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Fans think Hang should get a gold

8/21/2004

SEOUL, South Korea -- Shades of Salt Lake City.

Sports fans back home in Korea already are protesting a scoring mistake
that handed a gold medal to an American gymnast at the expense of a
South Korean at the Athens Olympics.

They've been through this before.

In 2002, South Koreans fumed when South Korean skater Kim
Dong-sung was disqualified from the Winter Olympics' 1,500-meter
race, allowing American Apolo Anton Ohno to win the gold.

In Athens, a judging error in the all-around gymnastics final
cost Yang Tae-young the gold that went, instead, to Paul Hamm, the
International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, said Saturday. The
South Korean got the bronze instead.

The news was reported late in the evening in Seoul, but some
protests quickly emerged.

Pressian.com, an Internet-based newspaper in South Korea, urged
"a strong nationwide reaction to reclaim the gold medal that we
have been robbed of."

Internet surfers posted complaints and called for an online
campaign to "win back the lost gold."

Naver.com, a major South Korean Internet portal, carried a
series of protest messages.

"Let's flood the IOC web site with our protests, urging it to
reverse the decision on the medals. We should ask IOC, 'What makes
it so afraid of the United States?'" one person wrote.

Another said: "I can't understand why FIG cannot reverse its
medal decision while acknowledging its mistake. The American
athlete who won the gold should give up the medal voluntarily."

Domestic media quoted Shin Bak-je, head of the South Korean
delegation in Athens, as saying the country will take the case to
the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

South Korean sports fans had planned a more upbeat night,
preparing to stay up all night to watch their Olympic soccer team
battle Paraguay in the quarterfinals. Diehard, red-clad fans
intended to watch the game on big open-air screens in downtown
Seoul, recalling the glory of their advance to the semifinals of
the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002.

Judging by the upheaval over the Ohno affair in 2002, the South
Korean protest against the Athens decision is just stirring. Many
young South Koreans harbor particular resentment toward the United
States because of the long-running U.S. military presence in their
country, and feel Washington is disrupting their efforts to
reconcile with communist North Korea.

In Athens, three judges were suspended over the gymnastics
ruling, but the gymnastics federation said results would not be
changed and Hamm would keep his gold medal.

The error, which occurred Wednesday, cost Yang a tenth of a
point on his parallel bars score that made the difference between
third and first.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, skater Kim crossed the finish line
first, but was disqualified for impeding Ohno's course.

South Korean officials angrily protested what they believed was
a "misjudgment." Their appeal was rejected by Olympic officials.

South Korean fans posted numerous anti-American statements on
the Internet ridiculing and threatening Ohno, and criticizing the
Olympic ruling.

Angry South Koreans launched online campaigns to boycott U.S.
goods. The campaigns fizzled in a few weeks. South Korea tied the
United States at the World Cup soccer tournament, which it
co-hosted with Japan.

South Koreans have a contradictory relationship with the United
States. The two countries have a close alliance that dates back to
the 1950-53 Korean War, but many South Koreans view the Bush
Administration as overbearing and aggressive.

U.S. and South Korean defense officials are trying to agree on a
timeline for the planned reduction of American forces on the
divided peninsula amid South Korea's concerns the departing troops
will weaken its defenses against North Korea.