ATHENS, Greece – Paul Hamm (search) is heading home, and he's taking his gold medal with him, thank you. The gymnastics competition may be over at the Athens Olympics, but the whining about judges might continue all the way to Beijing.
"Truly in my heart, I believe that I am the Olympic champion. I don't feel as if I should be giving the medal back or another one should be awarded," Hamm said Tuesday before heading back to the United States, where he'll hang out with David Letterman on Wednesday night.
"I enjoyed a lot of the Olympics," he added. "But once the controversy hit, I've been very stressed out."
No wonder. Hamm had one day to savor being the first U.S. man to win the Olympic all-around title, winning with one of the most spectacular comebacks in the sport's history. Then the International Gymnastics Federation (search) admitted its judges made a mistake, failing to give Yang Tae-young (search) enough points for the level of difficulty on the parallel bars.
Yang ended up with the bronze, 0.049 points behind Hamm, who came back from 12th with two events left for the victory. But add the extra 0.100 Yang should have gotten for his start value, and he would have finished first and Hamm second. Kim Dae-eun of South Korea would have won the bronze instead of silver.
FIG suspended the two judges who determined the start values — Benjamin Bango (search) of Spain and Oscar Buitrago Reyes (search) of Colombia — along with the judge who oversaw the panel, George Beckstead of the United States.
The South Koreans want a duplicate gold medal for Yang, but the rules don't provide for that.
"I don't have the possibility to change it," FIG president Bruno Grandi told The Associated Press. "Our rules don't allow it."
Which means forget about those negotiations between the South Koreans and the U.S. Olympic Committee, which said Monday it would be "willing to consider the notion" of a second gold medal. The International Olympic Committee won't go near that idea unless FIG requests it.
That leaves the South Koreans empty-handed, and still looking for satisfaction. They want a duplicate gold medal for Yang, and promised to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But they still hadn't filed an appeal as of Tuesday night.
That leaves Hamm in limbo.
"It is not my responsibility to deal with it," he said. "My responsibility is to do gymnastics, and it's up to these governing bodies to deal with these matters. For them to put the pressure on the athletes, I think is wrong."
The constant complaining has overshadowed what the athletes have done on the floor.
The American gymnasts won nine medals in Athens, more than they got at the last two Olympics combined. Hamm and his teammates became the first U.S. men's squad to win an Olympic medal in 20 years when they took silver, and Hamm also won silver on the high bar. Carly Patterson was the first U.S. woman since Mary Lou Retton in 1984 to win the all-around, and she also won a silver on balance beam.
Annia Hatch won silver on vault, while Terin Humphrey and Courtney Kupets won silver and bronze on the uneven bars.
"I knew we could do good here and get medals," Patterson said. "We've done a great job at this Olympics, and everyone should be really proud of themselves."
But what might be remembered most from these games is the judging controversies.
The Greeks, Bulgarians and Canadians all questioned scores in the men's competition, and the Russians sent letters Tuesday to the FIG and IOC president Jacques Rogge to complain about scoring that cost Svetlana Khorkina a gold medal in the all-around and kept Alexei Nemov off the medal stand in high bar finals.
The furor boiled over Monday night. With Hamm waiting to compete, fans booed, whistled and jeered for 10 minutes to protest Nemov's high bar score. Nemov's score was boosted during the ruckus, to a 9.762, but he still finished fifth.
"We realize that our appeal is unlikely to change final results of competitions, but we must draw attention of the International Olympic Committee to the existing problem," the head of the Russian delegation, Anatoly Kolesov, told Russian TV station, First Channel.
"One must not reconcile with the existing state of affairs."
But gymnastics is a subjective sport with human judges, USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said — judges get things right more often than not, but there will always be the chance of mistakes.
"There's a view that the judges have on the floor that you have to respect," Colarossi said. "You have to stand by the decisions that are made on the field of play. You absolutely have to. If you don't, the competition will never end and you open everything up to speculation."
See you in Beijing.