Athletes don’t get banned for no reason. The common denominator for all bans is cheating. For various reasons, some athletes cheat and, by doing so, ensure that the competition is skewed in their favor. This insults clean athletes who have spent years dedicating themselves to their chosen sport only to find that the playing field isn’t level.
Some athletes cheat for glory and some for money, but you have to wonder how they could feel satisfied when they know they “competed” unfairly.
There are few, if any, sports free from cheats who often use sophisticated methods to get around the rules. The authorities have to be equally sophisticated. So let’s look at ten athletes who were banned from competition.
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10 Fred Lorz
Fred Lorz won the marathon at the 1904 Olympic Games held in St Louis, Missouri. Or so people briefly thought. He started the race with the best intentions but pulled up after nine miles because he was exhausted. His manager picked him up in his car and drove him the next 11 miles. In 1904, cars weren’t particularly fast, but Lorz’s vehicle was fast enough to outstrip the rest of the field. He managed to finish the marathon under his own power and, not surprisingly, broke the finishing tape ahead of the competition.
The race attracted many spectators, and many saw Lorz and his manager driving by. The witnesses were quick to tell officials who confronted Lorz with the truth. He admitted the deception but claimed that it was a practical joke.
Not impressed, the officials awarded the race to the runner-up, Thomas Hicks. Hicks’s trainers had dosed him twice with strychnine to control muscle contractions during the race and had carried him part of the way—so he wasn’t a worthy winner either. In fact, Hicks was too weak to collect his medal and never competed again.
9 Ben Johnson
The rivalry between the American sprinter Carl Lewis and the Canadian Ben Johnson was one of the fiercest in athletics. Before 1985, Lewis was undoubtedly the world’s best 100-meter sprinter, but that year, Johnson beat him after losing their eight previous meetings.
In 1987, at the World Championships in Rome, Johnson beat Lewis again to become the world-record holder, setting the best time ever. Lewis hinted that certain gold-medal winners were taking performance-enhancing drugs.
At a pre-Olympic meeting in Switzerland, Lewis won with Johnson in the third position. Lewis claimed nothing could stop him from winning gold at that year’s Olympics in Seoul. He didn’t win; Johnson did, even bettering his own world record.
A subsequent urine test revealed that Johnson had taken an anabolic steroid called stanozolol. Johnson and his trainer claimed that they had to use drugs because everyone else did. It finally came out that Johnson had used steroids since 1981. He received a ban for his trouble.
8 Marion Jones
Marion Jones’s career in athletics was always tainted by accusations that she used performance enhancers right from the beginning. Perhaps this was not entirely her fault. From a very young age, her trainers pushed drugs at her.
In the early 1990s, the teenage Jones was banned for four years for missing a drug test. She claimed that she had never received the test notification, and the authorities lifted the ban.
In 2006, a urine sample tested positive for the performance-enhancer Erythropoietin, but as a second test showed a negative result, there was no further action.
In 2007, Jones admitted to taking steroids and, as she had lied to federal authorities, a court sentenced her to six months in jail. The athletic authorities deleted all her records, and she received a suspension.
7 Sinning Soccer Player
Sports betting is an enormous industry, and many of us wager a few dollars, test our knowledge, or try our luck. Nowadays, sophisticated controls monitor betting activity to try and discover suspicious results or trends. Back in the 1960s, things weren’t so advanced.
Jimmy Gauld had spent most of his soccer career playing in the English leagues for lower-tier clubs. Although he never made the big time, he knew many people and decided he could make quite a bit of money by fixing matches. But he would need inside help.
At a former club, Gauld had gotten to know David Layne, who was now playing for Sheffield Wednesday. Gauld asked Layne to choose a match they could bet on and ensure the outcome. Layne roped two other players—Peter Swan and Tony Kay—into the deal. The syndicate picked a match that Wednesday would lose 2-0, with the three players ensuring the result. It wouldn’t be an unusual score, so it wouldn’t attract attention. But also, as the score was reasonable, the winnings were not very large.
Ironically, the result was 2-0, but the other team won the game fair and square. The Sheffield Wednesday players didn’t have to do anything untoward.
Gauld extended his activities to other teams, involving other players, but his activities quickly came to light. He sold his story to a Sunday newspaper and named the three Sheffield Wednesday players involved in fixing one match. All the players involved received jail sentences and a ban from professional soccer.
