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Hamm Asked to Give Up Gold

USOC officials reject the gymnastic federation's request, calling it 'deplorable.' The controversy renews calls for reforms in judging.

August 28, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The International Gymnastics Federation asked men's all-around winner Paul Hamm to give up his gold medal as a show of sportsmanship, a move the U.S. Olympic Committee on Friday called a "blatant and inappropriate" bid to "shift responsibility for its own mistakes."

In the latest twist in the 10-day-old controversy, Bruno Grandi, president of the gymnastics federation known as FIG, suggested in a letter to Hamm that giving the medal to South Korea's Yang Tae Young would be "recognised as the ultimate demonstration of Fair-play by the whole world."

Grandi sent the letter to Hamm late Thursday through the USOC, which refused to pass it along. Instead, Chief Executive Jim Scherr said in a letter of response that the USOC found Grandi's request "improper, outrageous and ... beyond the bounds of what is acceptable."

At a news conference Friday, USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth called Grandi's bid "deplorable."

The sharp rhetoric underscored the contentiousness that has marked the 2004 Games over the outcome of judged sports, such as gymnastics, while illuminating battles to come over how to repair the judging system.

To ensure public confidence, the standards in such sports must become more consistent and less susceptible to political pressures, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Friday. "We are not going to give medals for so-called humanitarian or emotional reasons," he said.

The gymnastics protests are a legacy of the figure skating scandal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, experts said, one that has fueled a new Olympic trend: post-event squabbling over gold medals that includes political arm-twisting, public-relations gambits and increased litigiousness.

In addition to disputes in both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, the Athens Games have seen protests in equestrian, swimming, boxing, rowing and fencing. The gymnastics disputes, especially, have reopened old Olympic wounds about sports in which medalists are determined not by a clock or tape measure, but by judges. While many of these sports are dramatic and popular, they pose a threat to the Games' credibility when their judging is suspect, experts said.

In a historic first by an American, Hamm won gold in the all-around after a scoring blunder that seemingly cost Yang a crucial one-tenth of a point, relegating him to bronze.

South Korean officials said this week they intended to seek a duplicate gold medal for Yang through an international tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, probably after the Games. Matthieu Reeb, the panel's general secretary, said late Friday that no case had been filed.

Other gymnastics protests here have involved Canadian, Russian, Greek and Bulgarian athletes -- and, in rhythmic gymnastics, American Mary Sanders. U.S. officials filed a protest Thursday over what they considered unjustifiably low scores for her hoop routine, but the federation turned it down Friday.

Hamm, already back in the United States, has said he has no intention of giving up his medal unless the federation orders him to do so. He declined to comment Friday.

In a letter delivered Thursday evening Athens time, Grandi urged Hamm to return the medal and declared Yang the "true winner."

Ueberroth sharply criticized Grandi's effort. "I don't know of any comparison in any sport, anywhere," he said, "where you crown an athlete, crown a team and then say, 'Oh, that was a mistake. Would you fix this for us?' "

In a second letter, delivered Friday afternoon, Grandi said: "Whether or not Paul wishes to return his medal depends on his own decision. We will not put pressure on him to influence his decision."

Referring to Hamm, Grandi told Associated Press: "There is no doubt he has won the medal. He deserves the medal and the ranking is clear.... I respect totally Paul Hamm and all the decisions he makes. If he says give back the medal, I respect it. Don't give back the medal, I respect the decision. He is not responsible for anything."

The USOC said it considered the case closed, based on FIG's announcement last Saturday that the scores could not be changed.

Earlier this week, the USOC had indicated a willingness to consider supporting a Korean bid for a second gold medal, but that was no longer an option Friday because of FIG's "most recent and unacceptable maneuver," the USOC said.

Scherr, meanwhile, said he regretted not being more publicly supportive of Hamm earlier in the controversy.

"We were at fault for not more strongly, more directly, showing our support for Paul," he said.

U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a Republican from Wisconsin, Hamm's home state, said the committee was weighing a September hearing to "ensure no future athlete is ever put in the unfair position" Hamm was placed in.

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