8 Olympics Controversies and Scandals in Swimming

From swimsuits to drug use, Olympic swimming has had controversies. Michelle Smith, Dawn Fraser, and entire countries have been involved in scandals that have, in small or large fashion, tarnished swimming. There have been specific cases of illegal performance enhancers, new swimming suit issues, and other activities ranging from innocent to questionable. Below, view a list of stories that outline some of the largest controversies in Olympic swimming today.

Doping in Swimming

Olympic swimming
Craig Maccubbin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The use of illegal performance enhancers has occurred as long as sports have been around.

Catching swimmers who are cheating and using them can be challenging. Some of the substances that have been used include the following:

  • The human growth hormone (HGH)
  • Erythropoietin (EPO)
  • Androgenic Anabolic Steroids (AAS)
  • Testosterone

The East German Women's Swim Team

East Germany was systematically doping its athletes. Many of the swimmers did not understand what was being done to them at the time.

The medals won by the East German Women's Swim team in the Olympics is as follows:

  • 1964: Zero
  • 1968: Six (Two gold)
  • 1972: Five (Zero gold)
  • 1976: 18 (11 gold)
  • 1980: 26 medals (11 gold)
  • 1984: Did not attend; boycott
  • 1988: 22 (10 gold)

When East Germany collapsed and unified with West Germany, the doping files were found, doctors and sport directors were taken to court, and the brutal East German doping stories became public. No medals were adjusted by the IOC.

The Chinese Women's Swim Team

The Chinese Women's Swim Team raised eyebrows when they went from nothing to four golds at the 1992 World Champs to 12 golds at the 1994 World Champs. That kind of improvement was questionable.

At the 94 Asian Games, 11 Chinese women swimmers tested positive for dihydrotestosterone. At the 96 Olympics, they only won a single gold medal and there were no positive tests. At the 98 World Champs, four swimmers tested positive, and human growth hormone was found in a swimmer's luggage.

Before the 2000 Olympics, China removed four women from its squad for odd test results, and no swimmer from China earned any medals. At the 2004 Olympics, none of the swimmers tested positive, and they earned one gold medal.

Michelle Smith de Bruin (Ireland)

Big leaps from previous swimming results are always doubtful.

At the 1996 Olympic Games, Michelle Smith de Bruin of Ireland won gold medals in the 400 IM, 400 Free, and the 200 IM, plus a bronze in the 200 Fly.

She was accused of doping by another swimmer, Janet Evans. Evans finished 9th and was shut out of the medal round in the 400 IM, so many thought it was just "sour grapes. Bruin tested clean in 1996, but in 1998, she was banned for tampering with a urine sample.

The sample had high levels of alcohol, and even though it was tampered with, testers still found traces of androstenedione. Michelle de Bruin was banned for four years in 1998, appealed, lost the case, and retired.

Swim Suits

There is always some controversy when new swim suits are introduced. The following questions are often raised when a new suit comes out:

  • Is the new suit unfair?
  • Is it somehow cheating?
  • Does the suite give those who are wearing it an unfair advantage?

All of the suits used in the Olympics must be cleared by FINA and must be available to all Olympic swimmers. While one suit may be better than others, if it is available to all swimmers, and it is FINA approved, there is always a question of whether it is cheating to swim in it.

Men's 100 Meter Freestyle Tie

At this time, electronic timing was in its infancy and used as a back-up at the 1960 Olympics.

The men's 100 free had a close finish, as could be expected. For finishes, three judges watched for first place, three for the second, and ongoing.

In the 100 meter freestyle, two of three first place judges called John Devitt of Australia as the first place winner, but two of the three-second place judges called him as the second place finisher. What we know:

  • The three stopwatches that were used for each swimmer showed Lance Larson of the USA with the faster time, 55.1, to Devitt's 55.2.
  • The electronic timer had Larsen at 55.10 and Devitt at 55.16.
  • The head judge, who, by the rules, did not have this power, decided that Devitt got the gold, even though the decision should have been based on the back-up timing system.

Dawn Fraser Tries to Steal a Flag

At the 1964 games, Australia's Dawn Fraser won the gold medal in the 100 freestyle for the third time in three Olympics. She was the only swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympic games.

Fraser went on a late night outing and tried to steal a Japanese flag from the Emperor's Palace. She was caught, apologized, and banned from swimming for 10 years. This was later reduced to four years, but she retired at the start of the ban.

Laure Manaudou (France) Nude Pictures

Going into the 2008 Olympic year, the up and down social life of France's backstroke and freestyle swimming great Laure Manaudou took a short, big drop.

Nude pictures of her were posted on the internet, and unfortunately, some revealing pictures that were taken by an ex-boyfriend found their way onto the world wide web.