Despite official bylaws against "political behavior" at the Olympics, there has been no shortage of attacks, boycotts, and demonstrations in the 116 years since the first modern Olympic Games. Nationalism, racism, and a host of other political sentiments have repeatedly found their way into the competition, inciting everything from flag burning to bloody fistfights to the tragic murder of athletes.
Although human rights groups urged boycotts of the 2008 Beijing games because of the Chinese government's human rights record, suppression of protests in Tibet, and coziness with dictators in countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe, the competition ultimately provoked relatively little political activity. So far, the London Olympics have not been dogged by many boycott threats, but it hasn't exactly been controversy-free either -- they've mainly centered on whether London has enough security personnel and whether to hold an official moment of silence to mark the 40th anniversary of the Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Indeed, the competition has already produced some striking -- if ultimately empty -- solidarity. On Monday, Iran announced that Iranian athletes will compete against Israelis, after some members of the country's delegation refused to do so during the 2004 Athens games and 2008 Beijing games. (The catch: Athletes from the two countries are not scheduled to face off in any events).
But cooler heads haven't always prevailed during the Olympics. Here's a look at eight games where politics took center stage, relegating sports to the sidelines.
London, Britain (1908): The fourth official Olympic competition was the first to feature an opening ceremony, which called for the flag bearer from each nation to dip their flag in respect to King Edward VII as they passed by his box in the 68,000-seat stadium. But the American flag bearer, a shot-putter named Ralph Rose (pictured above), did not tilt the Stars and Stripes toward the ruler, and legend has it that U.S. discus thrower Martin Sheridan defiantly declared that the American flag "dips to no earthly king." American athletes have not dipped their flag to the host nation's leaders since.
Anglo-American tension erupted once again during the marathon event when Italian runner Dorando Pietri collapsed in the final moments of the race and had to be carried across the finish line by medics. U.S. competitor Johnny Hayes was initially declared the runner-up as British and American officials argued over Pietri's disqualification for over an hour, while spectators brawled in the stands. Eventually, Pietri was disqualified and Hayes crowned the winner.
These weren't the only political incidents at the London games. Finland, which at the time was under Russian control, chose to march in the opening ceremony without a flag rather than bear Russia's colors. Athletes from Northern Ireland boycotted the competition altogether because Britain refused to grant the territory independence.