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U.S. Officials Reject Appeal for Medal

Request to Hamm Termed 'Outrageous'; IOC Won't Award 2nd Medal

By Liz Clarke and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 28, 2004; Page D01

ATHENS, Aug. 27 -- U.S. Olympic officials rejected as "deplorable" a suggestion by the International Gymnastics Federation on Friday that men's all-around individual champion Paul Hamm return his gold medal and, in a sharply worded letter to federation president Bruno Grandi, castigated the organization for what it called an "improper, outrageous request."

Meantime, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge slammed the door on the notion of awarding a second gold medal to South Korea's Yang Tae Young in order to ease the controversy that overshadowed the gymnastics competition. "We are not going to be awarding gold medals for so-called humanitarian or emotional reasons," Rogge said.

(Bebeto Matthews -- AP)

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That essentially was Grandi's appeal in his letter to Hamm, the most decorated member of the U.S. men's gymnastics team. With the phrase "Fairplay" printed in bold above the salutation, the letter opened by congratulating Hamm and U.S. gymnasts on their results in Athens. It went on to recap the judging error that deprived Yang of a tenth of a point in the all-around final on Aug. 18, which would have been enough to vault him ahead of Hamm for the gold. "As a result, the true winner of the All-Around competition is Yang Tae Young," Grandi wrote. He concluded by stating that Hamm's return of the gold to the Korean "would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of Fairplay by the whole world."

Still, no medals changed hands on Friday, and it is increasingly doubtful that any will.

U.S. Olympic officials were so incensed by Grandi's letter that they refused to transmit it to Hamm, as Grandi had requested, and held a news conference to denounce it.

"We think it's deplorable," said Peter Ueberroth, the USOC's board chairman. "They're deflecting their own incompetence and their problems to a young athlete who simply came here to compete in the Olympic Games. . . . I don't know any competition, any sport, any place, anywhere, where you crown an athlete, crown a team, and say, 'Oh, it was a mistake. Would you please fix this for us?' It's irresponsible."

In addition, Ueberroth said U.S. officials were withdrawing their support of South Korea's proposal to pursue a second gold for its gymnast, who finished with bronze.

Grandi said in an interview that he had considered the matter closed until Hamm was quoted in the media earlier this week as saying he would surrender the gold medal if the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) asked him to do so. To Grandi, that reopened the controversy.

"He could have said, 'I have won the gold medal, and the FIG just has to tell me whether it maintains the result or not' and not to make a statement that he would return the gold medal if we asked him to return it," Grandi said through an interpreter.

Given the USOC's response, Grandi said he considered the issue closed once again. "For me, the matter at this moment is closed," Grandi said. "The FIG does not change the ranking and the score. He has won the gold medal. For me, Paul Hamm has won the competition. I will repeat it 10 million times!"

That leaves South Korea with only one recourse -- the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, which settles international disputes in athletics. According to a South Korean spokeswoman, an appeal will be filed shortly.

Shin Park Je, the chief de mission of the Korean Olympic Committee, expressed empathy for both gymnasts in a telephone interview but added that he felt Hamm "should think of real fairness."

"My athlete said, 'Paul's mind and my mind are the same. We are both suffering,' " Shin said. "I don't want to hurt Paul, and I don't want to hurt Yang. At this point, what can we do?"

The controversy over the medal is now in its 10th day despite the fact that the gymnastics competition ended Monday and Hamm has since returned to the United States. Hamm's medal was hardly the only point of contention during the nine days of gymnastics competition at the Olympic Indoor Hall.

Canadian officials protested the judging of the men's vault final in which Romanian Marian Dragulescu won bronze after falling on the second of his two vaults, while Canada's Kyle Shewfelt stayed upright and finished fourth.

Russian officials drafted a sweeping letter of complaint over the marks given to Svetlana Khorkina in the women's all-around and Alexei Nemov in the men's high-bar final. Nemov, a 12-time Olympic medalist, dazzled the crowd with a breathtaking routine. And when judges gave it mediocre marks, the crowd shouted down the judging panel, halting the competition for more than eight minutes with boos, jeers and whistles. At the urging of FIG's technical director, Adrian Stoica, two judges raised their marks, but it wasn't enough to alter Nemov's fifth-place finish.

Grandi, the FIG president, said Stoica acted correctly in adjusting the scores during the competition. Asked about the crowd's angry reaction, Grandi said: "I wanted to kill myself, because the public was right. Mr. Nemov had no chance to win the gold medal, but of course he could have done better in the ranking."

Grandi said changes in gymnastics judging were already in the works as a result. The judging of all the 2004 Olympic events will be reviewed, as will the sport's Code of Points, which assigns value to various skills. A new mechanism to reward exceptionally difficult skills, either by adding a bonus to gymnasts' scores or by removing the current ceiling of 10.0 for a routine's "start value" is possible, too. Such a move would be accompanied by more strict deductions for errors in execution, like those that dragged down Nemov's score for his daring high-bar routine.

Grandi opened the door to further use of video review during competitions, but only to settle disputes on a routine's start value and not its execution.

It was through videotape that FIG officials confirmed Yang had been unfairly denied a tenth of a point in his start value. FIG suspended the three judges involved but refused to alter the final results, setting off the controversy, saying that South Korean officials waited too long to protest the score. Grandi reiterated that position Friday, and said he knew nothing about an overlooked error in execution during Yang's routine that would have cost him two-tenths of a point, as the Americans have repeatedly claimed.

"It is the first time I have heard this," Grandi said. But the matter, he reiterated, was closed.

"Enough!" he said in Italian. "I want to sleep tonight."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company