Parallel winners? USOC supports duplicate golds

Federation admits to judging error in all-around, but Hamm to keep gold

Men's Gymnastics

Athens Olympics

August 22, 2004|By Alan Abrahamson and Diane Pucin | Alan Abrahamson and Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS -- Hours after international gymnastics officials acknowledged a key judging mistake in the men's all-around event, U.S. Olympic officials said yesterday that they would support South Korean officials in a bid to award duplicate gold medals to American Paul Hamm and Korean Yang Tae Young.

The International Gymnastics Federation ruled Yang had unfairly, though unintentionally, been docked one-tenth of a point Wednesday in the all-around final. As a result, Hamm became the first American to win a gold medal in the event, and Yang got the bronze. Another South Korean, Kim Dae Eun, took the silver.

The federation's admission threatened to shadow the Athens Games with a judging scandal resembling the one that dominated the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, when the International Olympic Committee ultimately awarded duplicate gold medals to Canadian and Russian pairs skaters.

"You can't replay what happened," a senior U.S. Olympic Committee official said last night, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But you can say an honest mistake was made, and let's try to do something fair for both athletes."

The leader of the South Korean team, B.J. Shin, said, "Two athletes must be protected," adding the gymnastics federation "should really correct the technical misjudgment."

Added Jae Soon Yoo, a delegation member: "We also don't want to break the heart of Paul Hamm. We would prefer if the two could share the gold medal."

The federation, known as FIG, suspended three judges to "maintain and ensure the highest possible judging standard at the Olympic Games." They were identified as Benjamin Bango of Spain, Oscar Buitrago Reyes of Colombia and George Beckstead of the United States.

In South Korea, angry sports fans flooded Web sites and Internet chat rooms saying Hamm was the beneficiary of U.S. favoritism. Similar claims arose in 2002, when American short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno received a gold medal after South Korean Kim Dong Sung was judged to have interfered with him.

Hamm, who was in 12th place with two routines remaining, came all the way back to win by just 0.012, the closest margin for the event in Olympic history. Yang was 0.049 behind Hamm.

Yang received a "start value" of 9.9 on parallel bars. The term refers to the difficulty of a routine; judges deduct points from the start value to determine a score. But after reviewing a tape of the all-around, federation officials said he should have started with a 10.0, the value he had received for the same routine in the team qualifying and finals.

That extra 0.10 would have given Yang 57.874 points. He would have defeated Hamm by 0.051; Kim would have been bumped to third.

A number of Olympic insiders, however, pointed out yesterday that it can never be known how Yang or Hamm would have performed in the all-around's remaining events had the scores been calculated correctly at the time.

The rules say a team can file a protest, called an inquiry, but only within one event after the one in question. The South Koreans failed to lodge an inquiry in time, so the scoring could not be changed, said Philippe Silacci, a spokesman for the gymnastics federation.

However, Jae, the Korean delegation member, said the South Koreans did question the scoring and were told to submit a protest after the meet.

Hamm was unavailable for comment. He begins competition today in the individual events, where he has qualified on four apparatuses, the most of any male gymnast here.

"Paul would feel badly if he had done something unfair," Hamm's father, Sandy, said in a telephone interview. "But when a game is over, it's over. It's the same as going back over every ref's call. You can argue, but it doesn't change anything."

USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said this controversy shouldn't tarnish Hamm's historic effort.

"Paul Hamm's performance the other night was absolutely incredible," Colarossi said. "It's unfortunate that the judges didn't have the right start value, but the FIG doesn't have video replays."

Potential U.S. support for duplicate medals, while significant, would mark only the first step in any such effort. It would have to be considered by the international federation; if FIG were then to recommend such a move, the IOC might have to take it up.

It was not immediately clear whether the federation or the IOC would consider such a proposal.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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