Olympic Justice

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Olympic Justice

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Despite all the uplifting moments in Athens over the past two weeks, the injustices seem to be commanding the headlines. How would you feel if you were Russian 100 meter hurdler Irina Shevchenko right now? She lined up in Lane 6, a good spot, in the middle of the field, where you can easily see just where you are throughout the race. In Lane 5 was the woman who had the world-s fastest time going into the final, Perdita Felicien of Canada. All Shevchenko had to worry about was her own race. She was focused, ready to give her all for the next 12 or so seconds. The race of her lifetime. In her wildest dreams-make that nightmares-she couldn-t have imagined what happened immediately after the gun went off. The experienced Felicien hit the first hurdle hard with her lead leg. She couldn-t recover and she stumbled and fell to the right, into the Russian-s lane. Caught off guard, Shevchenko was knocked out of her lane and out of the race. Now, it-s a sad situation for Felicien. This moment only comes every four years, only lasts 12 seconds, and her tears of enormous disappointment flowed immediately. But that-s sport. You simply have to accept mis-steps, the occasional blunder of just a millimeter that is the difference between your shoe clearing the hurdle and hitting it. But why should Irina Shevchenko have to pay so dearly for someone else-s mistake? The Russians filed a complaint, pushing to have the race run again. But the protest for a restart was denied and Shevchenko has had to swallow a bitter pill indeed.

An even bolder headline of the Games than Shevchenko-s has been the scoring mistake in the men-s gymnastics all-round event. American Paul Hamm won the gold but that was contested two days later by the South Korean contingency, claiming their bronze medalist, Yang Tae Young, was scored incorrectly and should have been the gold medalist. That controversy continues to rage and suggestions for reform in the judging system flow forth.

Personally, I don-t see why athletes don-t have a certain amount of time (let-s say an hour) after the completion of an event to mount an official protest. At that point, the judges could review the slow motion videotape of the moves in question, confer, and agree in unison to either uphold their original decision or overturn it-all before any medal designations are announced. It-s frustrating to watch glaring mistakes by judges when the videotape is there at their disposal, yet they-re not allowed to use it. This is especially true in gymnastics, a sport where subjective perceptions do come into play but nowhere near as much as in figure skating, for example, where the lines of a body, the grace of a presentation and other factors of artistic merit comprise significant elements of the final score. The experts in gymnastics in Athens have educated us as to the mathematical delineations of a routine. On the parallel bars, for instance, a competitor is allowed three separate sort of rest holds for under two seconds each. Each additional hold will cost the athlete two tenths of a point. Well, every moment of the entire routine is broken down that way, mathematically. It would be easy for the judges to sit together and review a routine in slow motion, score it frame by frame, and come up with an accurate consensus score. Paul Hamm should have no second thoughts about his gold medal. He won it fair and square. It was human error that caused Yang Tae Young-s misfortune and, for now, the athletes in the endeavors decided by the human eye must simply accept that foible as the Nature of their sport.

But the sports such as track, where an electronic stop watch and a photo finish are empirical measurements, don-t prepare an athlete for human error. Just ask Irina Shevchenko.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad