Athletes Who Were Caught Cheating

To be a top athlete is hard, which is why lots of athletes end up breaking the rules. Let's find out about athletes who were caught cheating in the worst ways.


An attitude of winning at all costs sees some athletes throw the rulebook out of the window. But once they’ve crossed that finish line or climbed that podium, a single keen-eyed onlooker can bring all their hard-won success crashing down. With that, let’s take a look at some shocking times athletes were caught cheating.

Rosie Ruiz

If you look up the definition of "cheating" in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll find a picture of Rosie Ruiz’s face next to it. Back in 1980, this athlete became famous almost overnight after she won the Boston Marathon.

A complete unknown, she crossed the finish line with the third fastest time recorded by any woman. But once she was over the line, suspicions began to arise. After running over 26 miles so quickly on a 70-degree day, she should’ve been completely exhausted. But Ruiz appeared suspiciously well-rested, raising questions.

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Was she on some kind of steroids? Perhaps a special training regimen? After several days of confusion, witnesses came forward claiming they had seen Ruiz join the race from the sidelines less than a mile from the finish.

Further investigation revealed that during the New York Marathon 6 months earlier, witnesses had actually seen Ruiz riding the subway to the finish line! Even though she denied both accusations, the evidence was piled against her, and Ruiz was stripped of her win and record. Although you have to hand it to her, that’s certainly one way to train.

Athletes Who Were Caught Cheating Rosie Ruiz riding the subway during marathon

Dwight Howard

When it comes to cheating, sometimes you need the biggest balls on the court; or in Dwight Howard’s case, the stickiest. Back in 2016, Dwight was playing NBA-level basketball for the Houston Rockets. While the Rockets were playing against the Atlanta Hawks, officials realized the ball was covered in a tacky substance, right after Howard had touched it.

The rules of the NBA state that it’s illegal to use “foreign substances” during games, so this raised several red flags. Officials wandered over to the bench and found a glaringly obvious can of Stickum, a kind of spray adhesive, in plain view of everyone.

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It was once used to help players get a better grip on the ball, but it was banned from the sport in 1981. Both teams were warned, but no player was accused, and the game continued.

After the game, however, Howard admitted to Houston Chronicle writer Jonathan Feign that it was him. Not only that, he also admitted to using Stickum in every game he played. Somehow, the baller just laughed the incident off, and no fine or charge was ever brought against him, avoiding what could’ve been a very sticky situation.

2012 Olympic Badminton Players

Of all the sports you might associate with cheating, badminton probably doesn't immediately spring to mind. But at the London 2012 Olympics, intentionally throwing matches became the new winning strategy for several teams.

A round-robin system was used in this Olympics, which meant all teams would face each other at some point. The results of earlier matches would be used to put teams into suitable skill brackets, pitting teams of similar abilities against one another. So, by strategically losing some games early on, a team could play easier matches against weaker teams at the knockout stage with better chances of winning.

Athletes Who Were Caught Cheating - Part 1

This was a strategy that China’s team players, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, attempted to exploit in the women’s doubles tournament. Unfortunately, the South Korean team they were facing had adopted the exact same strategy. Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na faced the Chinese team on the court, and the world bore witness to one of the worst games of professional badminton ever played.

How bad? Well, the longest rally in the first game only lasted four strokes! A series of clearly intentional, basic errors ruined the game, and fans jeered and booed at the teams as they left. To make matters worse, another match between a separate South Korean team and the Indonesian Team suffered the same clash of strategies.

Because what they were all attempting was so blatantly obvious, all four pairs were formally accused of trying to rig the matches by performing poorly. As punishment, they were disqualified from the rest of the tournament.

Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team

In 2000, the Sydney Paralympics was rocked by a scandal that still has people shaking their heads with shame today. On the Australian Paralympic courts, the Spanish learning-disabled basketball team beat Russia in their final match to win gold. But after the games closed a member of the team, Carlos Ribagorda, confessed something outrageous to the press.

The team was supposed to be made up exclusively of players with an IQ of less than 70. But 10 of their 12 players were actually mentally competent athletes with much higher IQs than the maximum.

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Apparently, they had all signed up as part of a wider scheme to boost their country's chances of winning. They’d even been provided with fake medical certificates to help them feign disabilities! Worst of all, for two years leading up to the Paralympics, they had trained around the world beating disabled athletes.

Shockingly, the mastermind behind the scheme was the president of the Spanish Federation of Sports for the Intellectually Disabled. But he was fined just €5,400 after admitting to charges of fraud and embezzlement. Maybe these pieces of work should have competed in the limbo event instead, seeing just how low they could go!

Tonya Harding

In 1994, the world of figure skating became a total media circus after drama struck the ice. The day before the US Figure Skating Championships, title-holder Nancy Kerrigan was filmed finishing a practice skate in Michigan’s Cobo arena. But just seconds later, she was screaming in pain on the ground after a man with a police baton attacked her.

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With her thigh badly bruised, Kerrigan was unable to compete. Her long-time rival, Tonya Harding, went on to take first place and was selected alongside her for that year’s Winter Olympic Skating team. However, police soon discovered the attack on Kerrigan had been ordered by a bounty hunter.

In a shocking twist of events, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooley, and her once bodyguard, Shawn Eckhart, were labeled as the culprits. They’d hired the bounty hunter to break Kerrigan’s leg, removing Harding’s competition in the upcoming events. Although she claimed she had no part in the conspiracy, Harding later admitted that she knew her ex-husband had been involved, but she’d failed to report it.

