Victory lane turns into contested lane

Swimming, gymnastics disputes raise questions about protests

Athens Olympics 2004

August 21, 2004|By Randy Harvey | Randy Harvey,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Paul Hamm's historic victory on Wednesday night in the men's gymnastics all-around competition came under scrutiny yesterday because of an apparent judging error, although it does not appear he will lose his gold medal.

That cannot be said for U.S. swimmer Aaron Peirsol, whose disqualification from the 200-meter backstroke Thursday night was overturned but might still be disputed.

Neither case has reached the level of the scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, when a French judge was determined by the international federation for the sport to have helped fix the pairs skating competition.

But the incidents, along with another this week in the equestrian competition, re-emphasize the difficulty of remaining controversy-free in the Summer Olympics, which feature competition in 28 sports contested over a 17-day period and raise questions about the method of settling disputes.

"You just hope this doesn't become The Protest Olympics and that not everything is appealed to CAS," said Bob Condron, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

CAS stands for the Court of Arbitration for Sports, which was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee after the fallout from the figure skating corruption in Salt Lake City to adjudicate when parties in the Olympics felt aggrieved.

The Swiss-based CAS established an office in Athens and, going into the second weekend of competition, has a full docket.

It was unclear whether the South Korean Olympic Committee would take its case to CAS on behalf of Yang Tae Young, who finished third in the gymnastics all-around competition Wednesday night behind Hamm, of Waukesha, Wis., and South Korean teammate Kim Dae Eun.

Yang was given a start value for his parallel bars routine in the finals of 9.9 points. As a result, he could not score above 9.9 regardless how well he performed. In the preliminaries, however, judges had given the same routine a start value of 10.0.

An extra tenth of a point would have given Yang the gold medal, despite the amazing comeback by Hamm from 12th after four rotations to first after the sixth and final one. Hamm won by the smallest margin in the history of Olympic judging in any sport, scoring 57.823 points to 57.811 for Kim and 57.774 for Yang.

The South Koreans yesterday protested to FIG, the international gymnastics federation. FIG did not rule on the merits of the argument, saying it would review tapes to determine whether the judges in question should be sanctioned before competition in individual apparatuses begins Monday. But FIG did rule it was too late to overturn the results.

FIG rules state protests must be lodged on the floor before the next rotation begins.

"Judges can make mistakes," FIG spokesman Philippe Silacci said. "That's human. But it's like football. They cannot change the score after the game is over."

But the South Koreans, according to sports lawyers, could argue to CAS that there are precedents for changing results in the Olympics after the event has concluded.

In 2002, the International Skating Union, which governs figure skating, ruled days after the competition that the Russian pair had to share the gold medal with Canadians as a result of an investigation into the judging.

Ten years earlier, during the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, a judge accidentally submitted the wrong score for a Canadian synchronized swimmer, Sylvie Frechette, who subsequently finished second instead of first. FINA, which governs swimming, wouldn't allow the judge to change a score. But more than a year later, FINA, under pressure from the IOC, changed its ruling and gave Frechette a gold medal to go along with the one originally awarded to Kristen Babb-Sprague of the United States.

FINA again finds itself embroiled in controversy. After Peirsol, of Irvine, Calif., won the 200 backstroke on Thursday night, a French lane judge disqualified him for an illegal turn. For 20 minutes, it appeared as if the gold medal would go to Markus Rogan of Austria, the silver to Razvan Florea of Romania and the bronze to James Goddard of Great Britain.

The United States didn't need to file a protest, because the referee and the jury of appeals rejected the judge's ruling before it could go to FINA's technical commission and reinstated Peirsol as the winner. British swimming officials, acting on behalf of Goddard, said Thursday night they would appeal to CAS, but the British Olympic Committee (BOC) said that protocol required it to submit the appeal.

As of last night, the BOC still hadn't acted, because it was already involved in another case before CAS. Great Britain, France and the United States were protesting Germany's victory in the three-day equestrian event.

Germany's victory was disallowed by judges because rider Bettina Hoy crossed the start line twice on the show jumping course. That gave France the gold, Great Britain the silver and the United States the bronze. But equestrian's appeals committee returned the gold medal to the Germans.

CAS is expected to return a verdict today.

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