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Home > Blog > Hammburgling?
Out of Our Minds
Saturday, August 28, 2004 11:53 AM
Hammburgling?
Kevin Salwen on Culture

There are many tests in our daily lives of our ethics and values, some grayer than others on the black-and-white scale: the extra dollar of change we are handed, the typo in the business contract we notice, the little truth-stretching in our resumes (were you really responsible for that?).

But the recent controversy surrounding U.S. Olympian Paul Hamm presents a fascinating dilemma: Should a man who almost assuredly was awarded the Gold Medal incorrectly give it back? The controversy centers on how the judges scored Hamm's Korean competitor, Yang Tae Young; they set the wrong start value for Yang's degree of difficulty, which reduced his score and kept him from winning the Gold.

Hamm isn't talking but his coach, Miles Avery, concedes that the start value was wrongly set. But he also says the judges missed an error in the routine that should have caused a deduction for Yang. So, he says, the rightful winner won.

In my view, one is a subjective call (the flaw in the routine) while the other was an objective measure (the start value). Hamm clearly should not have won the medal. But that leads to the big question: Should he have to return the medal, as international gymnastics officials are claiming? Should there be two Golds granted? What's the ethical answer?


9 comments

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Amanda - 9/23/2004 6:54:18 PM
Personally, any sport like this where there is no definite winner, the winner is based on human judgment between others, there will always be a controversy or a question in the final judgment. Obviously, those particular judges thought Paul to be better or more deserving at the time of the event.Who is to say that if the Korean competitor would have won that there wouldn’t be a controversy there also? No matter the outcome there would be some argument to oppose it. Instead of trying to make everyone happy, the focus should be angled on to how to prevent incidents like this in the future.
PixelMan - 9/14/2004 3:09:18 PM
On television the other day, Paul Hamm gave the best argument (I think): If every decision can be reviewed endlessly and revoked after-the-fact, then the meaning of the medals and the whole competition would be diluted.

The athletes don't get do-overs - neither should the judges. However, I agree with the other commentors that recognizing a technical error by awarding another gold medal might be appropriate.
Dan - 8/31/2004 1:41:41 PM
Maybe it's like a cashier who gives you the wrong amount of change for a purchase. Let's say they gave you an extra $ of change, wouldn't you let them know that you got too much in return? You didn't make the mistake and take the extra $, the cashier gave it to you.

Well in this case the judges handed out the wrong score. In all fairness you'd want the right person to 'win' the gold.
David - 8/30/2004 12:02:17 PM
Awarding a second gold is the right way to handle the situation. If Paul Hamm chooses to relinquish his gold of his own free will, that's between him and his conscience (I wouldn't think less of him for not doing so, either).
Kate - 8/30/2004 9:44:09 AM
I think that it is less than fair to say to Paul Hamm, an athelete of obvious excellence (and no doping violations, which seems exceptional in this edition of the Games) 'Hey, we screwed up, but please disregard the years of your life you dedicated to this moment and hand that medal over so you can fix it for us.'

As in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games, when the French judge was found 'fixing', awarding two gold medals recognized those not at fault for judging snafus while bringing the whole saga to a speedy end.
Kevin Gossett - 8/29/2004 12:49:45 AM
Without a doubt, there should only be one gold medal, and it should be awarded to the competitor who won, regardless of errors.

An error only becomes a mistake if you fail to correct it.

The Korean deserves the medal.
Kevin - 8/28/2004 3:42:38 PM
There should be two golds. It's not fair to Paul Hamm to be disgraced by having his gold medal stripped through no fault of his own. He was awarded the gold medal. If there was a mistake, then a second gold should be given to the other athlete. It's not Paul's fault the judges made a mistake, and he shouldn't be punished for it. He shouldn't be the one to return anything. If the other guy deserves a gold medal, the IOC should give him one.
Dave - 8/28/2004 2:42:59 PM
First off, this - like almost every single Olympics in recent memory - is exactly why I tend to break all 'sports' down into three categories... head-to-head competition with clear winners and losers, hunting/fishing/climbing and such where a person battles the elements, and finally - IMHO the stupidest of all - where the combatents are judged in supposedly objective ways.

(Sidenote: I'm not saying that gymnastics or figure skating or sledding are stupid per se - only that to think you have to have a winner and loser(s) decided by on 'objective' judging is an insult. Hey, just enjoy watching the best of the best.)

That all said, my opinion is quite simple: stick to the 'Olympic Spirit' concept. There are no nations... it's about celebrating the competition and beauty of the human race... and if a 'technical' mistake clearly means the wrong person was given the gold - be a man enough to give it back.

(Second side note: before anyone assumes otherwise, I'm a 46 year old American born and living in Pennsylvania. Odd, but somehow I feel I have to say this.)

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