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A Brief History of Olympic Defectors

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For some athletes, the Olympics aren’t just a competition: they’re a chance to escape oppression. Earlier this week, seven of Cameroon’s athletes disappeared from London’s Olympic Village. The week before, three runners from Sudan’s Olympic training squad filed for asylum in Britain. Here’s a look at some other Olympic defections.

1948 Summer Olympics: London

Marie Provaznikova, a Czech who was President of the International Gymnastics Federation, was the first person to defect from the Olympics. Czechoslovakia had recently become a satellite of the Soviet Union, and Provaznikova knew her country wouldn’t be the same. She darted to the United States, where she later taught gymnastics. Provaznikova lived in the U.S. until 1991, dying at age 101.

1956 Summer Olympics: Melbourne

In 1956, Hungary flew 83 athletes to Melbourne, Australia. While their plane took off, the streets of Budapest cracked with the sound of gunfire: Hungarians were revolting against Soviet rule. By the time the Games were over, the Soviets had crushed the opposition. When the team heard the news, only 38 athletes decided to ride the plane back home. Most of the other athletes defected to America and settled in California.

1964 Winter Olympics: Innsbruck, Austria

While her team wined and dined, Ute Gaehler, an alternate for East Germany’s toboggan team, ran for the border. One night, as her team was celebrating at a reception, Gaehler slipped out of her living quarters and fled for West Germany. She made it safely. The AP reports that 13 fans from “Eastern European Communist countries” also escaped.

1964 Summer Olympics: Tokyo

Two Hungarian athletes—a canoeist and a marksman—defected in 1964 and later found sanctuary in the United States. Both fled because Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, had been ousted from office. Khrushchev was one of the USSR’s least repressive rulers, and the Hungarians feared that life back home would change for the worse.

1968 Summer Olympics: Mexico City

1968 was the first time summer athletes had to take “sex verification tests.” The controversial tests stirred up some noise, helping Cuban tennis player Juan Campos quietly defect to Mexico amid the ruckus.

1972 Summer Olympics: Munich

According to the Associated Press, 117 people defected at the Munich games. However, there is little information on who they were, where they were from, and where they went.

1976 Summer Olympics: Montreal

In 1976, four Romanians and one Russian sought refuge in Canada. One of the defectors was Sergei Nemtsanov, a 17-year-old Russian diver. The head of the Soviet Olympic squad claimed that “unidentified terrorists” had kidnapped Nemtsanov and brainwashed him to “embrace freedom.” In reality, Nemtsanov had fallen in love with a female diver from Cincinnati and was hiding with a family in Ontario. He eventually had to revoke his defection, and he left brokenhearted.

1980 Summer Olympics: Moscow

The road to Moscow was paved with deserters, primarily because the USSR had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Many Afghani athletes feared going to Moscow and jumped ship to avoid it. A month before the games, seven members of the basketball team fled to Pakistan. A day before the Olympic flight, seven wrestlers also left for Pakistan. Five more players defected during the games, some fleeing to America, others to West Germany.

1984 Summer Olympics: Los Angeles

In 1984, a San Diego newspaper hired Romanian sportswriter Vladimir Moraru as a translator. When the games finished, Moraru decided that he liked the San Diego sun. The Romanian writer asked for, and received, political asylum.

1996 Summer Olympics: Atlanta

When Iraqi weightlifter Raid Ahmed went to Atlanta, he carried his country’s flag at the opening ceremony. A week later, he rejected that same flag and defected to the U.S. Ahmed vocally opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime, and he feared execution. Afghanistan’s flag bearer, boxer Jawid Aman Mukhamad, had the same problem: Afghan officials accused him of being a communist (Mukhamad had trained in Russia). Scared for his life, he acquired refugee status in Canada.

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How to Tie Your Shoes With One Hand, According to a Paralympian
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Megan Absten lost her left arm in an ATV accident when she was 14, but the injury hasn't stopped her from doing extraordinary things like competing for the U.S. track and field team in the Paralympics. Nor has it stopped her from completing everyday tasks that most people need two hands for—like tying her shoes. After the shoe-tying methods she learned in physical therapy didn't cut it for her, she had to come up with her own one-handed trick. She shares her process in a new video spotted by Lifehacker.

First things first: Lay your laces on either side of your shoe. Next, use your hand to cross them and tuck one end through to make the beginning of your knot. Pin the end of one lace beneath the bottom of your foot to hold it tight, then pull the second lace up with your hand.

Now, you're ready to make your bunny ears. Create a loop with the free lace and pinch it between your thumb and index finger. Then, use your middle finger to grab the lace that you’ve been holding under your shoe. Circle this string around the loop, then push it through the opening to create your second bunny ear. Tighten the new knot by sticking your index finger and thumb in each loop and spreading them wide.

Watch Absten explain the process for herself in the video below. If you're feeling more advanced, she also demonstrates a second technique for you to try.

Once you've mastered those methods, try out these shoe hacks for happier feet.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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2018 Winter Olympics By the Numbers: Which Country Was the Big Winner in Pyeongchang?
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/Getty Images
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/Getty Images

The closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics was held on Sunday, February 25, concluding more than two weeks of history-making figure-skating jumps and listening to curlers yell at each other. But if you're someone who tunes in to the Olympics only to see your country win, you may have been left feeling confused. There was no official winner announced at the end of the event, so how are you supposed to know which nation dominated the Winter Games? Judging solely by medal count, these are the countries that skied, skated, and slid their way to the top in Pyeongchang.

According to Bloomberg, Norway came out of the games as the most decorated country. The Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million took home 11 bronze, 14 silver, and 14 gold medals, bringing the total to 39. That makes Norway the biggest single nation winner at any Winter Olympics, breaking the prior record of 37, which was set by the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Norway was represented by about half the number of athletes competing on Team USA, but it was bolstered by a few advantages—like long winters (making training for cross-country sports easier), universal healthcare, and a culture that encourages young athletes to play sports for the sake of play rather than for the sake of winning.

Germany tied Norway for the most golds with 14, but earned 10 silver and seven bronze medals, landing them in second place with 31. Canada ranked third with 29 medals overall, 11 of which were gold, and the United States came in fourth with a tally of 23 medals, including nine golds. The Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France, and Austria round out the top 10.

Teams used to spending a lot of time on the podium may strive for that top slot, but placing in any event is impressive. The majority of teams that competed went home without any medals to show for their efforts. Fortunately, they have until 2022 to prepare for the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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