Paul Hamm: Did He Deserve Gymnastics Gold in 2004?

What was the controversy all about?

In the 2004 Olympics, an all-star group of athletes fromaround the world gathered together to compete for titles ingymnastics. In the spirit of competition, there are alwaystensions between analysts and spokespersons about whetheror not athletes deserve the medals they receive.Sometimes, judges are found to be at fault for thecontroversy, and other times the fiasco is trumped up byuneducated speculation. In this case, the Paul Hamm stirwas due to an ancillary error.: the judges mistakenly sethis rival's starting score at 9.9 rather than 10.0. Manybelieve that it is this error that cost Yang Tae Young, theSouth Korean rival of Paul Hamm, the all-around gold medalin gymnastics.

Gymnastics judging is not a science.

This is proven again and again. There is no mathematicalway of measuring gymnastics routines -- in fact, gymnasticsis perhaps one of the most subjective sports of all. Nogoals are involved, as in soccer - no hoops like inbasketball; no bullseyes are involved, as in archery; onedoes not go for distance or height, as in pole vaulting orshot put. In gymnastics, an athlete is judged on form,scored on perfection. It is exceedingly difficult to do soaccurately, as there are no vectors that can be calculatedto see if someone grasps hold of the parallel barsincorrectly or lands with a wobble.

If you have ever been to a gymnastics competition, youprobably understand that panels look at execution for theirscoring: something that is full of twists and turns and ispoorly executed will score lower than something that issimpler but perfectly executed. The criteria for measuringthis aspect of gymnastics include stability and landings --whether or not he or she wavered in the element's terminus,or held position for less than three seconds at the end ofthe routine, or took an extra step or stumbled. This doesindeed lead to criticism of the judges' abilities to dotheir job, and leads also to mistakes in scoring.

Why does Paul Hamm deserve gold?

Paul Hamm, like any other athlete, is and was not a part ofthe politics of the game. He was there to compete, andindeed, he was there to win. This is the goal of thousandsof Olympic hopefuls around the world -- to go to the gamesand to show their skill at the sport they love best. Inall actuality, no athlete should have to deal with thethings Paul Hamm was forced through. It is entirelyunderstandable that he should refuse to give up his medal-- the gold is certainly not tainted; it was his and hisalone. The mistakes of the judges are not his to bear. Heis an incredible gymnast, indeed.

Why does Yang Tae Young, his rival, not deserve gold?

Perhaps more convincing is the reason as to why Yang TaeYoung, Paul Hamm's Korean rival, does not deserve the goldmedal so many have attributed to him. Firstly, the Koreangymnastics team's representative was late in calling in acomplaint, which made the investigation itself - and allthe stress associated with it - completely invalid (Olympicrules state, that a protest needs to be madebefore the end of any full game, such as with the parallelbars, and the Koreans did not do so). Even then, thejudges were suspended, and the probing took place.Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, even if the judgesgave Tae Young the extra .10 points warranted by thedifficulty of his routine, he still would have scored lowerthan he did because of yet another ancillary error. Afterthe tapes were reviewed, it was revealed that Tae Youngaccidentally made four holds on the bars rather than theallotted three, which would have resulted in a deduction of.2, still leaving him with a deficit of a tenth of a point.

The snafu regarding Paul Hamm's gold medal - versus, ofcourse, giving the medal up to the South Korean team - isregretable. There should have been no questionthat Hamm deserved his medal, and he certainly should nothave had to deal with the problems around the world. Nor,indeed, did he deserve all of the ill press surrounding hisname. The gold medal was well-earned. It certainly bearsno tarnishing, and neither does his record.

By Murray Hughes
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