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Never Assume.
Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2004

by Bill Hogan


The gymnastics gala Tuesday night sure was fun to watch, wasn't it? Talented gymnasts performing great routines in the spotlight one last time; what a way to conclude an exciting competition. The key word being "conclude." As in over, done, finished.

I don't know about you, but I sure did have my fill of Olympic gymnastics drama. I'm ready for track and field, freestyle wrestling, women's basketball – any sport that doesn't require a scoring judge or a pommel horse.


Now Paul Hamm can leave Athens with his well deserved gold medal and head back to Waukesha, Wisconsin to celebrate his historic triumph with friends and family. People who won't criticize or question the outcome of the men's gymnastics all-around finals.

He can leave the judging error that cost the Korean bronze medallist a tenth of a point on the parallel bars – and the controversy that ensued – far behind. He can revel in his victory and treasure that which USAToday columnist Christine Brennan has the audacity to refer to as "the medal that we now know was given incorrectly to Hamm."

The tenth of a point that was erroneously deducted from Yang Tae-young during his parallel bar routine would have been enough to vault (pardon the pun) the Korean ahead of Hamm in the all-around standings. Therefore, according to Brennan, "Hamm should give his gold medal to Yang."

What a brilliant piece of advice. "Yang would have won," Brennan claims, and "Hamm would have earned the silver." It seems Ms. Brennan is not only a sportswriter, she's also a prophet. Able to predict the "correct" outcome of the men's all-around after five of the six gymnastics routines had been performed by the competitors.

Using Brennan's logic, it's safe to assume that, had Yang been awarded a 9.812 on the parallel bars instead of 9.712, every other aspect of the competition would have played out exactly as it did. Hamm would have gotten a 9.837 and Yang a 9.475 on the final event, the horizontal bars. Yang would have won gold and Hamm silver.

Yea, and if Grady Little had pulled Pedro Martinez in the eight inning, the Red Sox would have won the Pennant against the Yankees last year. If Steve Bartman hadn't interfered with a foul ball, the Cubs would have been World Series bound. It's that simple.

If the referees had made the right call two years ago, the Giants would have kicked the game-winning field goal against the 49er's in the playoffs. Come to think of it, they probably would have beaten Tampa Bay the following week and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers should give their championship rings to the Giants!

After all, the next day, the officials acknowledged a mistake was made, and yet the NFL did nothing to rectify the outcome of the game. That's, to borrow a word from Ms. Brennan's column, inexcusable. At least to Giants fans it is.

The International Gymnastics Federation, referred to as FIG (shouldn't that be IGF), acknowledged the mistake and suspended three judges. Brennan claims that "FIG's action is inexcusable. You acknowledge a mistake was made – and then you do nothing about the result?"

The fact is that nobody – not even the oracular Christine Brennan – can predict what would have happened on the horizontal bar had Yang been awarded another tenth on the parallel bars. Maybe Hamm does something even more extraordinary, maybe Yang succumbs to the pressure of being that much closer to a gold medal, maybe the judges give Hamm the marks he needs to beat Yang anyway.

Brennan doesn't know what would have happened any more than I do, yet she decided that the honorable thing for Hamm to do would be to give up his hard earned medal "because it was the right thing to do."

The right thing for whom? The truly right thing to do is to let the results stand as they are and let Hamm take his proper place in Olympic history – untarnished. The right thing to do would be to put this kid's face on a Wheaties box, not goad him into thinking that keeping his medal is wrong.

There's no good reason for Paul Hamm to give up his Olympic gold medal. And there's no excusable reason for anyone – his mother, his coach or FIG – to try to shame him into forfeiting something that is rightfully his; least of all a sportswriter.


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