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BEIJING 2008 : STEVE SPRINGER / ON SPORTS MEDIA

Gymnastics bias simple as N-B-C

August 20, 2008|STEVE SPRINGER

The gymnastics competition in women's uneven bars ended in confusion turning to consternation culminating in outrage.

And that was among the broadcasters.

When He Kexin of China was declared the winner over Nastia Liukin of the United States at the National Indoor Stadium by virtue of a tiebreaker, after both had finished with a score of 16.725, several members of the NBC broadcast crew reacted with an embarrassing display of jingoism, a degree of home-team bias that would have made Rex Hudler blush.

"They are tied," a perplexed Al Trautwig said when the scoreboard showed that, despite the even score, He was listed as the winner. "What did they do, invoke some sort of tiebreaker? . . . [Liukin] wants to know what the heck is going on."

Hello? Trautwig has been the lead gymnastics announcer since the tiebreaking mechanism was installed for the 2000 Olympics and he still doesn't know it exists?

Can you imagine him at Yankee Stadium in December 1958, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts tied at the end of 60 minutes in the NFL championship game? As the first sudden-death overtime in league history is about to commence, Trautwig is lost.

"What's going on?" he says. "An official is on the field tossing a coin. Is that how they are going to decide this game?"

When He was on the victory podium receiving her gold medal, Trautwig said, "Does she really think she won the gold?"

Yeah, she deluded herself by believing the judges.

To his credit, analyst Tim Daggett, while also questioning He's victory, did so on the basis of the judges' standards and deductions, a fair argument in a sport based on subjective scoring.

Daggett finally calmed Trautwig down by explaining a tiebreaking procedure that had been called confusing and convoluted. While the high and low scores among the six judges are routinely thrown out, the next-lowest score is also eliminated to break the tie, hardly rocket science.

"The rules were in place," Trautwig had to concede. "Once you begin to play a game, you have to know that's the case and it may not have gone your way."

So a sense of fairness had finally surfaced? Not with Bela Karolyi just getting warmed up in the NBC bullpen.

When the scene switched to Bob Costas and Karolyi in the studio, Karolyi, nostrils flared, arms waving, didn't know where to strike first. So he lashed out in all directions, attacking the judges and the tiebreaker.

"Knowing and understanding the scoring system is gone," said Karolyi, who obviously hadn't been paying attention to Daggett. "Everybody's just guessing, why that score? Why is that happening on the floor?

"Where is the fairness? Maybe there is a biased judge. Maybe it is a judge who is just incompetent."

Speaking of possible bias, it should be noted Karolyi is a former U.S. coach and his wife, Martha, is the U.S. team coordinator.

The tiebreaker wasn't employed only for the uneven bars. Poland's Leszek Blanik beat France's Thomas Bouhail for the gold after both had identical scores. Where was Karolyi's outrage then?

What happened, Karolyi asked in reference to the awarding of the gold to He, to "the idea of the Olympic spirit?"

It clearly resides in the 18-year-old Liukin, who added a more mature voice to the conversation, saying, "Gymnastics can get like that sometimes, so you just have to accept it."

Nastia, you and Bela really need to talk.

--

steve.springer@latimes.com

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