When I was in middle school, I played basketball. More specifically: I played basketball poorly, but that's beside the point -- I played. I remember one game in which my team got called for a foul that not only didn't we commit, but which we were physically unable to commit. It would have involved the fouler, if you will, covering two opponents on opposite wings of the court at one time. We argued this fact fruitlessly, invoking the laws of both God and physics. My coach argued it so vehemently that he got tossed. We suffered not only the absurd foul call, but also a pair of technical foul shots.
We learned an important lesson that day: any game which is judged by human beings has the capacity to be misjudged. As an athlete, you remain sane by realizing this and, in your heart, knowing that you went out there and gave it your best effort, no matter the result.
You can divide all sports -- all games, in fact -- into those that need referees and those that do not. The latter can often be transformed into the former by implementing mechanical controls (see also: tennis, the cyclops) but these controls will often be considered, occasionally justly, as inept as the humans they replace. If you accept that your game requires human judgement, then you must, by defenition, accept that it may incur human error. The rules associated with the game may attempt to limit this error (see also: American Football, the replay) but can never remove it completely, else the judge would be unnecessary as well.
Once rules for this limitation are set, players of a game willing subject themselves to a level of human interpretation, flawed though it may be. A particularly egregious error can often be used as grounds to alter a system before the next competition begins, but, by signing on to play, an athlete gives up all right (outside of considerations specified directly in the rules -- see also: Olympic Gymnastics, grace period for challenging incorrectly assigned difficulties) to expect history to be rewritten in the event of a subsequent discovery of an official's error.
A gold medal is property; throughout history they've been bought, sold, auctioned, pawned, gifted, stolen, recovered, and stowed away in a closet under a box of old records. You know this. I know this. Olympic Officials know this. Paul Hamm knows this.
I think it's really crappy that, rather than coming out and making one of the following statements:
- "We're sorry. We screwed up. Those are the rules, though, and them's the berries."
- "We're sorry, but you're the one who messed up by not challenging the invalid difficulty rating within the specified window."
- "We're sorry, but even if we were to set the absurd precedent of second guessing all of our officials, we'd still have to dock you two tenths for your fourth halt position, and you wouldn't get the gold medal anyway."
- "We're sorry. We screwed up. Here's a second gold medal."
- "We're sorry. We screwed up. Here's the gold medal we took back from Paul Hamm."
Mr. Yang Tae Young: Them's the berries. You gave it your best effort, no matter the result. Tomorrow's another day. You competed well and honorably, and I'm sorry that's being obscured by this controversy.
Mr. Paul Hamm: You competed honorably too, and you are in no way responsible for the shitty judging of the Olympic Officials. Yes, you probably should have gotten the silver, but next time you may be the one getting screwed. It's not your fault, and don't let any revisionist tell you it is.
Mr. Bruno Grandi, President of the International Gymnastics Federation: Fuck you for putting the weight of international politics on the back of one young man. "For me, the best situation would be for Paul Hamm to take this medal and give [it up.]" For me, the best situation would be for you to DO YOUR FUCKING JOB.
Thank you, and goodnight.