SPORTS

Feud over medal mix-up

US Olympic chiefs reacted furiously yesterday to a suggestion that gold medalist Paul Hamm should give his medal to a South Korean rival under a plan floated by world gymnastics officials. In one of the biggest controversies of the Athens Games, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has said Hamm placed first in the all-round event due to a judging error and bronze medalist Yang Tae-young should have been awarded the gold. The FIG has suspended the three judges involved, saying they incorrectly docked a 10th of a point from Yang’s parallel bar routine in the final on Wednesday last week. But it has said it has no mechanism to overturn the final standings. The FIG has now gone a step further and written to Hamm – one of the highest-profile members of the US Olympic team – to suggest he could return his medal, according to a letter released by the US Olympic Committee yesterday. «The true winner of the all-round competition is Yang Tae-young,» the letter said. «If… 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,» said the letter signed by FIG President Bruno Grandi and dated August 26. The US Olympic Committee (USOC) said the letter was a «blatant and inappropriate» attempt by the FIG to shift responsibility for its mistake onto the shoulders of Hamm, 21. «It’s deplorable that they are deflecting their own incompetence and their problem to a young athlete who simply came here to compete in the Olympic Games,» USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth told a news conference. USOC chiefs spoke to Hamm, who has returned to the United States, and his advisers on Thursday night. «During these conversations, the USOC expressed its unwavering support for Mr Hamm and indicated it will aggressively resist any attempt by any party to lay claim to his gold medal,» a USOC statement said. No second gold The USOC also said it was no longer willing to consider allowing a second gold medal to be awarded to Yang, one suggestion floated as a way of defusing a row which has been front-page news for days across the United States. Hamm, who staged an amazing comeback from 12th place in the final, has made clear he sees himself as the rightful gold medalist. He has also complained that US sporting authorities have not given him enough support. «We were at fault as an Olympic Committee for not more strongly, more directly stating our public support for Paul and his position and his welfare,» USOC Chief Executive Jim Scherr told reporters yesterday. US officials have pointed out the South Koreans failed to contest the judging error during the competition, which is the only way to change the marks, according to FIG rules. The South Koreans said last week they would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but have yet to do so. «This FIG letter to Hamm puts us in a much stronger position when we make an appeal to the CAS,» South Korean delegation head Shim Bark-jae told Korean media. «Regardless of the reply to the FIG letter, we will appeal to CAS as early as tomorrow and if possible resolve this matter before the end of the Games,» he said. The letter said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would appreciate Hamm handing back his medal. But the IOC said it had not been consulted and considered the matter closed. «The results of the gymnastics have been validated and communicated by the FIG. There is no question that remains open on this issue,» an IOC spokeswoman said. (Reuters)