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Ask Maxim - Summer Olympics Facts

Photographed by Don Emmert / Getty/ AFP | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Which sport is most watched by the general public?

The Olympics are the most watched sporting event in the world, but most people aren’t tuning in to watch table tennis (sorry, Forrest Gump). Gymnastics, swimming, track and field and beach volleyball all consistently get high ratings but the true answer is popularity lies in the star power. According to Nielsen, the three highest watched telecasts of the last summer games were when Michael Phelps was in the water, including the night he broke a record with his eighth gold at one games, which was watched by over 30 million people in the U.S.

 

What can get you kicked out of the games?

“Really the only way to immediately get disqualified is if you cheat or fail a drug test,” says Mark Jones, an AMG sports agent for Olympic athletes. “You can even be stripped of your medal years later like track and field star Marion Jones,” he adds. “Her blood tests came out clean at the time because she was using a masking agent, but she admitted that she had used drugs years later.” There are, however, a few more interesting cases of athletes getting the boot, like when Cuban taekwondoist Angel Matos kicked a referee in the head at the 2008 games and was subsequently banned for life from any international taekwondo events.

 

Has an athlete ever sold a medal?

Some athletes are as eager to make a quick buck as you are! But of all the ones to sell their gold medal, the story of Yuriorkis Gamboa, the Cuban boxer, is the most heart wrenching. Knowing he was going to defect from his home country, after winning at the 2004 Summer Olympics he sold his medals to support his family. Three years later he made his escape while training in Venezuela, traveling to Columbia, then Germany, and eventually to the US. In terms of the medal that’s sold for the most gold, it belongs to American hockey player Mark Wells who was part of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. In 2010, to cover cost for his medical conditions, he put his medal up on the auction block where it was anonymously purchased for $310,700 through Heritage Auctions.

 

Has a celebrity ever competed in the Olympics?

Depends on what you consider a celebrity! Geena Davis came close to being on the women's archery team for the 2000 Sydney Games. And by close, we mean she was 24th. Unfortunately, we have yet to see a Victoria Secret Angel on the balance beam or The Rock doing the clean and jerk (it’s a weightlifting event, pervert), but there are many Olympic athletes who were graced with stardom after their achievements. Carl Lewis and his 10 Olympic medals became a celebrity in the ‘80s and ‘90s and he even ran for New Jersey Senate last year (he was taken off the ballot due to a technicality). Michael Phelps hosted SNL and appeared on countless talk shows since taking home eight gold medals at the 2008 summer games. Older winners like Johnny Weissmuller originally took the limelight as an Olympic swimmer in the 1920’s before moving into the world of acting, playing Tarzan in 1934. Gorgeous Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie had a similar experience, who, after winning three gold medals, went on to become one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood during the 1930s. And many people  forget that prior to being a doormat for the Kardashian family, Bruce Jenner was a gold medal Olympian. Back at the 1976 Summer Olympics he set the world record for 8,618 points in the Decathlon. And back then he also looked like a man.

 

Could decorative hedge trimming ever be considered an Olympic sport?

Highly unlikely, according to sports agent Mark Jones. In order to be recognized as an Olympic sport, the event needs to meet a multitude of criteria established by the International Olympic Committee. “First of all, there would need to be an international governing body for hedge trimming and they would need to show that there’s a competitive balance in other parts of the world for this ‘sport,’ which, at this point there’s not,” Jones tells us. Not to mention hedge trimming would have to get in line behind all the other sports trying to qualify for the Olympics, like karate and roller hockey, and previously included sports trying to win their way back into the program. For example, baseball was recently given the boot by the International Olympic Committee among speculation of everything from an anti-American bias of the IOC to the way the MLB punishes its players for performance enhancing drugs. Softball was thrown out of the 2012 Olympics as well due to the perception that very few countries play at the same level (the U.S. won every appearance). So what sports do have a chance to get into future games? “Those that capture the attention span of people that are 18-24,” says Jones. See you in 2024, women’s mud wrestling!

 

What’s been the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to an athlete during an event?

Losing. But if you’re going to lose, or not even qualify for the Olympics, it’s best not to have a national ad campaign surrounding you. That was the case of Reebok’s Dan and Dave campaign prior to the 1992 Olympics. Track stars Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson were heralded as America’s warriors by the shoe company in ads, posters and a Super Bowl commercial.

And then O’brien missed a pole vault during a qualifying round and was out before the torch was even lit. Johnson managed to go on and win the Bronze medal for the Decathlon, but no one really cared as we were too busy making Dan cry with mean taunts and gestures. And then Dan proved us all wrong when he won the Gold at the 1996 Olympics and if you forgot about that, don’t worry. Aaron Sorkin will probably write a movie about it and then suddenly it will matter.