Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I haven't had much time to post lately because I tend to work long hours. By the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is spend more time on the computer. Although I've got to get into the office earlier than usual tomorrow (before 9 am - I am not a morning person and tend to get in around 9.15 am to 9.30 am), I've decided that I should post this today seeing as the Olympics Games will be finishing rather soon.

I've started watching the Olympics when I was eight years old even though I had no understanding of what the Games were. Ever since then, I've been watching every other event that comes on every four years. Without fail, I'd be following the Olympics, World Cup or European Championships via the newspapers if I didn't watch the live or recorded broadcasts. Coincidentally, the major exams of my life fell during those years too. My sixth grade leaving examination (otherwise known as the PSLE here in Singapore) was in 1992 when the Olympics were held in Barcelona. My O Level Examinations were in the same year as the 1996 Olympics, my A Levels during the World Cup two years later. And finally, my final year examinations in university in 2002, again during a World Cup. In fact, the 2002 World Cup was broadcast right smack in the middle of my exams, but that didn't stop me from watching them.

I do love the Olympics. My sport of choice is gymnastics (especially the women's floor and women's balance beam exercises) and any good performance, such as Catalina Ponor's gold-medal-winning performance on the beam (I haven't watched her floor just yet), can move me to tears. I'm not a huge fan of any gymnast but I do like Alexei Nemov and Svetlana Khorkina. Alexei is rather good-looking and has a gorgeous smile. He's not called Sexy Alexei for nothing. And with a career total of thirteen Olympic medals, one can tell that he's a very talented gymnast. Svetlana is tall, graceful and elegant; although she's tempermental, she is absolutely breathtaking when she performs up to her usual standard. Many other gymnasts tend to rely on their tumbling prowess, so it's refreshing to watch her perform because she exudes beauty and grace.

This year's gymnastics finals have been especially controversial. First off was the judging error in the men's all-around finals which ended with the South Korean Yang Tae Young being deducted 0.1 of a mark incorrectly, thereby ending up in third position instead of first which would have been the case if he had been given the correct mark. Now, I sympathise with Paul Hamm. Through no fault of his own, he's no longer the 'true' gold medallist. Regardless of whether he gets to keep the medal, his moment of triumph will never be as nice and as precious as it was on the night when he made one heck of a courageous comeback after that disastrous fall on the vault. (Yes, his horizontal bar performance did bring a tear to my eye. The sheer joy of the expression on his face was particularly touching.) However, this isn't being fair to Tae Young either. If everything had been right and fair, the gold medal would have been his - fair and square. Simply declaring that the South Koreans filed their protest too late and therefore, aren't entitled to a fair hearing doesn't cut it. John Romano from The St. Petersburg Times sums it up the best in South Korean deserves gold, too. "The IGF says no. Says the rules clearly state an appeal must be made before the end of competition. Yes, well the rules also say Yang should have been awarded a different score. So if we've already colored outside the lines, why are we so worried about the rest of the picture?"

The least that should be done is that this error gets rectified. Give Tae Young a second gold medal at the very least. Or as the Joplin Globe, a Missouri newspaper, states, in the spirit of the Games, Paul should give up his medal. After all, the Olympics should be about sportsmanship and honour. As John Romano says, "Is justice really a precedent we're trying to avoid?"

Incidentally, I'm also of the opinion that the judging did seem to be biased against Svetlana, given the duration she had to wait for some of her scores. I was also surprised by the somewhat low score she was given for her rather entertaining floor routine during the all-around women's finals.

And of course, there's the 10-minute delay caused by the audience's unhappiness at the judges' awarding Alexei a low 9.725 after his fantastic routine during the men's horizontal bar finals. He did five spectacular releases very well (as opposed to the other competitors' three), but at the end of the day, I - and many other people, as it turned out - felt that he wasn't recognised appropriately for them. To further support my view, would Adrian Stoica, technical director of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), have intervened in Alexei's scoring if the score had been an accurate reflection?

As Liz Clarke from the Washington Post explains in Not Normal Routine for Gymnastics, "gymnastics judging starts with the concept of perfection. Assuming the routine is sufficiently rigorous, each athlete begins with 10.0 points. His final score is what remains after judges whittle tenths and hundredths for glitches such as bent knees, splayed legs and wobbly landings. But the code includes no mechanism for rewarding athletes who exceed perfection, like Nemov did in his high-bar routine. The gymnast who surpasses previously accepted standards of perfection -- either with a radical new skill or unparalleled virtuosity -- gets no bonus."

Despite these controversies, I do not for a second believe that gymnastics should be "kicked out of the Olympics" (as Mark Purdy from Mercury News writes). I'm not a gymnast and most definitely not a gymnastics expert, but I do love watching gymnasts perform... as do many other people. It'll be a shame to let these controversies bog the sport down and get it tossed out of the Olympics.

At the same time, it'll also be a shame to let the injustices done go unaddressed. It's a tough call for the IOC and the FIG. Do the right thing. Don't stand by and do nothing.

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