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Hamm Continues to Defend Olympic Gold
By EDDIE PELLS, AP Sports Writer
Sep 24, 2004 - 8:23:00 PM
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DENVER - The flame went out nearly four weeks ago. The gold medal sits securely in Paul Hamm's childhood home in Wisconsin. For Hamm, though, the Olympic odyssey meanders on.
The victory tour for the gymnastics all-around champion will take an unexpected detour this weekend to Switzerland, where the South Koreans will make one final attempt to take away the gold they say belongs to them.
Gold medal winner Paul Hamm, of the United States, center, silver medal winner Kim Dae Eun, left, and bronze medal winner Yang Tae Young, of Korea, celebrate together during the medal ceremony for the men's gymnastics individual all-around final at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, in this Aug. 18, 2004 photo. The International Gymnastics Federation ruled Saturday Aug. 21, 2004 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. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
At stake, Hamm believes, isn't just his gold medal, but "the way Olympic sports are done in the future."
"You wouldn't know whether or not you won the medal until weeks after, until you find out whether or not someone's going to take it to court," he said Friday, his 22nd birthday.
A ridiculous notion? Maybe. But the Hamm controversy — much like the figure-skating scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics two years ago — is proof that the Olympics are a sporting event like no other.
"It is weird that it is held to a different standard," Hamm said. "How can someone hold the Olympics to a higher standard than the Super Bowl? I'm sure mistakes have happened at the Super Bowl. But they don't go and change the result."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport, the ultimate authority in cases involving the Olympics, will hear Hamm's case Monday in Lausanne. Soon after, the panel will determine whether Hamm keeps the gold, or whether it should go to Yang Tae-young, who was mistakenly docked 0.1 points for the level of difficulty in his parallel bars routine in the all-around last month in Athens.
It will be the latest — and probably last — step of the Olympic journey for Hamm. Like so many of the earlier steps, he is disturbed that he has to go through it.
"From what I understand about what this court deals with, I don't see that this constitutes something they get themselves involved in," said Hamm, in Denver to perform in an exhibition.
Indeed, at the Olympics, CAS officials said they didn't involve themselves in "field of play" decisions such as the scoring error that caused all these problems. Given time to think about it, they changed their minds and decided to hear the case.
Likewise, the International Gymnastics Federation, known as FIG, wasn't supposed to deal in spur-of-the-moment reviews of judges or scoring unless a protest was filed right away. It wasn't, but FIG bent its rules anyway, suspended three judges responsible for the error, and opened the door for the South Korean appeal.
To add to the intrigue, federation president Bruno Grandi wrote a letter to Hamm asking him to voluntarily surrender his medal to Yang, a request deemed so "beyond the bounds of what is acceptable" by U.S. Olympic Committee secretary general Jim Scherr that he refused to even forward the letter to Hamm.
"I think that's one of the goals of going over to Switzerland — it would be nice to get them to apologize," Hamm said, referring to FIG officials.
To Hamm, the most offensive statement in the letter was the claim that "the true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae-young."
"That's all speculation," Hamm said. "You can't determine he'd be the winner if that tenth had been given to him earlier."
The case came about after FIG's review of the judges determined Yang didn't get the correct start value on his second-to-last routine. He finished third, 0.049 points behind Hamm, who became the first American man to win gymnastics' biggest prize.
If Yang had received the proper score, he would have finished 0.051 points ahead of Hamm, although that conclusion comes with the assumption that everything in the final rotation would have played out the same way.
Even though FIG acknowledged the error and suspended the judges, it said repeatedly it wouldn't change the results because the South Koreans didn't file a protest in time.
And even if the protest had been filed in time, Hamm's supporters say an inadvertent error by judges shouldn't have caused such a maelstrom.
"I've been surprised by the whole thing," USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said. "I've been saying from the very beginning that the competition was over the night the results were published. It's a bad precedent to look at field-of-play calls in court. There's a human element in sport. There are always going to be some things that happen that on review might have gone differently."
Hamm points out that on the same review that showed the start-value error, there's clear evidence of a mistake Yang made — missed by the judges — that should have cost him 0.2 points.
If that error had not shown up on the tape, Hamm says he might have felt differently about the legitimacy of his gold medal. But the mistake, the way he fought back from 12th place with two events to go after falling on the vault, the criticism he took from many in the media for not giving the gold back — all of it has strengthened his resolve and his belief that he is the real winner.
The USOC is spending about $300,000 to defend Hamm's case, including travel expenses and lawyer's fees for Hamm's attorney and its own four lawyers.
"We're extremely proud of what Paul accomplished," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "We plan to vigorously defend Paul's case."
Hamm says he doesn't really know what to expect at the hearing. He's only glad that it signifies an end to his post-Olympic ordeal.
Although he has enjoyed the guest spots on the talk shows, the commercial shoots and the fame that comes with winning the gold, this has been a less-than-comforting victory tour.
"I feel like I had to win my medal in three ways, really," he said. "Obviously, in competition. Then with the media. Then in court. It really feels like I've been battling this whole time."
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