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USOC refuses to deliver letter to Hamm

8/28/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- World gymnastics officials were looking
for a way out of the Paul Hamm medal mess. All they did was make
more people mad.

The president of the International Gymnastics Federation asked
Hamm to give up his all-around gold medal as the ultimate show of
good will, but the U.S. Olympic Committee told him to take
responsibility for the problem and refused even to deliver the
request.

The dispute over scores has mushroomed into a bigger debate
about sportsmanship, judging and the state of the Olympics
themselves.

"I don't know of any comparison in any sport anywhere where you
crown an athlete, crown a team and then say, 'Oh, that was a
mistake. Would you fix this for us?"' USOC chairman Peter
Ueberroth said Friday.

FIG president Bruno Grandi suggested in a letter to Hamm that
giving the gold to South Korea's Yang Tae-young "would be
recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play." Judges
scored Yang's parallel bars routine incorrectly on Aug. 18, failing
to give him enough points for the level of difficulty.

Grandi tried to send the letter Thursday night to Hamm through
the USOC, but the committee's leaders declined to pass it along.

In a letter back to Grandi, USOC secretary general Jim Scherr
called the request "a blatant and inappropriate attempt on the
part of (FIG) to once again shift responsibility for its own
mistakes and instead pressure Mr. Hamm into resolving what has
become an embarrassing situation for your federation."

"The USOC finds this request to be improper, outrageous and so
far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable that it refuses to
transmit the letter to Mr. Hamm," the letter said.

Hamm returned to the United States earlier this week. He
declined comment Friday through his agent, but he has said in the
past that he has no intention of giving up his medal unless ordered
to do so by FIG.

In an interview Friday night with NBC, Hamm said he'll abide by
whatever FIG decides, but that "I just feel like I've done nothing
wrong in this whole situation."

"I competed my heart out at the Olympic Games. I played by the
rules and I won by the rules," he said. "I feel like I'm handling
it pretty well. Obviously, you know I'm a little bit upset with how
this whole situation was handled."

Grandi said he believed the issue was closed until he learned of
Hamm's earlier comment.

Hamm's coach, Miles Avery, said Hamm is still frustrated about
having his victory sullied by controversy.

"If I was Bruno Grandi, I would have said my officials did a
bad job and correct that problem and not ask this young man to give
back his medal," Avery said in an interview in Columbus, Ohio.

Yang, the bronze medalist, was wrongly docked a tenth of a point
on his second-to-last routine. He finished third, 0.049 points
behind Hamm. Add the extra 0.100, and Yang would have finished
0.051 points ahead of Hamm. That's assuming, of course, that
everything in the final rotation would have played out the same
way.

Three judges were suspended after the error was discovered, but
FIG said the results would stand because the South Koreans didn't
protest the error until after the meet.

The South Koreans canceled a news conference Friday night after
learning of the FIG letter and the USOC response.

Jae Soon-yoo, spokeswoman for the South Korean delegation, said
the Koreans met with International Olympic Committee president
Jacques Rogge on Tuesday.

"Dr. Rogge made it very clear that dual golds were not
acceptable by the IOC," she said. "Again, it's up to the FIG. He
made his principles very clear."

Although Grandi's letter says, "The true winner of the
all-around competition is Yang Tae-young," the FIG president
insisted he's not pressuring Hamm.

"There is no doubt he has won the medal," Grandi said. "He
deserves the medal, and the ranking is clear. ... I respect totally
Paul Hamm and all the decisions he makes. If he says give back the
medal, I respect it. Don't give back the medal, I respect the
decision. He is not responsible for anything."

Ueberroth said the USOC considers the case closed, based on the
FIG ruling that the scores cannot be changed. He also cited a
statement from Rogge, who said the IOC would stick with the results
turned in by the federation and wouldn't step in unless there were
clear signs of impropriety.

"We are not going to give medals for so-called humanitarian or
emotional reasons," Rogge said.

Earlier in the week, the USOC said it was willing to consider
supporting the South Koreans' bid for a second gold medal. Scherr
said that was no longer possible because of FIG's latest request.

"I think we were at fault for not more strongly, more directly,
showing our support for Paul," Scherr said. "I wish we would have
done that more strongly and earlier."

USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said the USOC stance
reinforced the position his federation has held since the
beginning.

"Paul Hamm won the all-around competition and he's the Olympic
medalist and the Olympic champion," Colarossi said. "We mentioned
from the very beginning that we stand by Paul and stand by Paul's
performance."