A disciplinary panel stripped her of the Championship title, shortly after she’d participated in the 1994 Winter Olympics. But the Olympics had been filled with some justice of their own. At the games, a malfunction with her skates saw Tonya placed down in 8th whilst Kerrigan managed a Silver 2nd. Karma gets pretty icy sometimes!

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Back in 2009, the world of Rugby was shaken to its foundations during the scandal now known as Bloodgate. In a Heineken Cup match between the English Harlequins and the Irish Leinsters, the Harlequins' Tom Williams was suddenly pulled off the pitch in the game’s closing moments.

He had blood dripping from his mouth and was told he couldn’t play on, but the only substitute available was Nick Evans. Nick had also been injured earlier in the game, and under normal circumstances, the rules state that a player can’t be subbed out more than once per game. But, thanks to an exception in the rules specifically regarding blood injuries, Nick was allowed to hobble out regardless.

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Fortunately, Nick was exactly the type of player the Harlequins needed at that moment to have a shot at winning the match. It seemed like a bloody good stroke of luck, but as Williams headed towards the bench the cameras caught him winking to his teammates.

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Most people wouldn't be winking and smiling after a supposed injury to their faces. Something definitely wasn’t right, so The European Rugby Cup set up an investigation into the substitution. They found Williams had been given a fake blood capsule by the team’s physiotherapist in order to allow Evans back on at the critical moment!

It was an illegal tactic orchestrated by the team’s Chief Executive, Dean Richards, who was accused of four similar incidents! Richards, Williams, and the physiotherapist all received bans from the sport, and the Harlequins club was slapped with a £260,000 fine! Worst of all, the Harlequins’ cheating didn’t even bag them the win! To this day, the BBC claims it was Rugby’s Biggest Scandal.

Michael Pineda

In sports like baseball, one fumble can be the difference between victory and defeat. But back in 2014, New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda simply couldn’t get a grip. As his team faced off against the Boston Red Sox, the Major League Baseball pitcher decided to up his game by using Pine Tar to improve his grip on the ball.

He placed a small patch of the sticky substance on his neck, with his plan being to discretely rub the ball there before throwing it. But not discretely enough, it would seem! Before long, the Red Sox coach had spotted something afoot and was informing the referee.

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And funnily enough, at the same moment the coach complained about Pineda, a fan in the stalls could be seen pointing out Pineda’s obvious faux pas! After several umpires checked his hands and neck, Pineda was immediately ejected from the game and the ten games following!

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The rules of Major League Baseball state pretty clearly that you can’t use foreign substances on the ball, but this wasn’t the first time Pineda had been caught cheating like this! He’d used the same pine tar in a previous match against the Red Sox, and had even been caught on camera having obviously applied it! Maybe Pineda just wanted to live up to the "pine" part of his name, but this was hardly a pitch-perfect way to go about it.

2012 Olympic Women Weightlifters

The final lift of the 75kg category at the 2012 Olympic Women’s Weightlifting event was an incredible moment for everyone watching. Both Svetlana Podobedova and Natalya Zabolotnaya had set new Olympic records for women, with Podobedova taking the gold for Kazakhstan! In doing so, she’d pushed Zabolotnaya of Russia into silver second and Belarusian lifter Iryna Kulesha to third.

2012 Olympic Women Weightlifters Natalia Zabolotnaya Svetlana Podobedova Iryna Kulesha

They all made lifting weights look natural, except there was nothing natural powering the performance of these ladies. Despite testing clean for illegal performance-enhancing drugs at the time, the International Olympic Committee began re-analyzing athlete drug tests in 2015.

Thanks to an advance in technology, the committee was able to pick up previously overlooked substances, catching past cheaters who thought they’d gotten away with it. The re-analysis revealed a list of athletes who had clearly violated anti-doping laws, including three recognizable names: Svetlana Podobedova, Natalya Zabolotnaya, and Iryna Kulesha.

All three of the muscle-bound matriarchs were disqualified, stripped of their medals, and had their Olympic records nullified. So, even though they were pumped up on steroids, they still managed this all-natural fail.

Femke Van den Driessche

While some athletes work to improve themselves, others work to improve their methods of cheating. That was a sad fact that became clear back in 2016 after cycling champion Femke Van den Driessche became the first ever athlete to be caught ‘mechanical doping’. That’s a fancy way of saying she’d a hidden motor in her equipment to make the race easier.

Femke Van den Driessche cyclist

She was competing in the Cyclocross Championships when she suddenly stopped mid-race, claiming there was a problem with her bike. But on closer inspection, officials spotted wires and a battery concealed under the bicycle seat, leading to a motor hidden in the crankshaft.

Van den Driessche was able to turn the motor on and off inconspicuously through a Bluetooth button attached to the handlebars. This turned the crank and helped push the pedals at key points in the race. As you can see in the footage below, on a difficult climb Van den Driessche was seen easily pulling away from the group with minimal effort.

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When asked to deliver her defense, she claimed the bike belonged to her friend Nico Van Muylder. Even though he confirmed her story, the rules at the time stated that the responsibility for the bike was all hers. She was hit with a 6-year ban from professional cycling and a fine of 20,000 Swiss Francs, which is just shy of $21,000, before being stripped of all her previous titles. She should have pumped the breaks on that plan instead!

I hope you were amazed (or disgusted) at these athletes who were caught cheating. Thanks for reading!

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