Canadians join in on criticism of FIG

Updated: August 24, 2004, 3:08 PM ET
By Sherry Skalko | ESPN.com

ATHENS, Greece -- The rules seem to be the problem. The South Koreans are upset that the rules are too strict. The Americans are upset that the rules are being broken. And now the Canadians have joined the fray protesting that the rules aren't being followed at all.

Alexei Nemov
APAlexei Nemov asks the crowd to quiet down.

Then the crowd chimed in Monday night, rumbling and roaring enough to disrupt the horizontal bar competition, an indication of the avalanche charging down on the International Federation of Gymnastics, also known as FIG.

FIG officials say the rules are the rules and they can't be changed until after competition -- even though officials have deviated from them already.

The trouble began Saturday when South Korea said its coaches were denied the opportunity during the all-around competition to inquire about the start value on Yang Tae Young's bar routine, which was given a 9.90 instead of a 10. FIG officials said they didn't file the inquiry during the allotted time. Had the inquiry been heard and the start value adjusted, Yang would have won the gold medal and Paul Hamm the silver.

Ultimately, FIG admitted a mistake after reviewing a videotape, which the Americans protested is not standard procedure, and suspended three judges.

And so, on Monday, during the final night of individual apparatus competition, the buzz entering the men's horizontal bar final surrounded Hamm and Yang. However, the two men's paths never crossed. Instead, two judging errors in men's routines further magnified the suspicion of impropriety that has hung over the sport since Saturday.

With the crowd loudly booing during Monday's high bar competition, two judges changed their scores from the initial one awarded Russian Alexei Nemov on high bar. The Malaysian judge had raised his hand, signaling he input incorrect information into the system. The Canadian judge also changed his score, but it was not known if he gave a similar indication.

After Nemov's score was changed from a 9.725 to a 9.762, fans continued to jeer the judges so loudly that Hamm's coach, Miles Avery, asked Nemov to help quiet them so Hamm could perform his routine. By the time Hamm approached the bar, he had been waiting almost 10 minutes.

"I was telling myself to focus because it was so distracting. I had never heard the crowd that loud in my life. It almost seemed like a movie or something," Hamm said.

Hamm ended up winning the silver medal behind Italian Igor Cassina. Nemov's higher score had no bearing on the medal finish.

"It was very stressful," Hamm added. "Not only have I had to deal with the all-around matter, but I've also had to continue training for these competitions. It's been a very stressful time for me."

Earlier in the evening, Canadian coaches became upset with Adrian Stoica, the president of the FIG men's technical committee, for rebuffing their inquiry attempts about scores awarded to Romanian Marian Dragulescu on vault. Dragulescu won the bronze medal in the event. Canadian Kyle Shewfelt finished fourth.

Stoica is also the secretary-general of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.

The Canadians said they lodged the inquiry after seeing the six scores for Dragulescu's second vault, which ranged from 9.00 to two 9.50s. After the lowest and highest scores were thrown out, the range was 9.10 to 9.50. According to Smith, if the scores are above 9.00 and are separated by more than two-tenths of a point the head judge contacts the ones who submitted the disparate scores and has them re-evaluate their assessments. Instead of doing so, Stoica told the Canadians to "do what you have to do," coach Kelley Manjak said.

Dragalescu beat Shewfelt, who won gold on the floor exercise Sunday, by .013 points.

"Stoica does what Stoica wants to do," Tony Smith, another coach of the Canadian squad, said. "He wouldn't accept our protest. He just said flat out that he wouldn't take it."

What most angers Smith is that the rules weren't followed.

"The technical committee at the International Gymnastics Federation needs to start coming down on these judges who are playing these games, " Smith said. "I'm a FIG judge myself, and I know how hard it is to pass the exam ... All these judges are pretty bright individuals, but when they come up with scores the way they come up with scores, it really puts a bad taste in my mouth."

Smith also raised issue with the scores awarded to Spain's Gervasio Deferr, who won the gold medal with a 9.737. On both vaults, his highest scores came from European and Latin judges from Venezuela, Italy, Portugal and Puerto Rico. He received his lowest scores from Switzerland and Japan. Shewfelt received his lowest scores from Portugal.

Smith noted that many European countries and national governing bodies still pay athletes for winning medals. Canada and the United States do not.

"It's like any other subjective sport," he said. "You have your friends who are willing to help you or not. We're a lot like the Americans; we don't have a lot of other countries helping us along the way. European countries have a tendency to kind of stick together, Asian countries have a tendency to kind of stick together, South American countries really stick together. It sure looks like they didn't ... help us."

Despite the lingering questions and swirling controversy, officials from FIG would not make themselves available for comment after the competition.

It's been a very stressful time for everyone affiliated with FIG, as NBC analyst and former U.S. Olympian Tim Dagget pointed out.

"I'm very surprised that a lot of things happened the way they happened," Dagget said. "I know there are many FIG technical representatives that are furious over this."

After telling The Associated Press that the case of South Korea vs. Hamm for the men's all-around gold medal was closed, FIG president Bruno Grandi indicated what he'd like the ultimate outcome to be, saying "For me, the best situation would be for Paul Hamm to take this medal and give ..." leaving the sentence unfinished but pretending to remove a medal from around his neck.

After winning the silver on the high bar, Hamm seemed taken aback when confronted about Grandi's gesture but wasn't about to take the heat off the official.

"I'm not planning to give away my [all-around] medal," Hamm said. "But if a governing body decides that, then I will."

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