Olympic Athletes Who Have Died at the Olympic Games

Updated on January 14, 2016
Francisco Lazaro, 21, died of an electrolyte imbalance.
Francisco Lazaro, 21, died of an electrolyte imbalance. | Source

Olympic Athletes Who Died While Competing at the Olympic Games

Francisco Lázaro, Marathon Runner

Portugal's first marathon entrant, Francisco Lazaro, earned the distinction of being the first Olympic athlete to die in the modern games. He was a competitor at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

He collapsed after reaching the 30 km mark during the race. His death was at first thought to be due to heat exhaustion caused by the extreme heat on the day of the race.

It was discovered at autopsy that Lazaro had covered his skin with wax, a common practice at the time to prevent sunburn. Unable to perspire normally, Lazaro died from an electrolyte imbalance.

It would be 48 years before another athlete died at the Olympic games.

Another possible Olympic athlete death?

The official cause of death of Romanian featherweight boxer Nicolae Berechet was blood poisoning.

People continue to speculate that he instead died of head injuries sustained during his boxing match.

Berechet died four days after losing his boxing bout at the 1936 Berlin games.

Knud Enemark Jensen, Olympic cyclist

Jensen died while competing in a team race during the 1960 Rome Olympics. He collapsed and fell to the road, fracturing his skull. He died a short time later in a medical tent.

The official cause of death was heatstroke, though his doctor later admitted to giving Jensen and his teammates a vasodilator prior to the race.

Due to the ensuing controversy about the real cause of Jensen's death, the Olympic committee mandated drug tests be performed on all athletes. Mandatory drug testing began with the 1968 Winter Olympics.

Athletes Who Died While Practicing at the Olympics

Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski, luge racer

1964 was not a good year for Olympic athletes competing at the Innsbruck Olympics. The first Olympian to die was Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski, a British luge racer.

The luge event was considered a very dangerous sport and was making its debut in the 1964 games. The Polish born Kay-Skrzypeski was killed while practicing on the Olympic luge track. He was 27 when he died.

Ross Milne was an Australian skier
Ross Milne was an Australian skier | Source

Leslie Ross Milne, Alpine ski racer

Milne, an Australian skier, was only 19 years old when he died during a practice run for the men's downhill ski race at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics. Milne went off course, hit a tree and died of head injuries.

An investigation into the accident questioned his youth and inexperience, but blame ultimately was found to lie with the course. After another skier was seriously injured during practice, the course was slightly modified before the official start of the ski runs.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, luge racer

The second person to die while doing a practice run on a luge sled, Kumaritashvili was a native of Borjomi, Georgia.

He lost control of his sled at the end of the luge run, and was thrown over the side of the track where he slammed into an uncovered post. Still breathing,he was airlifted to a hospital where he later died.

Kumaritashvili was 21 at the time of his death.

A stamp which was created to honor Georgia native Nodar Kumartashvili
A stamp which was created to honor Georgia native Nodar Kumartashvili | Source

Nicolas Bochatay, speed skier

Speed skiing was only a demonstration sport at the 1992 Albertville games. Swiss skier Nicolas Bochatay was practicing when he collided with a snow grooming machine on the final day of the speed skiing event.

Bochatay died of severe internal injuries. He was 28 at the time of his tragic death.

His aunt, Fernande Bochatay, had won a bronze medal competing in the giant slalom at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble.

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Olympic Athletes Who Died While Not Competing

Eliška Misáková, gymnast

Misáková was a member of the Czechoslavakian gymnastic team at the 1948 London games. She became ill soon after she arrived in London. She died of polio on the day her teammates won gold.

Arrigo Menicocci, rower

Arrigo Menicocci, an Italian rower, was driving a car at a high speed when he lost control and hit a tree. He died at a hospital a few hours later. He had competed in the 1956 Melbourne games just days earlier.

ABC coverage of the Munich Massacre

The Munich Massacre

Five Olympians and six coaches from Israel were kidnapped and subsequently murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich games.

The athletes were:

  • Eliezer Halfin, 24, Greco-Roman wrestler
  • David Mark Berger, 28, middle-weight weightlifter
  • Ze'ev Friedman, 28, weightlifter
  • Mark Slavin, 18, wrestler
  • Yossef Romano, 31, middle-weight weightlifter

A plaque commemorating the victims of the Munich massacre.
A plaque commemorating the victims of the Munich massacre. | Source

Questions & Answers


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      • mylindaelliott profile image

        mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

        Interesting hub. I didn't realize so many had passed when practicing or in the Olympics.

      • Vintage News profile image

        Breaking News from the Past! 4 years ago from The TARDIS.

        Pretty interesting article and timely considering Sochi is upon us! A good read!

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Since many of these marathons are outdoors, the weather has a great impact on the health of the athletes. Extreme heat (or even extreme cold) can hinder their ability to do well, let alone, survive.

        I never realized there were so many tragic deaths. It's so silly that some athletes think they can overcome the extremes with methods that end up hurting them even more, such as Lazaro, who caused an electrolyte imbalance by covering his skin with wax.

        And if it's not their own doing, they are always in danger of terrorist attacks. I knew of that, but I learned a lot from your hub about the self-inflicted problems. The Olympics are truly dangerous in many ways.

      • Sheri Faye profile image

        Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

        I have my fingers crossed that this years winter games are a great success and no one is hurt. I have never heard of covering one's self in wax to prevent sunburn! Interesting hub!

      • kidscrafts profile image

        kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

        For a long time, each time it was time for a new Olympic season, the Munich massacre came back to mind. I was living in Belgium at that time; that was quite a blow to the spirit of the Olympic games of peace an friendship.

        As for the luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili, I remember that one too because it happened in the last Olympics here in Canada.

        Young lives taken way to early!

        Interesting hub!

        Have a nice day!

      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 4 years ago from North Dakota

        Thank you, NateB11 and georgescifo. :)

      • georgescifo profile image

        georgescifo 4 years ago from India

        A unique hub and was never aware about these athletes who died during Olympic games. Really a good collection and voted up for this hub.

      • NateB11 profile image

        Nathan Bernardo 4 years ago from California, United States of America

        This is very fascinating and, of course, tragic. Particularly tragic is the massacre at Munich. That's rather interesting that the athlete from Portugal died in the 1912 Olympics because he blocked his own pores with wax. I guess it's a statement about a lack of knowledge back then about such things. Very interesting read, thanks.