Fans think Hang should get a gold

Updated: August 21, 2004, 1:20 PM ET
Associated Press

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., 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.", 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press