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The Olympics: 10 of the Weirdest Moments From Past Games

After a whole year of delays, the Tokyo Olympics 2020 is finally all set to begin in a few days. The Olympic Games arrive every four years, and they feature the finest athletes from around the world showcasing their talents and dedication.
The Olympiad has a rich history spanning over 125 years. Over the years, spectators were witness to some staggering and breathtaking sports moments. However, the world’s greatest sporting spectacle has also been packed with some bizarre and unusual occurrences, some of which are too strange to believe. As we gear up for the upcoming event, let’s take a look back at 10 bizarre Olympics stories from the past.

1. The 1988 Seoul roast of the doves

Unusual Olympic Moments, 1988 Seoul roast of the doves
Image source: Twitter
The Olympics opening ceremony is usually a spectacle that leaves us in awe. The displays of music, singing, dancing, and theater combined are usually breathtaking. That, however, wasn’t the case during the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
Doves are a universal sign of peace and prosperity. About a dozen of them were released into the stadium as a symbol of harmony during the opening ceremony in Seoul. However, many of the birds landed on the Olympic cauldron just as it was about to be lit. As a result, the birds were accidentally (and unfortunately) roasted alive. The terrifying accident shocked everyone, and it marked the final time doves were seen at any Olympic ceremony. 

2. When the Rio Olympics Pools turned green

The Rio Olympics had many amazing moments. This certainly wasn’t one of them. The swimming pools in the event made headlines for all the wrong reasons. They had turned green! That’s right. Even though this was the most prestigious sporting competition in the world, athletes were shocked to find out that many of the pools in the stadia literally turned a shade of green. The green pools became a huge headache for organizers and the butt of jokes among millions around the world. 

Rio 2016 officials later revealed the mystery of the green water. A contractor had apparently added 80 liters (21 gallons) of hydrogen peroxide to each of the diving- and water polo pools. The addition of hydrogen peroxide neutralized the chlorine and allowed algae to bloom, the organizers claimed.

3. When the Queen came down from the sky

Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the British royal family, usually keeps her public appearances to stately summits or dignified ceremonies. However, during the 2012 London Olympics, the Queen was seen "skydiving" out of an aircraft with a parachute to reach the venue with none other than James Bond! As it turned out, it was a parachutist dressed as Queen Elizabeth who joined Daniel Craig (the actor who played James Bond in recent films) for a Danny Boyle-directed segment to kick off the opening ceremony. The hilarious sequence showcased the Queen’s funnier side. 

4. Abebe Bikila runs barefoot to Olympic gold 

In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, a relatively unknown marathon runner named Abebe Bikila became famous in one of the weirdest episodes from the Games' history. The 28-year-old bodyguard, who was representing Ethiopia, could not find suitable shoes in Rome. But that didn’t deter his spirit. Bikila decided to run barefoot instead! The Ethiopian sped through the streets and finished the race at 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 16.2 seconds - 25 seconds before the next runner. Not only did he break the world marathon record, but he also became the first East African to win a gold medal at the Olympics. And he achieved all this without his shoes…

Related: Moments From the Olympics That Can Bring Tears to Your Eye

5. Michael Phelps and his death stare

With 23 gold medals and 28 medals in total to his name, American swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the most decorated athletes of all time. Apart from his achievements in swimming, Phelps is also often remembered for his “Death Stare” during the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he was seen intensely staring at his long-time rival Chad Le Clos before their 200 m butterfly semi-final. The sight of Phelps almost glaring at his rival became a raging discussion on the internet during those days, but the swimmer brushed it off as nothing.

6. The curious incident of tug of war at the 1904 Olympics 

Unusual Olympic Moments, Tug of wars at the Olympics 
Image source: Wikimedia
Tug of war is a fun sport that is often played by schoolchildren. But did you know that it was also once part of the Olympics? Tug of war first featured in the Olympics at the Paris Games of 1900, and the sport was showcased five more times in the event till 1920.
The most interesting tug of war incident in the Games happened during the 1904 competition when the Milwaukee Athletic Club clinched gold. Curiously, though, not one member of the team was from Milwaukee or was even part of the Milwaukee Athletic Club. The athletes were actually ringers that the club’s head had recruited from Chicago. When the defeated teams came to know of this, they filed a grievance. But their protests were rejected by the officials, and the so-called men from Milwaukee walked away with their medals intact.

7. A human jump rope

During the gymnastics gala event at Rio in 2016, a group of Chinese acrobats stunned the audience when they performed a "human skipping rope" routine. Two gymnasts from the Chinese team held one of their colleagues and swung him by his arms and legs in the air like a rope while a fourth man jumped over him like a jump rope. By the end of their sensational performance, the crowd was squealing in delight, and there were even a few gasps of amusement and fear heard in the audience.

8. Lip-syncing during 2008 Games opening ceremony

The 2008 Beijing Games were pretty awesome, but the same cannot be said about the opening ceremony. Nine-year-old Lin Miaoke became an instant sensation with her soulful rendition of "Ode to the Motherland" during the unveiling program of the event. However, it was later discovered that Miaoke wasn’t singing at all; she was lip-syncing to the sound of another girl - 7-year-old Yang Peiyi. The Chinese organizers rejected Peiyi because, apparently, she lacked stage presence and appearance. Miaoke was selected because she was "more presentable." 
"The reason was for the national interest," said Chen Qigang, the ceremony's musical director, in a state radio interview. "The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling, and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in those aspects."
The revelation caused much outrage, but that did nothing to change the organizer’s views.  

9. When a referee got kicked in the face

Unusual Olympic Moments, taekwondo
Image source: Facebook
Losing a close game at a huge event like the Olympics can be tough to accept, but Angel Valodia Matos took that a little too far. The taekwondo (a Korean martial art) athlete was banned from the Olympics during the Bejing Games in 2008 for kicking a referee. Valodia was furious at referee Chakir Chelbat's decision to disqualify him for taking too long during an injury timeout of a bronze medal match. The athlete vented his anger by throwing a vicious kick at the match official, leaving him bleeding from the nose. 
The Cuban athlete had a commendable sports career before that incident and had even won gold in the 2000 Games. Sadly, he is only remembered today for having kicked a referee in the face during the Olympics. Valodia laments his actions today. “It’s something I still regret until this very day because I didn’t want my sports career to end this way,” the athlete was quoted as saying in 2018. 

10. Dorando Pietri – the man who lost a race but won hearts

Dorando Pietri, an Italian long-distance runner, became a star in the 1908 Games in London. After he was disqualified from a race! 

22-year-old Pietri, who worked as a pastry chef, had taken part in the 1908 marathon that stretched for 26.2 miles (42.1 kilometers) to cover the distance from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium at White City, west London. It was the longest marathon since the modern games began. He started the race slowly and gradually picked up the pace. It was a scorching day, but Pietri soon took the lead and appeared all set to collect the gold medal. However, the heat began getting to him, and the runner started feeling ill.

He staggered a few yards and collapsed to the ground. Pietri was helped to his feet and pointed in the right direction, but after barely taking a few steps, he fell again. In the next few minutes, he was lifted several more times by British officials, who wanted to prevent the American in second place, Johnny Hayes, from winning. Eventually, Pietri was carried across the line and greeted with wild cheers from the crowd. 

Inevitably, Pietri was disqualified, but he became a superstar for the dogged determination he showed. In the days to follow, the Italian made many celebrity appearances and was presented with a specially commissioned gold trophy by Queen Alexandra. Later, he was even awarded a fund that helped him open a bakery in his hometown of Carpi.

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