There’s more to sports than just bringing home goldThe Yang Tae-young story finally came to an end last week, and it wasn’t very pretty. Of course, by now, everyone knows that the Korean men’s gymnastics team could’ve won a reversal on the judging error that cost Mr. Yang the Olympic gold medal, if only the appeal had been filed in time, which ― to Mr. Yang’s chagrin ― it was not.
As the cry of “we were robbed” resounded throughout the peninsula, there was little if any discussion in the Korean press of whether all the rules and regulations regarding judging, awarding and appealing had been properly followed.
When the story broke, I made a few phone calls to the Korean Olympic Committee and talked to a few IOC officials on the ground in Athens. The more I talked to these people, the more I got a distinct feeling that politics had taken over, and that at the end of the day, the aggrieved parties would probably be left high and dry.
Regardless, it is inexcusable for the Korean officials involved to claim ignorance of proper procedure for filing a complaint at that level of play. Their attempts to play the media back home and stoke the homefires with cries of foul play belie the fact that their own ignorance and failure to act in a timely manner cost Mr. Yang the gold.
And for the International Gymnastics Federation to send a letter to Paul Hamm, the beneficiary of the judging error, asking him to relinquish his gold medal was yet another example of the inexcusable folly and poor decisions that followed in the wake of this fiasco.
Despite the intransigence of the IOC, the Korean Olympic Committee went ahead and awarded Yang the $20,000 cash prize promised to all Korean Olympic gold medalists, in addition to a 24-karat KOC gold medal. Yang also got a hero’s welcome upon returning to Korea, and will be remembered for a long time in this country as the man who was robbed of the gold.
While not wanting to detract from Yang’s exemplary performance, I do have to question his judgment in going along with his coaching staff’s decision to file a complaint.
Perhaps Yang had become a victim of his own hype, convincing himself that anything less than a gold was unacceptable. This distorted view of the Games continues to deprive participants of a true sense of what athletic competion is all about.
The final verdict on this incident, by the Court for Arbitration for Sports, is a good example of how future disputes may be decided:
“An error identified with the benefit of hindsight, whether admitted or not, cannot be a ground for reversing a result of a competition....”
For the court to reverse a field-of-play decision would set a nasty precedent for future competition. Despite efforts to ensure that fair and accurate judging takes place ― whether through the integration of technology, training, or the uniform application of codified rules ― a margin of error exists. That slim margin, however, hardly justifies the extreme litigiousness of those who happen to disagree with such decisions.
In conclusion, it’s quite OK to come home empty-handed from a competitive event. It really is. Anyone who can compete in the Olympics is a winner in my book.
by Brian Lee