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Almost Got Gold

Posted August. 19, 2004 22:19,   


On August 19, at the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall, Paul Hamm (USA) soared into space in the Olympic men’s gymnastics all-around finals.

On the vault, Hamm’s attempted back two-and-a-half twist (spinning backward with body straight while twisting two-and-a-half times) had a starting score of 9.9. However, he lost his balance on the landing, falling on his backside, and tumbled all the way onto the judges’ tables. It was a decisive mistake. Hamm, who was in the lead after three rotations with a total score of 20.012, had been dealt a serious blow. His facial expression reflected the loss of a gold medal. He later explained that at that point, he decided he was going to go for the bronze medal.

His vault score did not post right away. The judges were toiling. Finally, the posted score was 9.137. Yang Tae-young (Gyeoungbuk Sports Council), who was competing in the same event, said, “I predicted a score in the eight point range. The score was too high.”

Due to this mistake, Hamm fell from the lead down to 12th place after the fourth rotation. However, Hamm posted consecutive 9.837s on the parallel bars and high bar, winning an incredible victory -- the first gold medal for a U.S. male in the all-around competition.

On the last apparatus, the high bar, Hamm needed a 9.825 to win the gold. He scored a 9.837 for a total of 57.823, surpassing Kim Dae-eun (Korea National Sport University, 57.811) and Yang Tae-young (57.774).

Hamm said, “After the high bar (before the score was posted), the coach said, ‘You’re an Olympic champion,’ I said, ‘There’s no way’,” still in apparent disbelief.

Hamm’s mistake on the vault was a candidate for a total of a one-point deduction: -0.1 for the legs coming apart, -0.2 for the unsteady landing, -0.2 for stepping out of lines, and -0.5 for falling down. Kim Sung-ho, the techniques committee chairman of Korea Gymnastics Association, said, “Hamm’s performance on the vault should not have been judged higher than 9.1.”

According to techniques committee chairman Kim’s deductions, Hamm would have finished behind both Koreans at 57.585, and Kim Dae-eun would have won the gold.

Ioan Suciu of Romania, who placed fourth in the all-around, showed some discomfort by saying, “The only thing I have to say is that the American athlete scored higher than the actual situation,” in an AP interview that day.

Yang Tae-young was in the lead until the fifth rotation, and regrettably lost the gold after a mistake on the high bar. He showed his frustration with the perceived judging bias, saying, “If we had fallen like that on the vault, would the score have been like that (9.137)?” It was perceived that the judges were generous with Hamm’s scores throughout the competition.

Gymnastics is a sport often plagued by judging controversies. Kim Dae-eun’s lost gold will always be missed.

On the other hand, Korean men’s gymnastics coach Yoon Chang-sun clarified, “The score came by deliberation of many judges. It seems unfair, but I accept the decision.”

Sang-Soo Kim Jong-Koo Yang ssoo@donga.com yjongk@donga.com