Out of Bounds

Revisiting the golden days of cheating to win

Published December 15, 2023

Eric Keihl is the managing editor for Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Each week, he will accept a reader challenge to write a entire, quiz-ready trivia round on some tricky or obscure subject. You can challenge Eric here.

This week’s theme is “‘90s sports scandals,” suggested by quizzer Aaron Ichimura from Salt Lake City. Thanks, Aaron!

Funny you should ask about ‘90s sports scandals, Aaron from Salt Lake City, because your town was the center of a real big one. It came out in 1998 that Tom Welch and David Johnson, the president and vice president of SLC’s Olympic bid team, had slipped over $1 million worth of goodies to members of the International Olympic Committee to secure the 2002 Games for Utah. The wide array of swag ranged from straight-up bribes, to scholarships, to ski trips and basketball tickets. One particularly corrupt fella got care for his hepatitis, a total knee replacement, and some plastic surgery for his wife. Sweet deal!

The two Salt Lakers were eventually tried (and acquitted, somehow) for 15 counts of bribery, while the implicated IOC members all lost their jobs. Maybe that’s fair: Johnson and Welch only went all-out on the payola because Nagano had won the ‘98 Games by treating their guests to luxurious, sake-drenched stays at fancy onsen. America didn’t invent corruption, but we’re damn sure gonna perfect it!

Nowadays, the hard part is finding a city that wants to host the Olympics, which are expensive boondoggles that can leave a city with piles of moldering stadiums. At this rate, Salt Lake City might have to assemble another million in bribes to get to not host the 2034 edition.

Well, that covers all the ‘90s sports scandals that involve Mitt Romney (that we know of -Ed.), but there are a few others to run through. Let’s get started!

1. A year before Lance Armstrong got his first illegit win, the whole Festina cycling team was caught doping at the 1998 edition of what race? Tour de France

It was even worse than it looks: In 2013, declassified tests showed that 33 of the 189 riders at the “Tour de Farce” tested positive for doping, including overall winner Marco Pantani. A Spanish team dropped out midway, its team director remarking, “I have shoved my finger up the Tour’s arse.” That probably sounds more elegant in Spanish.

2. Diego Maradona once kinda-sorta admitted that at the 1990 World Cup, a water bottle spiked with tranquilizers helped what nation beat arch-rival neighbor Brazil? Argentina

Ever one for cheeky religious metaphors, Maradona said the Brazilian team had been slipped “holy water.” As a soccer neophyte I’m totally unqualified to summarize the psychotic Brazil-Argentina rivalry, but I do know it’s not dying down: A recent World Cup qualifier match required club-wielding police to break up fan brawls.

3. Elsewhere in weird poisonings, Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard says the New Zealand All Blacks were drugged before their final against South Africa, at the 1995 World Cup of what scrummy sport? Rugby (Union)

Surprisingly, the alleged poisoning isn’t brought up in Invictus, the perfectly okay 2009 Morgan Freeman film about the tournament. Random fact about Freeman: After a car crash paralyzed his left hand, he got good enough at one-handed golf to drive the ball 180 yards. Never thought I’d enjoy a golf fact, but here we are.

4. In 1990, Sylvester Carmouche and Landing Officer hid in the fog to skip a lap of Louisiana’s Delta Downs, leading to Carmouche’s eight-year ban from what sports job? Jockey

“I know I ain’t did it,” said an outraged Sylvester afterwards, but Louisiana’s state racing commission decided he did in fact did it, and upheld the ban. A quarter-century later, his grandson Sylvester III was arrested on charges of murder and arson, which kind of puts this whole round in perspective.

5. Spouting racist nonsense, keeping a Nazi armband, and letting her St. Bernards poop all over Riverfront Stadium. In 1999, that rap sheet got Marge Schott pushed out of owning what NL Central team? Cincinnati Reds

Schott’s dogs were all named Schottzie, as were the elephants named in her honor by the Cincinnati Zoo. Finding “fun facts” about Marge Schott is like playing hopscotch in a minefield, so let’s quit while we’re ahead, no?

6. An unrated cheater was disqualified from the 1993 World Chess Open thanks to a pair of headphones, a buzzing pants bulge, and earning a draw against someone who held what highest “master” title in the sport? Grandmaster 

The still-unknown cheater gave himself away with an apparent fat-finger mistake that crashed his pocket computer. When it stopped feeding him moves, he lost his fourth game on time. After a similar hitch in round nine, he left for 40 minutes, fixed his rig, came back, and won. Organizers eventually asked him to solve a simple chess puzzle before handing over an amateur prize; he refused, and disappeared into the mists of history.

7. Arizona State’s basketball team intentionally lost by, ahem, razor-thin margins to help out gamblers in 1994, a practice known as point-WHATTING? Shaving

Check out this Netflix doc on the scandal for more info. Point-shaving is a recurring issue in college basketball: City College’s once-powerful program was more or less burned to the ground following a big scandal in 1950, and in the late ‘70s Boston College got wrapped up in another orchestrated by Henry “Goodfellas” Hill. Now that sports betting is mainstream, we’re due for another epidemic any day now. ‘Merica!

8. Literally kneecapped by her rival, narrowly lost out on Olympic gold, caught saying a Disney World parade was “dumb.” So went a rough start to 1994 for what athlete? Nancy Kerrigan

Harding was justifiably stripped of her gold medal at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for planning the attack on Kerrigan, meaning the de facto ladies champion was the great Michelle Kwan. Hey, let’s see what she’s been up to lately… Ambassador to Belize? Did not see that coming, but you go, Michelle.

Bonus: Nine players were carried off the field, and another left in a coma at the “Hampden Park Bloodbath,” an 1894 football game between Harvard and what snooty foe? Yale

The game ended in Yale’s favor, by the Scorigami-worthy final of 12-4. Believe it or not, they were football powers back then: Yale outscored its opponents 485-13, and was the consensus co-champion with Penn and Princeton (Harvard went a respectable 11-2).