While reading through the Madmen database on early gymnastics results, it becomes rather obvious that the sport was plagued with two problems. The first problem was that there weren’t enough countries to hold a legitimate team competition. The second problem was that judging panels had no neutral observers, and were made up from representatives of the teams competing. That may not sound problematic in a competition with 12 teams, but imagine how that would work in a competition featuring only three teams? It went about as well as you would expect.
Below I complied the five times this system turned things into a joke. These are all official results and I included links to where they can be found on the Olympic website at the bottom of this article. The explanation regarding how the judges voted is from the Madmen database.
1912: Men’s Team
3. Great Britain
Of the five judges, four of them gave Italy the highest score. The Hungarian judge ranked his team first giving Hungary the silver medal.
1912: Men’s Team (Free System)
Three judges gave Norway the highest score. The judges for Finland and Denmark each ranked their teams first resulting in silver and bronze medals.
1912: Men’s Team (Swedish System)
All the judges voted for Sweden with the exception of the Danish judge who placed Denmark first despite this particular event being gymnastics in the Swedish style. This gave Denmark the silver medal and as the last remaining team in this three-team competition, Norway took the bronze medal.
1920: Men’s Team (Free System)
There were only two teams in this competition resulting in only two judges, one from each country. The Danish and Norwegian judges each gave their team the higher score. Denmark took the gold medal after their judge scored Norway even lower (by a significant amount) than what the Norwegian judge gave Denmark.
1920: Men’s Team (Swedish System)
This time there were six judges, two from each nation. With three teams in the competition everyone was guaranteed a medal. The judges for Sweden and Denmark placed their teams first. The Danish judges again did this in spite of this event being a style of gymnastics that was based out of Sweden. The two Belgian judges ranked Sweden first giving them the gold medal.
After the 1920 Olympics men’s gymnastics started standardizing its number of events, removed the excessive team competitions, and embraced the individual events that we see today. But most importantly, the judging was improved significantly.
One thing to note, the absurdly stupid judging does not reflect the quality of the athletes who participated. These were legitimate athletes who had impressive skill sets and truly were the best at what they did.