In the Summer Olympic Games since 1968, a total of 133** Olympic medals (42 gold, 43 silver, 48 bronze) have been retroactively stripped from athletes. Drug testing began in 1968, however it was rare for athletes to be stripped of medals due to doping before the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999; this was not due to the absence of doping, but rather because the doping and concealment techniques were usually more advanced than the testing methods. For example, the East German government had a doping program that stretched back to the 1960s, and their athletes won an average of 82 medals per tournament. Success in international tournaments increased East Germany's reputation abroad, although the use of testosterone and anabolic steroids often led to some extreme physical side-effects, particularly for female athletes.
Doping goes unpunished in the 1980 Games
This kind of state-sponsored doping was prevalent across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union throughout the communist era, peaking at the Moscow Games in 1980, where the Soviet Union and East Germany took over sixty percent of all golds available. These Games saw the first use of blood doping, in the 5,000m and 10,000m races (although this was not illegal at the time), and independent testing found that twenty percent of those tested would have failed any official drug tests. One report from the Australian Senate claimed that all gold medallists, and the majority of other medallists were using using banned substances, going as far to call these Olympics "The Chemist's Games"; despite this, the 1980 Olympics is one of the few tournaments after 1968 where no athletes were stripped of their medals. Following the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, Eastern European and former-Soviet states continue to have a disproportionate number of medals stripped from them, particularly in the wake of the Russian doping scandal in the past decade.
The first Olympian to ever be stripped of a medal was Jim Thorpe, who was a Native American athlete from the US, and is seen by many as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. Thorpe took gold in both the pentathlon and decathlon in 1912, but was stripped of these medals when it came to light that he had taken a semi-professional baseball contract in the past (earning just two dollars per game). While strict amateurism rules prevented professional athletes from participating in the Olympics, many semi-professionals used aliases to get around this; as Thorpe used his real name, the IOC stripped him of both medals, even though they too failed to follow the correct protocol for disqualifying him. The fact that the IOC went out of their way to make an example of Thorpe has led many to speculate that this was racially motivated (his ethnicity was a consistent issue throughout his career). It was not until 1983, thirty years after Thorpe's death, that his Olympic medals were restored and presented to his family; although he shares these golds with other athletes and their results are still used as the official scores, despite Thorpe's being superior.
Number of stripped medals at the Summer Olympics by year and color from 1968 to 2016
The data was compiled using a variety of sources, such as these articles from the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Data for more recent tournaments was compiled from a number of official press releases from the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency, and various news outlets.
*Notable non-drug related cases:
1992 - Ibragim Samadov of the Unified Team threw his bronze medal to the floor in protest during the ceremony; this was because the athlete's weight was used to decide the outcome, and Samadov was 0.05kg heavier than his opponents - Samadov would have won the gold if the traditional tie breaker had been used, as he lifted his weight on his second attempt while the others did so on their third attempts.
2000 - Chinese female gymnastic team stripped of bronze medal after one competitor was found to be underage (Dong Fangxiao was just 13 years old)
2008 - Ara Abrahamian, an Armenian-Swedish wrestler, placed his bronze medal in the middle of the ring and walked away, in protest at controversial decisions made by the judges in the semi-finals.
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Statista estimates. (April 27, 2020). Number of stripped medals at the Summer Olympics by year and color from 1968 to 2016 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved June 19, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1113135/summer-olympics-stripped-medals-by-year/
Statista estimates. "Number of stripped medals at the Summer Olympics by year and color from 1968 to 2016." Chart. April 27, 2020. Statista. Accessed June 19, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1113135/summer-olympics-stripped-medals-by-year/
Statista estimates. (2020). Number of stripped medals at the Summer Olympics by year and color from 1968 to 2016. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: June 19, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1113135/summer-olympics-stripped-medals-by-year/
Statista estimates. "Number of Stripped Medals at The Summer Olympics by Year and Color from 1968 to 2016." Statista, Statista Inc., 27 Apr 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1113135/summer-olympics-stripped-medals-by-year/
Statista estimates, Number of stripped medals at the Summer Olympics by year and color from 1968 to 2016 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1113135/summer-olympics-stripped-medals-by-year/ (last visited June 19, 2021)