• The Olympic Games offers athletes the chance to compete for glory while the whole world watches.
• Some of the fiercest rivals in sports history have had the chance to square off at the Olympics.
• Before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games starts, let’s look back on some famous Olympic showdowns.
The Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games haven’t even kicked off yet, and the looming showdown between Russian figure skaters Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova is shaping up to be a must-watch duel.
Some feuds, like the one between American figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, led to violence and drama. Other rivalries, like the spat between American swimmer Gary Hall Jr. and his Australian counterparts, have ended on a more magnanimous note.
But competition is at the heart of every Olympic Games.
Here’s a look at some of the greatest Olympics rivalries in history:
Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding
The Nancy vs. Tonya feud ultimately proved to be one of the most dramatic, talked-about scandals to ever hit the sports world. More than two decades later, we have a buzzy, star-studded movie about it.
Fitness Magazine recaps the whole sordid affair. Kerrigan and Harding skated against one another for years. The rivalry turned violent in 1994, when Kerrigan was attacked at practice with a metal baton. The fact that the assault had been planned by Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard was quickly uncovered.
The attack prompted intense media interest. Kerrigan recovered in time for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, and the world tuned in to watch her compete against Harding.
Ultimately, Kerrigan prevailed over her rival in Lillehammer, taking home the silver medal. Harding didn’t make the podium, and was ultimately banned from the sport.
Shirley Babashoff vs. the 1976 East German swimming team
At the age of 19, American swimmer Shirley Babashoff went up against a suspiciously dominant East German team at the 1976 Montreal Games.
As it turns out, the East German team were taking performance enhancing drugs. Because of this, Babashoff missed out on several gold medals, but ultimately pulled off a major upset by helping the Americans win gold over the East Germans in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
She also publicly made statements alleging the East Germans were doping. Her candidness earned her the ire of the media, who labeled “Surley Shirley” a poor sport, Swimming World Magazine reported.
The East German swimmers later admitted to cheating, but the IOC has refused to redistribute the medals they won, according to Newsday.
Michael Phelps vs. Milorad Cavic
American swimmer Michael Phelps’ short-lived feud with South African swimmer Chad le Clos certainly inspired some hilarious memes.
But his most dramatic pool-side rivalry came about with Serbia’s Milorad Cavic.
The Phelps-Cavic squabble played out quite a bit in the press. The duel in the pool came to a head when Phelps famously beat Cavic by a fraction of a second at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The judges actually had to slow down the tape of the match to review each “10-thousandth of a second,” ESPN reported.
Katarina Witt vs. Debi Thomas
The year 1988 gave us the Battle of the Carmens.
East German figure skater Katarina Witt and American figure skater Debi Thomas went head to head at the Calgary Games. Both athletes skated a long program inspired by the 1875 opera “Carmen.” The opera focuses on the love affairs of Carmen, a gypsy girl.
Summing up the difference between the programs, Thomas told WFLA: “She dies, and I don’t.”
Witt ultimately emerged victorious, winning the gold, while Thomas clinched bronze.
Lilly King vs Yulia Efimova
American swimmer Lilly King caused quite a splash at 2016 Rio Games with a simple point.
King feuded with Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who was caught up in Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal.
After winning her heat in the 100 meter breaststroke, Efimova held up one finger to signal she was number one. King was caught on camera wagging her finger at Efimova – and then repeated the gesture after she won her own heat.
“You know, you’re shaking your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not, you know, not a fan,” King said, according to Business Insider.
King had the last laugh, taking gold in the event. Efimova made the podium, and took home bronze.
Gary Hall Jr. vs. Alexander Popov and the 2000 Australian 4×100 relay team
Outspoken US swimmer Gary Hall Jr. has had his fair share of Olympic beef.
His first big international rivalry broke out against Russian swimmer Alexander Popov. The men traded barbs in the press. The stage was set for a showdown at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – 21-year-old Hall’s first-ever Games.
Hall had the advantage of an American crowd cheering him on, but lost both the 100 meter freestyle and 50 meter freestyle to Popov.
But Hall, who ultimately collected a career total of 10 Olympic medals, including five gold, wasn’t done there. He went on to spark another rivalry at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. This time, he feuded with swimmers from the host nation.
According to the book “Duels in the Pool: Swimming’s Greatest Rivalries,” Hall claimed his 4 x 100 relay team “would break the Australians like guitars.” When the Australians prevailed in the race, they triumphantly thrashed on air guitars. The squabble ended well though; Hall was the first person to go over and congratulate the Australians on their big win.
Oksana Grishuk and Sasha Platov vs. Maia Usova and Aleksandr Zhulin
The Nancy vs. Tonya feud wasn’t the only skating-related drama to hit the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer.
The world of ice dancing was also rocked by a clash between Russian ice dancers Oksana Grishuk and Sasha Platov and Maia Usova and Aleksandr Zhulin. Usova and Zhulin were a married couple, and all four ice dancers trained with the same coach.
Grishuk and Zhulin allegedly had an affair. In Lillehammer, Grishuk and Platov won gold, while Usova and Zhulin snagged silver, according to Fox Sports.
But the feud didn’t end on the ice.
The New York Times reported that Usova’s ultimate revenge came after the Games. She interrupted the pair having dinner at New York City eatery Spago’s. Furious, she reportedly grabbed Grishuk by the hair and slammed her face into the counter.
Sebastian ‘Seb’ Coe vs. Steve Ovett
British runners Seb Coe and Steve Ovett were at the top of their game when they faced off at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
They were all set to compete against one another, in the 800 meter and 1,500 meter races.
Outside Magazine reported that Coe’s intense kick made him a deadly contender in the 800, while Ovett was the favorite for 1,500, an event which he’d been undefeated in for three years.
But things went topsy-turvy in Moscow. Coe took gold in the 1,500, and Ovett won the 800.
Evgenia Medvedeva vs. Alina Zagitova
Russian figure skaters and training partners 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva and 15-year-old Alina Zagitova are all set to square off at the Pyeongchang Games.
Medvedeva, who was named one of Business Insider’s 50 most dominant athletes, has reigned over the world of figure skating for years, sweeping multiple Russian, European, and world championships.
But Zagitova recently spoiled Medvedeva’s winning streak at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships, the Japan Times reported. The 15-year-old also scooped up gold at the last Russian Championships, which Medvedeva missed due to a broken foot.
The two Russians train with the same coach and will compete at this year’s Winter Games as neutral athletes in the wake of their home country’s massive, government-sponsored doping scandal.
By all accounts, the training partners get along, but they’re two monster talents from the same country – and therefore a pair to watch at this year’s Winter Olympics.