Olympic gold medalist Paul Hamm retained his title as the world's best all-around gymnast yesterday after three arbiters dismissed a challenge from the third-place finisher.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, rejected an appeal from South Korean gymnast Yang Tae Young, who wanted the competition scores and standings revised to give him the gold medal and Hamm the silver.
The ruling closes the door on the two-month controversy and opens a window for Hamm on lucrative endorsement deals.
"This is obviously a great day for me," Hamm said during a teleconference from New York. "The decision from CAS confirms what I always felt in my heart, which is I was the champion that night, and that I am the Olympic all-around gold medalist."
Hamm won the gold medal on Aug. 18 after recovering from a disastrous vault in which he fell onto the judges' table and dropped to 12th place with two events remaining. He roared back to the top with outstanding routines on the parallel bars and high bar to beat Yang by .049 points.
However, Yang was mistakenly docked 0.10 of a point on the start value of his parallel bars routine. Had he been given the proper score and the rest of the evening played out the same, Yang would have beaten Hamm by 0.051.
South Korean gymnastics officials appealed to the International Gymnastics Federation, known as FIG. While the organization acknowledged the error and suspended three judges, it would not alter the results, saying the South Koreans didn't file a protest in time.
But Bruno Grandi, president of FIG, fueled the controversy. In a letter, he asked Hamm to surrender the medal, writing, "The true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae Young."
The International Olympic Committee refused to intervene, leaving CAS as the only remaining option.
However, the court historically has avoided altering "field of play" decisions, a policy it continued after hearing the appeal Sept. 27.
"An error identified with the benefit of hindsight, whether admitted or not, cannot be a ground for reversing a result of a competition," the court said.
A South Korean Olympic Association spokesman said officials accepted the ruling.
Hamm, who had the legal and financial support of the U.S. Olympic Committee, acknowledged that the court's decision might not erase doubts about who was the best that night in Athens. But he said as a result of the process, more people understand his position.
"I competed my heart out and followed all the rules," said Hamm, who had the gold medal with him yesterday. "I don't think this will change the way I look at competition."
Kelly Crabb, Hamm's attorney, said the controversy deprived his client of some business opportunities. Wheaties, for example, decided not to put his likeness on the cereal box, as it did with swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Carly Patterson.
"Hopefully, some of those [offers] will be back on the table," he said.
Hamm said he expects to compete in the World Cup final in England in December. Before then, however, he wants to have "a slight celebration" with family and friends.
"I feel like I won it three times already. In competition, in the media and now in the courts," Hamm said. "I think it will mean much more for the rest of my life."