Paul Hamm deserves to keep his gold

Sept. 11, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 4 months ago

On August 17, 2004, a minor miracle occurred: Paul Hamm, an American gymnast, won the gold medal in the men's all-around competition at the summer Olympics. He was the first American to ever accomplish the feat and did so despite falling on his vault landing. However, his gold medal has been tainted, as is the tendency of gold medals won in competitions that are subject to human judgment. Yang Tae Young, the bronze medalist from South Korea, apparently had a tenth of a point unfairly deducted from his parallel bars routine, a tenth of a point that would have been enough for him to overtake Hamm for the gold medal. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) sent a letter to Hamm urging him to return the medal, labeling it the ultimate act of "fair play." However, Hamm should not be pressured to return his rightfully-earned medal.

There are many reasons that teams or individuals in sports are denied top finishes. Use of disallowed substances is a big one. Playing or having players play while ineligible is another. Breaking rules of sportsmanlike conduct is a third. In the Little League World Series a couple of years back, for example, a team from New York was stripped of its victory when it was discovered that the team's star pitcher was too old and had in fact lied about his age in order to play. The Michigan men's college basketball team is another example that springs readily to mind, when a scandal involving recruiting practices emerged. Additionally, in many sports there are methods of checking to see whether or not an athlete committed an infraction on a play that has already occurred, such as instant replay.

The problem with all of these scenarios is that Paul Hamm did nothing wrong. Hamm was judged correctly; his scores are completely earned and warranted. Hamm turned in a gold medal performance. Period. The fact that Yang Tae Young did as well and was judged unfairly is beyond the control of either Hamm or Yang. In fact, the adage, "Let the players play the game," fits almost perfectly here. Hamm and Yang both competed their hearts out and turned in stellar performances; which performance was superior is up to a third-party panel. And that panel awarded Hamm the gold medal. That is how the sport works and always has worked. Expecting Hamm to atone for the errors of the judges is unfair and even hypocritical.

It can be argued back and forth as to which gymnast deserved the gold medal. Case in point: though replays show that Yang was unfairly docked points, the U.S. Olympic committee reviewed the tape and subsequently claimed that even if he hadn't lost the tenth that he lost, he performed four hold maneuvers, one more than is currently allowed. The point is that this argument is frivolous: our judgments, like those of the actual judges themselves, are subjective. The one objective truth we can derive from the situation is that Hamm was awarded the gold, through the merits of his performance and perhaps because of a judging oversight. Either way, he is wholly deserving of the medal and should feel no obligation to return it.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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