The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hamm and Turkeys

As some of you know, last night I attended the fantasy football draft for what I call my "complicated league." Because the league is so complicated, the draft takes several hours and by the time it was finished I just decided to sleep at my parents house in Wauwatosa rather than drive back to Chicago's lovely south side in the middle of the night. I figured that I would just get up a little earlier than normal and beat the traffic down to Chicago, which, as it turned out, worked quite well. Actually, it did not take that much longer to get from Milwaukee to work than it normally does to get from Hyde Park to work (Note: "work" is located in Hoffman Estates, IL).

When I drive long distances I usually flip around the talk radio dial and this morning I listened to Mike and Mike on ESPN, which featured Mike Golic, the former NFL lineman, and Erik Kuselias who was in for Mike Greenberg. They were talking about this article in USA today, in which Christine Brennan urges Paul Hamm to give up his gold medal because it would make him a beloved figure, and a hero:

He would part with something extremely dear to him, the gold he fought so hard to win the other night, the gold he has dreamed of since he was a little kid in a gym in Waukesha, Wis. That's no small gesture. But precisely because the gold is so meaningful, Hamm would reap benefits he cannot yet imagine; addition by subtraction, if you will.

Erik Kuselias agreed fully with her, and he took it a step further, stating that Hamm was obligated to give up the medal. He felt that Yang Tae-young was screwed by the system and that Hamm was morally obligated to surrender the gold to make things right.

That is complete garbage.

The scoring issue stems from Yang's parallel bars routine, in which his start value was listed as 9.9, making 9.9 the maximum score that he could attain. Upon reviewing tape after the competition it was determined that Yang should have received a start value of 10.0. Those who want Hamm to relinquish his medal assert that his would have boosted Yang into the lead.

Hogwash.

The events of the all-around final do not take place in a vacuum. Scores are publicly available and the leader board affects the choices made in subsequent routines. It is very much like a golf tournament, where a player may try a riskier shot on a long par 5 in an attempt to make eagle, if he is down by 3 shots with only 2 holes to play.

The point is, if the scoring had been changed at the time (as it should have been, the Korean coaching staff was responsible for challenging the starting score ruling before the next event started) either Hamm or Yang may have performed differently in the final rotation. Yang may have choked, or he may have chosen an easier routine. Hamm may have performed even better, or slipped out of the medals altogether. We will never know,which is precisely why the process for challenging this sort of mistake is so important.

In baseball, when a mistake is discovered in the 5th inning that costs a team a run, we do not simply add that run to the team's total after the game. Doing so would be unfair to the other team, which played the rest of the game assuming that they had that extra run. In football, we require teams to challenge plays via instant replay before the next play is run. The Koreans had a chance to fix this mistake at the time, and they failed.

This particular type of scoring problem is not even uncommon. Kurt Thomas (the gymnast, not the basketball player) on Mike and Mike this morning claimed that this probably happened 3 or 4 times during these games. The reason is that starting scores are not fixed. They depend on what you actually attempt to do during your routine. Forget to attempt a handstand? That might take from your starting score, not just your ending score. Think about what happened to Blaine Wilson earlier in these games:

Wilson hit his head trying a move he hasn't performed much lately due to a mix-up with judges over scoring. At podium training Wednesday, judges said the move, which was valued higher at the last two world championships, wouldn't be worth as much this time. So Wilson went to what was supposedly a less risky trick. (From Sports Illustrated)

This kind of change, while annoying, happens sometimes.

Finally, when officials viewed the tape afterwards, they also discovered that Yang had 4 "holds" on the bars instead of the permitted 3. The deduction for this is two-tenths of a point. If we are going to be "fair" about it, Yang actually should have had a lower score going into the final rotation, not a higher score.

I do not subscribe to the "rules are rules" mentality. I believe that rules should be followed if they make sense or serve some purpose. Many have said that just because the Koreans were late with their protest does not mean that it should be precluded. This attitude condemns the rule without analysis. The rule is sound and it should be enforced in this instance. Yang should be content with his bronze, and fire his coach. Hamm should keep his gold and wear it proudly.

E.M. Swift, writing for Sports Illustrated, says it better than I ever could.

By the way, if we are going to start reviewing things after the fact, can we get a reversal on this, and maybe this (against a Korean, mind you).

What about this, and definitely this.

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