Opinions - Fun and games. The Korean flags and other Olympic PR disasters.


by Magnus Shaw



Yesterday, all the blood, sweat and tears came to a shuddering climax. The London Olympic Games 2012 kicked off with a women's football match and a resounding blunder. Confusing one flag for another must be very easy to do. So many countries, all those funny colours and shapes. Who could reasonably be expected to pick the right banner when there's so little time and a surfeit of Coke executives to schmooze?


Nevertheless, if you're going to get the whole flaggy thing in a muddle, you couldn't pick a worse combination than North and South Korea. This isn't mistaking Lichtenstein for Luxembourg - the two Korean states (they're not separate countries) regard each other in a way that makes Dennis Skinner and George Osborne look like a couple of Forever Friends bears. And they have nukes.

So, all in all, a tremendous start to this festival of international bonding and understanding.

That said, there is a shred of comfort for the reputation management wonks: the Korean gaffe is only the latest in a sequence of embarrassing and bizarre Olympic howlers.

The Duel

In 1924 the summer Olympics were held in Paris and the Italian fencing team were facing the Hungarians. Now, maybe there's something about fighting with swords that gets the blood rushing to the head, but the Italians suddenly became very huffy about the judging, which they felt was favouring the Eastern Europeans. Insults were exchanged and accusations flew - to the point the Hungarian coach challenged the Italian captain to a duel with real swords. Not being the bravest of men, he sent his son to fight it for him. He proceeded to wound his opponent in moments. At the sight of blood, the whole thing was called off.

The Dope

Perhaps surprisingly, drug testing at the Olympics only began after the 1960 event in Rome - in response to a sad and specific incident. Less surprisingly it involved cycling. The Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen, figuring talent and training weren't going to get him over the line in time for a medal, took a bunch of amphetamines and Roniacol (which lowers blood pressure) immediately before his road race. Part way through the contest he passed out, fell off his bike, fractured his skull and died.

The Easy Ride

Subtle cheating is unfair, sneaky and just not cricket. (Is cricket an Olympic sport, by the way?). But there was nothing subtle about Fred Lorz and his attempt to beat the odds at the 1904 Games in St. Louis. As is often the case in the southern USA, it was very hot and humid on the day of the marathon and only 14 runners completed the gruelling race. Fred was one of them. In fact, he was the first. Gold medal ahoy! On the verge of receiving his reward from the daughter of the President, some spoil-sport pointed out they had seen Lorz take advantage of a lift in a car for 11 miles of the course. He claimed it was a practical joke. No-one was laughing.

The Bad Call

The American, Roy Jones was fighting a South Korean, Park Si-Hun, in the final of the 1988 Olympic boxing. Impressively, he plonked 86 punches on Park who returned only 32. No-one doubted Jones had won. Even Park was ready to concede. But the judges had other ideas and for some reason awarded Park the gold. Whatever their motives (and there was an unusual bonhomie between the judges bench and the Korean corner), the entire panel was suspended.

The No Show

Obviously, the actual race is only the culmination of an athlete's progress. Months of strict training regimes, gym work and diets are invested before the competition - so it's always a good idea to actually turn up. But in Munich in 1972, sprinters Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart, co-favourites for a gold medal in the 100 meters, were given an incorrect starting time for the second qualifying heat. They only realised when it was too late, watching the race in which they were supposed to be running live in a TV broadcast truck.

The Long Weight

We've already seen how boxing can throw up a dubious result or two - and the case of South Africa's Thomas Hamilton-Brown in Berlin's 1936 Olympics, is no exception. Having lost his opening match in the lightweight division, he consoled himself with a big old eating binge. Suddenly a scoring error was discovered. He had in fact won the fight. Unfortunately, thanks to his enthusiastic scoffing, he had also put on five pounds and failed the weigh-in for the next round.

The Incautious Commentary

The professional commentator is, of course, the master of embarrassing statements. (Steve Coogan surely has his work cut out to  ensure Alan Partridge sounds more ridiculous then the actual broadcasters). For instance, a gentleman whose dignity I will protect, once announced to the world, during the 2004 Olympic tennis, "One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them."
This has only been matched by the weight-lifting pundit at the same Games, who offered, "This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing."

There you go, that whole flag debacle seems a lot less serious now, doesn't it?

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger, consultant.

Visit Magnus Shaw's website

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