Sport stories that get immortalised are typically of two kinds. One involves the athletes and their on-field heroics and the other, that continuous voice in the background, that proverbial 12th man and the ones who pack stadiums – the fans. But while the Olympics bring out the best in most athletes – after all, they are the symbols of spirit and competition – they also, quite unfortunately, bring out the worst in a few spectators.
It’s not surprising that – especially since the term ‘fan’ was derived from the word ‘fanatic’ which finds its origins in the Latin word fanaticus, meaning “insanely but divinely inspired.”
We did not really see anything nearly as crazy this time at Rio 2016 (apart from reports of petty thieving) but here are the craziest Olympics spectator stories in history:
1. Ancient Olympics, 420 BC: Around the period of 420 BC there was growing tension between Sparta, Elis and Athens. Elis joined Athens in an anti-Spartan alliance and banned Sparta from the Olympics that was to be held that year. Despite the ban a Spartan named Lichas was desperate to win the chariot race (the owner of the chariot was declared the winner not the driver). Thus he decided to enter his team through misrepresentation and himself sit quietly in the crowd. His chariot won the race. Unable to contain his excitement Lichas jumped from the stands and went straight to collect his prize. It turned out to be a stupid decision.
The judges immediately spotted that he was a Spartan and instead of getting the winners wreath he was publicly flogged. Sparta’s anger about this incident was deep and lasting. It almost caused a war between Sparta on one side and Elis and Athens on the other. So much for sports bringing people together.
2. Helsinki Games 1952: Right after the 400m freestyle event got over, a man from the audience jumped into the pool. He was fully dressed to the point that he had his beret on. Before anyone could stop him, he swam across to a swimmer and started kissing him. This man was Jean Boiteaux’s father and he wanted to be the first person to congratulate the newly crowned champion. What a way to do it.
3. Munich Games 1972: A German student Norbert Sudhaus came in “first” during the marathon event at the Munich Olympics on 12th September 1972. However, the real winner of the race was USA’s Frank Shorter. How? Sudhaus had only joined the race a quarter of a mile outside the stadium. Initially he did manage to get away with the prank as the crowds started applauding him and the commentators praising him “He looks as fresh as a buttercup” they said, though they soon realised their mistake. Sudhaus obviously took the whole “fans should be part of the action” a little too far.
4. Barcelona Games 1992: The Brazilian volleyball team were one of the favourites (they eventually won the gold) and naturally there were many fans back home who made the trip across the Atlantic to cheer their team on. According to Flaming Olympics by Michael Coleman, among the fans who travelled were two crooks who had fled Brazil and owed closed to 10 million pounds. During the break, unfortunately for them, the camera was beaming live images from their side of the stands and their picture got beamed live. Phone calls were made from Brazil and soon enough the two got caught.
5. Athens Games 2004: There are multiple instances when people have used sports as a vehicle to draw attention to a certain issue. However, Neil Horan, a defrocked Irish-born priest, who is also referred to as the Grand Prix Priest, clearly took this to the next level. He decided to disrupt marathon races to promote his religious belief that the end of the world is near. He became notorious during the 2003 British Grand Prix when he disrupted the race for the same reason.
However he went one step further when he disrupted the 2004 Summer Olympics men’s marathon — Horan burst out of the crowd and almost attacked the race leader, the Brazilian, Vanderlei de Lima. Most Brazilians feel that this action cost de Lima the gold medal. Lima eventually came third. So much for “divine” intervention. As for Horan, he was fined and imprisoned.
Feature image source: AFP