FIG asks Hamm to give up gold; USOC outraged
From staff reports
ATHENS — Responding to what it calls an "inappropriate" and "outrageous" letter from the International Gymnastics Federation to gymnast Paul Hamm asking Hamm to give up his gold medal, the United States Olympic Committee angrily declared Friday it will no longer support the idea of awarding a second gold medal in the all-around competition to Korean Yang Tae Young.
Paul Hamm has left Athens, but he can't escape controversy over his all-around gold.
By Michael Chow, USA TODAY
FIG's letter, entitled "Fair Play," asks Hamm to voluntarily return his medal to the Korean, whom FIG now says is "the true winner of the All-Around competition."
The USOC said that upon receipt of FIG's letter — which it refused to transmit to Hamm — it contacted International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. USOC said the IOC has expressed displeasure with the fact FIG would consider placing an athlete "in such an untenable position." (Letters: FIG letter to Hamm | USOC to FIG)
Before the release of the letters, Rogge insisted at a breakfast meeting with reporters Friday that no change would be made to the medals even though the Korean had enough points to win gold had he been correctly scored. "We are not going to give medals for so-called humanitarian or emotional reasons," Rogge said.
The exchange of letters resulted in a flurry of activity on an issue that shows no sign of abating, 10 days after the all-around competition and just two days before the Games are due to end. Late in the day, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he may hold hearings on the manner in which U.S. and international gymnastic officials handled the case. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who represents Hamm's home state, blasted the USOC for not standing up for Hamm sooner.
"I had hoped the USOC and USA Gymnastics would have promoted the interests of athletic achievement and sportsmanship from the beginning of this incident by defending Paul Hamm from the FIG's deplorable actions, yet they had left Paul alone on a limb for eight days," said Sensenbrenner.
The House Judiciary Committee has legislative responsibility over the USOC. Sensenbrenner said the committee was postponing a planned Sept. 7 hearing on legislation reforming the USOC, and instead is now considering a September hearing on the actions of the USOC, USA Gymnastics and FIG, "to ensure that no future athlete is ever put in the unfair position Paul Hamm has been placed in by these organizations."
USOC Secretary General Jim Scherr agreed that the USOC should have taken a stronger position sooner. "I think we were at fault at the Olympic Committee for not more strongly, more directly stating our public support of Paul and his position and his welfare…I wish we had done that more strongly and earlier."
Scherr said the USOC will no longer consider supporting dual gold medals. "Because of the circumstances now, and the very clear statement from (Rogge) that this matter is not under consideration, this matter is not under consideration by the United States Olympic Committee and will not be considered."
The Korean delegation said it received a copy of FIG's letter to Hamm, and continues to maintain that it seeks a solution that would be fair to all. Spokeswoman Jae Soon Yoo said the Koreans don't want to take gold away from Hamm. "We are here as friends, not to hurt anybody...We are just asking FIG to make a decision. We feel sorry that Paul Hamm gets so much pressure."
The spokeswoman said an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport may still be filed before the delegation leaves on Monday. "Bringing a case to court is always the last resort," she said.
FIG president Bruno Grandi, who previously had strongly asserted that there would be no change in the medals awarded in the all-around competition, addressed the letter to Hamm, congratulating him on displaying the "highest ethical values," and noting comments Hamm had made to the media in which he said in part, "If the FIG decides that I have to give it (the medal) back, I'll do it."
Grandi's letter closed with, "If (according to your declarations to the press), you would return your medal to the Korean if the FIG requested it, then such an action would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world. The FIG and IOC would highly appreciate the magnitude of this gesture. At this moment in time, you are the only one who can make this decision."
Yet, the IOC made no such endorsement, said spokesperson Giselle Davies. "The IOC wasn't consulted on the letter," she said. "This was never our position. The results were communicated to us by the federation and they stand as they are."
Grandi's letter makes no proposal as to what medal Hamm should be left with.
FIG said that its executive committee has admitted a judgment error on the parallel bars event, in which Yang was given a start value of 9.9 instead of 10.0. Had Yang been properly credited, his score would have been higher than Hamm's and he would have earned the gold.
The controversy began when Hamm won the U.S. men's first ever all-around gold medal Aug. 18, battling back from a crash-landing on the vault that had put him in 12th. He pulled out a victory on the final event by an unprecedented 0.012 over South Korea's Kim Dae-eun.
The Koreans filed a protest the next night with FIG over the results of the scoring of Yang's parallel bars routine. FIG acknowledged a scoring mistake Aug. 21 and suspended three judges.
Yang's final score was 9.712 on the routine and 57.774 for the event. An extra 10th of a point would have put him at 9.812, or 57.874 overall, ahead of Hamm's 57.823 by 0.051. A start value is the maximum number of points a gymnast can be awarded on a certain routine based on the degree of difficulty of his elements. Points are then subtracted for mistakes, leading to a final score.
Miles Avery, Hamm's personal coach and a U.S. assistant, claims that a review of the tape shows that the higher start value was warranted but that judges failed to deduct 0.2 points for an error in the routine. Avery also has accused the Koreans of skirting the rules by failing to protest at the proper time.
In the USOC's letter to Grandi, Scherr wrote, "USOC views this request as a blatant and inappropriate attempt on the part of (FIG) to once again shift responsibility for its own mistakes and instead pressure Mr. Hamm into resolving what has become an embarrassing situation for your Federation. The USOC finds this request to be improper, outrageous and so far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable that we refuse to transmit it to Mr. Hamm."
Through his agent, Hamm declined comment. Scherr said, "We did advise Paul and his family that we had received the letter and we had long conversations, in fact two last evening. Paul expressed obviously his concern."
In the past, Hamm has said that he has no intentions of giving up his medal unless ordered to do so by FIG. "I really wanted people to believe that I had the greatest comeback in Olympic history, and the FIG took away the moment," Hamm said last week. "The Olympics isn't about the medals. It's about representing your country with pride and integrity. It's about the glory. I felt a chunk of my medal had been taken away, when I was the Olympic champion. It was because of a media frenzy, and it was all caused by FIG."
Grandi said Friday he believed the issue was closed until he learned of the comment by Hamm in which Hamm said, "If the FIG decides that I have to give it back, I'll do it."
"For me, maybe he could have said, 'I have won the gold medal and the FIG just has to tell me whether it maintains the results or not,' " Grandi said. "And not make a statement whether he would return the gold medal if we asked him to."
"The only person who can make a decision is Paul Hamm," said Andre Gueisbuhler, adjoint secretary general of FIG. "The president has read his statements in the press and has written him. He has left the door open to take such a gesture of fair play. But the FIG president has been very clear from the very first day that Paul Hamm has won the gold medal, that the results will not be changed and that he deserves to win this gold medal.
"The USOC has refused to deliver the letter. We assume (Hamm) has now read it in the press. He is free to counsel or to take whatever decision he wants to take. In any case, the FIG president has repeated several times he will accept and respect whatever decision the athlete makes."
Grandi also insisted he's not pressuring Hamm.
"There is no doubt he has won the medal," Grandi said. "He deserves the medal and the ranking is clear. ... I respect totally Paul Hamm and all the decisions he makes. If he says give back the medal, I respect it. Don't give back the medal, I respect the decision. He is not responsible for anything."
The USOC had a much different interpretation of the letter.
"I don't know of any comparison in any sport anywhere where you crown an athlete, crown a team and then say, 'Oh, that was a mistake. Would you fix this for us?' " USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said.
Contributing: Jill Lieber, Vicki Michaelis, Michael Hiestand and Sal Ruibal, USA TODAY; The Associated Press