6 Rob Sloan
Known as Britain’s most beautiful marathon, The Kielder race attracts athletes from all over the world. A good finishing position or time is a badge of honor.
It wasn’t surprising then that in 2011, Steve Cairns was happy to be placed third as the runners were well into the second half of the race. Cairns knew he wouldn’t be able to catch up with the two runners in front of him, but he had opened quite a gap between himself and the pack behind him. He was running comfortably and confident that he could keep going and clinch an honorable third place.
The race seemed to play out as Cairns expected. The front runners placed first and second, and Cairns crossed the line in third place. Imagine his surprise when the marshals announced his fourth place position. Cairns asked who had come in third, and the marshals (who could only see the last section of the course) pointed at Rob Sloan. Cairns knew him as the winner of a 10k race the previous day and asked when he had overtaken him.
In fact, no runners could remember Sloan, and there were no photos that showed him running. Sloan didn’t collect his medal and never appeared at an event again—not that he would be allowed to.
5 Boris Onishchenko
Boris Onishchenko, a member of the Soviet team, had taken part in the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics. It was now 1976, and Onishchenko was on the team again.
Britain was in the gold medal position in the pentathlon after the first event. The second event was fencing, and Britain and the Soviet Union faced each other in what was sure to be a closely fought event.
In fencing, sensors in the weapon (an épée) depress when the fencer hits its target. The target then registers a strike and, therefore, a point. The British team complained that Onishchenko was scoring points without hitting anything. A close examination of the fencer’s épée showed that it had a trigger that Onishchenko could press to register a hit.
The authorities banned him for life, the Soviet Communist Party expelled him, and he got a personal reprimand from the Soviet leader.
4 Ekaterini Thanou
The Summer Olympics in 2004 took place in Athens, and the Greeks had a strong contender for a medal in the 100 meters in Ekaterini Thanou. There was intense competition, but with the home crowd urging her on, Thanou had a very good chance of winning.
The day before the opening ceremony, the authorities summoned Thanou and her training partner to take a routine drug test. They didn’t turn up. Instead, they booked themselves into a hospital and claimed they had had a motorcycle accident. The pair immediately came under suspicion because this was their third violation that summer. Thanou withdrew from the games. A Greek commission quickly concluded that no accident had occurred, and the pair had staged the whole thing as an excuse.
Thanou was suspended from athletics. When she returned to competition in 2006, she never regained a competitive level, and crowds booed her when she appeared.
3 Petr Korda
Korda was a very good tennis player. He reached the world rank of number 2 in February 1998 and was one of the favorites for that year’s Wimbledon tournament. Although he was only 30, Korda had announced that he would retire. He had won the Australian Open in 1998; perhaps he wanted to add a Wimbledon title before he stepped away from tennis.
Whatever his reasons, Korda tested positive for the steroid nandrolone after his quarter-final match. A long process of appeals ran its course, and the International Tennis Federation banned him for 12 months in September 1999. He did compete in more tournaments in his native Czechoslovakia after his ban ended, but his career at the top was over.
2 Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez is one of the world’s top soccer stars. A truly gifted player, he started his career in his native Uruguay with local side Nacional. He soon moved to Europe, where he played for some of the best clubs in Holland, England, and Spain. He moved from the Dutch side Ajax to Liverpool, then on to Barcelona, before moving to Atlético Madrid. He is now finishing his professional life back at Nacional. Certainly a star, but a controversial one.
A Dutch newspaper called Suarez the “Cannibal of Ajax” after his club suspended him for biting an opponent. Once at Liverpool, Suarez earned a ban for racially abusing a Manchester United player. Then, in 2013, he returned to putting teeth into his game. He bit a Chelsea player and received a 10-game ban for his trouble.
When he moved to Barcelona, he couldn’t start the 2014 season with them because he was serving another ban—this time for biting an Italian player at that year’s World Cup.
Suarez showed good taste but should never have been allowed to continue playing.
1 Dennis Mitchell
Dennis Mitchell, a track and field athlete, had a successful relay and sprinting career. But, in 1998, he ran into trouble. The International Association of Athletics Federations handed him a two-year ban after a test showed a high testosterone level in his sample. His explanation didn’t cut much ice with the board.
Mitchell claimed that his wife’s birthday had fallen just before the test. To celebrate, he had drunk five beers and made love to her five times; it was not, he said, surprising that the test showed too much testosterone. It’s perhaps surprising that he could walk, let alone run.