U.S. gives poor marks to request that Hamm return his gold medal

USOC calls federation letter 'deplorable' as debate over scoring error rages on

Men's Gymnastics

Athens Olympics

August 28, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - The tug of war over Paul Hamm's gold medal continued yesterday, with the U.S. Olympic Committee angrily refusing a request from the international gymnastics federation to return the medal.

In a hastily arranged news conference, top USOC officials denounced a letter from the federation, known as FIG, to Hamm asking him to return the medal "in the ultimate demonstration of fair play."

"We have received the letter from FIG, and we find it deplorable," said USOC president Peter Ueberroth. "They are deflecting their own incompetence onto a young athlete who came to the Olympics to perform and who performed very well."

Ueberroth and Jim Scherr, USOC secretary-general, said they refused to deliver the letter from FIG president Bruno Grandi. Instead, they spoke with Hamm, who has returned to the United States.

In his letter, Grandi said: "The true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae Young.

"If, according to your declarations to the press, you would return your medal to the Korean if the FIG requested it, then such an action would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world," said the letter, which the USOC distributed to reporters.

"The FIG and the IOC would highly appreciate the magnitude of this gesture."

Meanwhile, yesterday in an interview on NBC, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said there are no grounds to issue a second gold medal to Yang and the case is closed.

"In sport, you have to deal with human error. And, in many sports, judgments fail. ... You have to accept that," he said. "If, in soccer, for instance, you have a penalty blown by the referee and the video shows the night after the match that he was wrong, you're not going to alter the match."

Yang finished third in the Aug. 18 competition behind Hamm and teammate Kim Dae Eun. Yang was erroneously given a lower skills value on his parallel bars routine. If he had received the proper score, he would have won gold and Hamm would have received silver.

But Korean officials didn't immediately challenge the score, and FIG has nothing in its rules that allows the alteration of scores after the competition. The federation suspended three judges, including the one who set the start value.

In other cases where a medalist is stripped of a medal, it goes to the next highest finisher. However, because Korean gymnastics officials want to revise Yang's score upward, it would move him past Kim.

Korean Olympic officials scheduled and then canceled a news conference last night.

In his written response to Grandi, Scherr called the request "a blatant and inappropriate attempt on the part of [FIG] to once again shift responsibility for its own mistakes and instead pressure Mr. Hamm into resolving what has become an embarrassing situation for your federation."

Hamm declined to comment through his agent, but on Tuesday he told reporters: "My responsibility is to do gymnastics, and it's the governing body's responsibility to deal with these matters. For them to put the pressure on the athletes is wrong."

Earlier in the week, Hamm complained to a New York Times reporter about feeling abandoned by the USOC and USA Gymnastics.

"I felt really horrible that no one was defending me, not USA Gymnastics, not the FIG, who caused the whole thing, nobody," he told the newspaper. "I don't feel that my medal is tainted, but I guess I have to explain that myself because USA Gymnastics let me down."

Bob Colarossi, head of USA Gymnastics, declined to comment for the article, but then sent a rebuttal letter, which was given to the media the next day. He was not at yesterday's news conference.

But Scherr acknowledged the USOC should have done more.

"I think we were at fault for not more strongly, more directly, showing our support for Paul," Scherr said. "I wish we would have done that more strongly and earlier."

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