Defending the gold

The flame went out nearly four weeks ago. The gold medal sitssecurely in Paul Hamm’s childhood home in Wisconsin. For Hamm,though, the Olympic odyssey meanders on.

The victory tour for the gymnastics all-around champion willtake an unexpected detour this weekend to Switzerland, where theSouth Koreans will make one final attempt to take away the goldthey say belongs to them.

At stake, Hamm believes, isn’t just his gold medal, but “the wayOlympic sports are done in the future.”

“You wouldn’t know whether or not you won the medal until weeksafter, until you find out whether or not someone’s going to take itto court,” he said Friday, his 22nd birthday.

A ridiculous notion? Maybe. But the Hamm controversy – much likethe figure-skating scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics two yearsago – is proof that the Olympics are a sporting event like noother.

“It is weird that it is held to a different standard,” Hammsaid. “How can someone hold the Olympics to a higher standard thanthe Super Bowl? I’m sure mistakes have happened at the Super Bowl.But they don’t go and change the result.”

The Court of Arbitration for Sport, the ultimate authority incases involving the Olympics, will hear Hamm’s case Monday inLausanne. Soon after, the panel will determine whether Hamm keepsthe gold, or whether it should go to Yang Tae-young, who wasmistakenly docked 0.1 points for the level of difficulty in hisparallel bars routine in the all-around last month in Athens.

It will be the latest – and probably last – step of the Olympicjourney for Hamm. Like so many of the earlier steps, he isdisturbed that he has to go through it.

“From what I understand about what this court deals with, Idon’t see that this constitutes something they get themselvesinvolved in,” said Hamm, in Denver to perform in an exhibition.

Indeed, at the Olympics, CAS officials said they didn’t involvethemselves in “field of play” decisions such as the scoring errorthat caused all these problems. Given time to think about it, theychanged their minds and decided to hear the case.

Likewise, the International Gymnastics Federation, known as FIG,wasn’t supposed to deal in spur-of-the-moment reviews of judges orscoring unless a protest was filed right away. It wasn’t, but FIGbent its rules anyway, suspended three judges responsible for theerror, and opened the door for the South Korean appeal.

To add to the intrigue, federation president Bruno Grandi wrotea letter to Hamm asking him to voluntarily surrender his medal toYang, a request deemed so “beyond the bounds of what is acceptable”by U.S. Olympic Committee secretary general Jim Scherr that herefused to even forward the letter to Hamm.

“I think that’s one of the goals of going over to Switzerland -it would be nice to get them to apologize,” Hamm said, referring toFIG officials.

To Hamm, the most offensive statement in the letter was theclaim that “the true winner of the all-around competition is YangTae-young.”

“That’s all speculation,” Hamm said. “You can’t determine he’dbe the winner if that tenth had been given to him earlier.”

The case came about after FIG’s review of the judges determinedYang didn’t get the correct start value on his second-to-lastroutine. He finished third, 0.049 points behind Hamm, who becamethe first man from the United States to win gymnastics’ biggestprize.

If Yang had received the proper score, he would have finished0.051 points ahead of Hamm, although that conclusion comes with theassumption that everything in the final rotation would have playedout the same way.

Even though FIG acknowledged the error and suspended the judges,it said repeatedly it wouldn’t change the results because the SouthKoreans didn’t file a protest in time.