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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Gymnast May Share Gold Won in Scoring Error

August 22, 2004|Alan Abrahamson and Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writers

ATHENS — Hours after international gymnastics officials admitted a key judging mistake in the men's all-around event, U.S. Olympic officials said Saturday they would consider supporting 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 that 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 glamorous event, coming back dramatically from 12th place with two routines left after a devastating fall in the vault. Another South Korean, Kim Dae Eun, took silver, and Yang received the bronze.

The federation's admission threatened to shadow the Athens Games with a judging scandal in some ways 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 USOC official said Saturday 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 Korean team's top official, B.J. Shin, said, "Two athletes must be protected," adding that 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.

Hamm won by just 0.012, or 12 one-thousandths of a point, the closest margin for the event in Olympic history. Yang was 0.049 behind Hamm.

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

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 Saturday 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 Saturday. 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 the 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."

Jong Koo Young, a reporter for Dong-a Ilbo Daily, a South Korean newspaper, said Yang told several Korean reporters Wednesday night that he was devastated by his loss. "Yang said he felt unfairly judged on the parallel bars and he also felt Mr. Hamm was given too much score on his bad vault," Jong said.

Hamm fell out of bounds and crashed into the judge's table on his vault. He was awarded a score of 9.137, third lowest among the 24 competitors.

"Yang felt such a mistake warranted no more of a score than 8.900," Jong said.

The score was low enough to leave Hamm in 12th place with only two apparatuses left. Hamm and his coach, Miles Avery, both said Wednesday they thought the gold medal was out of reach after the fall.

But a combination of other gymnasts struggling and Hamm's performing nearly flawlessly on the parallel bars and high bar -- earning identical scores of 9.837 -- gave him the gold.

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