needed "plastic surgery" to fix a "broken beak." Looks like he got an eye lift and hair cut while he was at it, too.

6. CRAZY CRAB // SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

All of these mascots were retired, at least in part, due to their lack of popularity, but none has been as downright hated and abused as the Giants' Crazy Crab, who only served one season in 1984. The hate was by design, oddly enough—fans were encouraged to boo and throw objects at the Crab, and players would push him around, too. Crazy Crab's suit had to be lined with a fiberglass shell to protect from actor Wayne Doba from the various bottles, batteries, and urine-filled balloons thrown at him. The legend Crazy Crab left is one well-known. ESPN produced a 30 for 30 short on his tenure as an "anti-mascot," and when he made a quick return in 2008, he was greeted with sneers, jeers, and beers to the face.

7. THUNDER // GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

What did Thunder ever have to do with the Warriors? Good question! No one really knows!

Thunder's blue physique and lightning-bolted head stood out as the proud logo and mascot for the Warriors in the '00s before their elegant redesign and rise to prominence. A sort of statuesque, superhero Adonis, Thunder was known for his high-flying stunt baskets and halftime shows in Oracle Arena. Unfortunately, he had to be let go in 2008 when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City and renamed their team the Thunder. The Warriors haven't had a mascot since.

8. METTLE THE MULE // NEW YORK METS

The anthropomorphic baseballs that are Mr. and Mrs. Met are quite possibly the loveliest couple in the MLB. But once upon a time before the team moved to their current Citi Field location, Mettle the Mule walked the foul line at Shea Stadium in 1979. Given his name by a fan, Mettle was meant to embody the "spirit, ardor, stamina, and courage" of the New York Mets. Mettle has been forgotten in large part because he was a real mule, not a goofy mascot, and also, almost no one went to Mets games during the 1979 season.

BONUS: KING CAKE BABY // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Apparently New Orleans is gunning to be the horror capital of the mascot world. Not to be outdone by Pierre the Pelican's original, frightening appearance, the team also introduced the King Cake Baby, a cartoonish, nightmare-inducing giant newborn meant to emulate the good luck charm found in the traditional Mardi Gras pastry. Each year, King Cake Baby terrorizes NOLA during Mardi Gras (even if he often comes bearing colorful king cake). Good luck sleeping, New Orleans!

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