- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

ATHENS — Paul Hamm thought his fantastic finish was too good to be true. Maybe he was right.

The International Gymnastics Federation ruled yesterday that Yang Tae-young was unfairly docked a tenth of a point in the all-around final, costing him the gold medal that ended up going to Hamm. The South Korean got the bronze instead.

The federation suspended three judges. But it said the results will not be changed in a case that brought back memories of the figure skating scandal at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

Although there are no signs of impropriety by the gymnastics judges, the South Koreans will ask the Court of Arbitration for Sports to determine if Yang deserves a gold medal.

“We want obvious mistakes to be corrected,” said Jae Soon-yoo, an official with the South Korean delegation.

Hamm came all the way back from 12th place with two routines left Wednesday to become the first American man to win the Olympic all-around. He won over South Korea’s Kim Dae-eun by 0.012, the event’s closest margin ever. Yang was 0.049 behind Hamm.

The 0.100 points deducted from Yang’s start value in parallel bars — the difficulty of the routine — was the difference between third and first. Without the mistake, Yang would have won gold, Hamm silver and Kim bronze.

Teams can make an “inquiry” about a start value, but it must be done no later than one event after the routine in question, according to gymnastics rules.

South Korea failed to lodge a protest in time, so the scoring could not be changed, said Philippe Silacci, spokesman for the federation, known as FIG. But Jae said the South Koreans did question the scoring as soon as the routine was over and were told by the judges to file a protest letter after the meet.

“They said that was the best they could do right there on the spot,” she said. “It was a real basic injustice in judging practices.”

At the Sydney Olympics, American Blaine Wilson was awarded an extra tenth of a point on pommel horse after his coach filed a protest, claiming his starting value was too low. The change didn’t affect the medals; Wilson finished sixth in the all-around.

USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi compared Wednesday’s mistake to a bad call in football that wasn’t discovered until after the game. He insisted FIG’s decision should not put an asterisk on Hamm’s gold medal.

“Paul Hamm’s performance the other night was absolutely incredible,” Colarossi said. “It’s unfortunate the judges didn’t have the right start value.”

Yang received a start value of 9.9 on parallel bars. But after reviewing a tape of the all-around, FIG officials ruled he should have gotten a 10, the start value he received for the same routine in team qualifying and finals.

With the extra 0.10, he would have finished with 57.874 points and defeated Hamm by 0.051.

Matthieu Reeb, general secretary of CAS, talked to the South Korean team about an appeal, which was expected to be filed by today. Still, he said it was unclear whether the court would hear the case.

“Our regular practice is that field-of-play decisions cannot be reviewed by CAS,” Reeb said. “We’ll see if the Korean delegation has other legal arguments to submit to the court. We haven’t had a similar case involving a problem of judging or scoring.”

Hamm, practicing yesterday for event finals, was not available for comment. He was asked Thursday about the judging and his close victory.

“I feel like I just barely edged them out,” he said. “If you go back and look at the tapes, people can analyze it, and they’ll all come to that conclusion, I think.”

Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympics, said the IOC had not been approached by the South Koreans or gymnastics officials. Both he and IOC president Jacques Rogge said the figure skating case bore little resemblance to this one.

“The IOC never intervenes on a ranking issue,” Rogge told the Associated Press. “The only time is in a case like that in Salt Lake City, which involved manipulation. That is not the case here.”

At the 2002 Games, a French judge said she was pressured by her federation’s chief to favor the Russians in pairs over the Canadians. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada were ultimately awarded duplicate golds.

In Athens, however, there were no signs of intentional wrongdoing. The scoring error was made with one event left, and there was no way the judges could have known that reducing Yang’s start value would cost him the gold.

In another case at the 2002 Games, South Koreans fumed when short track speed skater Kim Dong-sung was disqualified in the 1,500-meter race, allowing American Apolo Anton Ohno to win the gold.

FIG said the suspension of the judges was necessary to protect the integrity of the organization and “maintain and ensure the highest possible judging standard at the Olympic Games.”

Technical judges Benjamin Bango of Spain and Oscar Buitrago Reyes of Colombia were suspended along with George Beckstead of the United States.

Beckstead was the panel chairman, and therefore had ultimate responsibility for all the judges. But because the other judges agreed on the 9.9 start value, Beckstead had no cause to step in.

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