Saturday, August 28, 2004

On being asked to give the medal back (Paul Hamm edition)... 

So I read with interest yesterday that the International Gymnastics Federation has publicly requested (but will not force) American gymnast Paul Hamm to give the gold he won in this years all around competition in Athens to the South KoreanYang Tae-young.

The back story here, for the perhaps two people who might care about the forward story (on which I'm about to comment) but don't know the background is that after Hamm won the gold the FIG (yes Federation International Gymnastique) reqviewed tape of Young's parallel bar routine and determined that his start value (the degree of difficulty for his routine) had been miscalculated by judges and that he was owed ~0.1 points (enough to move him from bronze to gold.

Let's ignore all the practical objections to this review: 1. by rule it should have happened at the event (the South Koreans say they were told to file a protext afterward by a functionary on the scene but, if so, this was clearly against the written rule. 2. Hamm points out that if you do review the start value you should review the entire routine, in which case Young loses more than he gains.

Instead I want to just focus on the fact that FIG publicly requested Hamm give up his medal. How truly, truly ridiculous is this? FIG is the governing body of a sport. It has no buiness publicly requesting anything!!!!! Sport's governing bodies make their ruling (there either was or wasn't a violation) and then they move on. Can you imagine the NFL hierarchy saying to Terrel Owens last year "We're not going to fine you for the Sharpie signing end zone celebration (there was no rule violation on your part) but we're really uncomfortable with it and, when we think about it, we think there probably should have been a rule so if you could just please publicly apologize that would make us really happy." Absolutely not. And if they tried anything of the sort they'd be villified 24 hours a day across the US (yes actually 24 hours a day I'm imagining this decision as sports talk radio fodder).

So Paul, if you're reading this (you know unlikely but just possible) keep your medal. You won it fair and square, by the rules of the competition in place at the time. Your performance was bold and inventive - you're a champion in my book.

UPDATE: A number of people have pointed out to me that, while it's seems clear that the FIG is acting badly, the question surrounding whether Hamm should give up his metal is, perhaps, a bit more complicated. I should note, along these lines then, that my understanding of gymnastics judging (something of which I have no first hand experience) is that you can change your routine on the fly. Which is to say that, if Hamm had known he needed a different amount of points to win (i.e. if Young had protested and his score had been changed during the competition) he could have changed his intended routine to one that was higher risk/higher reward.

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