Saturday, August 21, 2004

Everyone With A Problem With Gymnastics Judging... Line Up Over Here

(Right behind Blaine Wilson.)

I kid.  As far as I know, Wilson's complaint during the preliminaries -- although bearing a similarity to current complaints about the all-around -- is not, in fact, the same thing that just resulted in the suspension of a few judges, threw Paul Hamm's win into doubt, and (for good measure) got the Greek Team's shorts in a bunch over the upcoming high bar final.

To review:  Every gymnastics routine has a start value based on the difficulty of the elements in it.  Ideally 10.0, but sometimes rather less.  And then, when a gymnast screws up on an element in their routine (as they will inevitably do) there will be small deductions taken off of that value.  This results in the score.  So, I mean, if you have .15 worth of deductions and your routine had a start value of 10.0, you'll walk out with a 9.85.  But if your routine had a start value of 9.9, your score will be only 9.75.  Which is, you know, less.  So having a high start value is key.

But what is absolutely critical is to have the correct start value.  Which is to say, if your routine has a start value of 10.0, the "start value judge" damn well better put 10.0 into the computer, rather than 9.9. 

It's a different sort of judging mishap than if a judge just says, "Dude, your performance was worth .1 less than you think it was."  That is, by nature, a more subjective determination.  That's the sort of risk you take by competing in a subjectively judged sport (rather than one judged by, say, a clock).  But the start value is supposed to be objective.  Every judge should be able to look at the same program of elements and go, "yep -- start value of 10.0" or whatever.

So.  Paul Hamm wins the all-around.  Korean Dae Eun Kim comes in second.  Korean Tae Young Yang comes in third.  They're all less than .1 apart.

Yang says there was an error in determining start values.  That his high bar routine was scored with a start value of 9.9, when it should have had a start value of 10.0.  His evidence of this (which is pretty good evidence) is that they gave the same routine a start value of 10.0 in the preliminaries and team final.

Had the routine been given the higher start value in the finals, he would have earned an extra .1 and won the all-around.

South Korea files a protest.

South Korea is right.

The International Gymnastics Federation agrees.  Yep, a mistake was made.  Yep, Yang should have won.  Yep, three judges are getting suspended.

Nope, they're not changing the result.  Once a result is set, it's set.  (Interesting point there.  Seems that if the protest had been lodged at the time of the event, a change in result could have occurred.  Suggesting that Hamm keeps his gold medal just because South Korea missed the statute of limitations for filing a complaint.  Which would mean Yang should be extremely miffed at his country for not following the right procedure.  The South Korean delegation, for their part, says that they did complain on time -- and the judges told them to proceed as they did.)

Here's what follows:

South Korea will take it up with the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, saying they'd like their gold medal, please.

The Greeks get miffed, too.  One of their gymnasts had a pretty nifty high bar routine in the preliminary round, but it got a low score (low score, not low start value) and he didn't make the event finals (ending up as the first alternate).  The Greeks note that one of the judges that got suspended was the one who gave their gymnast a really low mark and sort of suggest that someone drop out of the event finals to make room for this guy, in order to make up for the inequity.

Brett McClure (the other American in competition) also had a complaint regarding start value.  His rings routine was given a 9.5 start value rather than 9.7.  The extra .2 wouldn't have earned him a medal(would've made the difference between 9th place and 7th).  He's not complaining about it, though. 

I think it's important to note, however, because it illustrates that Americans both benefitted and got screwed by erroneous start values -- which suggests that what happened with the start values wasn't cheating but a mistake.  I'm sure that doesn't make Yang feel a whole lot better about his bronze medal, but I think it makes the sport itself look less tarnished.

Paul Hamm, not surprisingly, is being real quiet right about now.  They've basically told him he can hang on to an Olympic gold medal and an all-around title that he didn't -- when you get right down it -- actually deserve.

Ironically, given how far behind he was going into his final routine, I think he would have been pretty darned happy if he came from behind and won the silver, which he apparently did deserve.  Which is to say, had the judging error not occurred, everyone would have been pretty happy with the result of Yang/gold; Hamm/silver; Kim/bronze.  Of course, when they've played your national anthem and called you the first U.S. men's all-around champ, you look at the idea of a silver as, y'know, a little less appealing.

Which brings us all to the very interesting question of what Paul Hamm ought to do just now (other than go into hiding).  I expect that, should he choose to take the honorable route and yield the title to Yang, it would be a pretty good thing for him.  He would end up getting loads of positive press for doing the right thing, which would likely result in him being more of a media darling for giving up the gold medal than he would be for just winning it.  (I mean, really -- look at how the media fawned all over Michael Phelps for his "gesture" in letting Crocker swim the final relay -- and while it was nice and all, it didn't cost Phelps anything.)  And it would certainly help America's image right now -- when the rest of the planet thinks we have a habit of just steamrolling over everything in our way, doing the right thing on the international sports stage might be a refreshing little reminder that the American spirit isn't always about winning at all costs.  Not to mention, of course, if Hamm is the sort who, y'know, would have a hard time forever being called an Olympic champion knowing that he got the title only because of an error in start value and a team's failure to protest on time.

On the other hand, the ice dance controversy in Salt Lake City set a dangerous precedent.  I mean, Hamm could be sitting there thinking, "Y'know, if I just keep my mouth shut, they'll award a second gold to Yang -- thereby resolving the mistake and letting me keep the title."  It certainly provides an incentive to not give up the medal -- when the whole have cake/eat cake scenario is a possible result.

I hope that, were I in his situation, I'd do the right thing here.  Then again, I have no idea what it must be like to win something you've always wanted to win -- and then be told you really didn't earn it.  I mean, there really is a good argument for the finality of results -- and that you don't go about taking titles away from people who've already written them on their resume.  But now that the Gymnastics Federation has as much as said Hamm didn't deserve the title, the only remaining question is whether Hamm is going to keep the undeserved win.

Over the next few days, I think we're going to find out whether Paul Hamm's character is as strong as he's shown his body to be.


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