USOC refuses to deliver letter to Hamm

Updated: August 28, 2004, 7:43 AM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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