The Olympics are a time for national pride and the Summer Games are going particularly well for the USA in Rio. However, that very same success can later cause trouble for some athletes who are not used to the sudden thrust and scrutiny of the spotlight.
Below are three notable US Olympic athletes who got into criminal trouble, including one who has been winning gold medals this very week.
One of the all-time great Olympic champions has also had his share of down times outside the pool. Phelps has been arrested twice for driving under the influence and subsequently made guilty pleas. The champion has avoided jail time but had his license suspended and was also suspended by the US Olympic team for certain periods. The swimmer was able to turn things around each time and put in dominant performances, including winning multiple gold medals in Rio.
Multiple gold medal track star Marion Jones had a steeper fall from grace. After an immense performance at the Sydney games in 2000, Jones became the subject of acute media attention due to doping allegations, and she later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Unfortunately for Jones, during an investigation into doping she lied under oath and was sentenced to six months in jail. This also voided her athletic achievements in the Olympics. This scandal was followed up by her involvement in a fraudulent check-cashing scheme, which resulted in an additional criminal charge and jail sentence, which was served in 2008.
The most notorious criminal Olympian of all must be figure skater Tonya Harding, partly due to the fact that her crime took place in the run up to the Olympic games themselves and targeted a fellow Olympian, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding’s ex-husband and additional associates plotted a conspiracy to attack Kerrigan to prevent her from competing in the 1994 Winter Games. While the attacker injured Kerrigan, it did not prevent the figure skater from competing in the Olympics and earning a silver medal. Harding also competed and finished in eighth place.
As the conspiracy unraveled during the Olympic Games, a media frenzy ensued with Harding front and center. While her ex-husband and associates were prosecuted, Harding plead guilty to hindering the prosecution of the assailants and avoided jail time by agreeing to community service and a paying a major fine. Her name is forever associated with the notorious attack.
The above three cases show that Olympic glory is no shield from bad decisions and sometimes can even be a source of harm.