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FIG-headed organization

Gymnastics federation's boss has made a mess of the Hamm affair

Posted: Saturday August 28, 2004 6:47AM; Updated: Saturday August 28, 2004 9:09AM
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  Paul Hamm
Paul Hamm returned home early from Athens due to the controversy, and appeared on David Letterman Wednesday.
AP

The name of Bruno Grandi has now ascended to the pinnacle of the list of biggest chuckleheads to run an Olympic sport.

Two days ago Grandi, the head of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), attempted to send a letter to Paul Hamm through the U.S. Olympic Committee.

To summarize this letter by saying it asked Hamm to give up his gold medal in the all-around men's gymnastics event, as many newspapers have done, is to do a disservice to the mangled syntax and crackpot reasoning of Grandi's actual words. So let's spend a moment with the letter in question before moving on to weightier matters.

First, Grandi quotes Hamm to Hamm, words Grandi read in the American press: "If the FIG will decide that I have to give [the gold medal] back, I'll do it."

That's true. Hamm said that.

Then Grandi, utterly ignoring the part about the FIG ordering the return of the medal, waxes eloquent: "This declaration which gave me great pleasure, was made by a great gymnast and true champion who has the highest ethical values. This act, which demonstrates the highest level of honesty, places you amongst the true Olympic champions."

Uh-oh. In this paragraph, you see, we have moved from a "declaration" to an "act," and somewhere along the line the notion of the FIG mandating the gold medal's return has been lost. Grandi concludes the letter with so many subjunctive conditional clauses that, well, read it and weep:

"If, (according to your declarations to the press), you would return your medal to the Korean if the FIG requested it, then such an action would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of Fairplay by the whole world. The FIG and the IOC would highly appreciate the magnitude of this gesture.

"At this moment in time, you are the only one who can make this decision.

"With my best regards and deepest respect,

"Bruno Grandi, FIG President."

Where does one begin? First of all, the IOC apparently would not have appreciated the magnitude of such a gesture, since it immediately disavowed itself from the missive.

"This is not the IOC's position, and we were not consulted about this letter," IOC spokesman Giselle Davies said. "The position of the IOC remains the same. The FIG documented and validated the result of the competition, and those results will stand."

Fortunately, Peter Ueberroth, the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman, refused to deliver the letter to Hamm, who about that time was back in the States doing the Letterman show. In a welcome tone of firmness, Ueberroth called the FIG's suggestion "deplorable" and added "they are deflecting their own incompetence."

It was high time someone at the USOC spoke out in Hamm's defense. A few days earlier, it had left Hamm twisting in the wind by suggesting they were open to the idea of a shared gold medal -- an idea the IOC had already rejected. Obviously someone there had held a meeting.

"We finally said, 'Enough of this, we're sticking up for our athlete,'" said USOC media director Bob Condron.

Added USOC chief executive Jim Scherr in a candid mea culpa, "We should have given him the support earlier. We're doing it now."

Completing the show of unity, USA Gymnastics president and CEO Bob Colarossi, whose political aspirations within FIG have left him reluctant to criticize the whacky goings-on within that organization, said of Grandi's letter: "It's inappropriate to put an athlete in that position. We really believe that in a subjective sport the calls on the field have to stand, and that by the rules of the FIG Paul Hamm won."

Phew. All on board. So to summarize this controversy that won't go away:

1) The FIG says that, by its own rules, Hamm won, but it would be relieved if he'd give back his medal. But it's his decision.

2) The IOC says there will be no second gold medal, and that the FIG must stick by its rules.

3) The USOC says it's now ready to fight on behalf of Hamm.

4) Hamm, by the way, says he believes in his heart he won the competition. He also says the controversy has ruined his Olympics.

I'm sure the other man whose Olympics has been ruined by these dunderheads is Korea's Yang Tae Young, the bronze medalist whose start value was improperly set .10 too low on his parallel-bars routine. It's always the athletes who suffer.

For a while on Friday night it seemed the Koreans, who belatedly protested the results on behalf of Yang, might defuse the controversy and put an end to the continuing nightmare.

They'd scheduled a press conference at 8 p.m. in Athens, and the rumor was they were going to withdraw the protest. They had wanted the judges to admit their error and change the score. They had never intended this to come down to trying to cast guilt on Hamm for not returning what he believed he'd rightfully won.

Ah, but it was not to be. At the last minute, the press conference was abruptly canceled. Why? "Inevitable reasons," was the official explanation.

Same way an organization without a head, or without a head that functions properly, inevitably falls.

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