ATHENS, Greece – Gymnastics officials asked Paul Hamm (search) to give up his gold medal as the ultimate show of sportsmanship, but the U.S. Olympic Committee (search) told them to take responsibility for their own mistakes.
In a dispute over scores that has turned into a political squabble, the head of the International Gymnastics Federation (search) suggested in a letter to Hamm that giving the all-around gold medal to South Korea's Yang Tae-young (search) "would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world."
FIG president Bruno Grandi tried to send the letter Thursday night to Hamm through the USOC, but the USOC refused to deliver it.
In a letter back to Grandi, USOC secretary general Jim Scherr called the request "a blatant and inappropriate attempt on the part of (FIG) to once again shift responsibility for its own mistakes and instead pressure Mr. Hamm into resolving what has become an embarrassing situation for your federation."
"The USOC finds this request to be improper, outrageous and so far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable that it refuses to transmit the letter to Mr. Hamm," the letter continued.
Yang, the bronze medalist, was wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his parallel bars routine. If he had received the proper score, he would have won gold and Hamm would have won silver. Three judges were suspended, and FIG said the results would stand.
[A review of Yang's routine later showed that he violated a rule, and that the judges should have subtracted .20 points from his score -- bringing into question whether he even deserved to win the bronze.]
Hamm flew back to the United States earlier this week. Through his agent, he declined comment, but he has said in the past that he has no intentions of giving up his medal unless ordered to do so by FIG. Grandi said Friday he believed the issue was closed until he learned of that comment by Hamm.
Although Grandi's letter says, "The true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae-young," the FIG president insisted he's not pressuring Hamm.
"There is no doubt he has won the medal," Grandi said. "He deserves the medal and the ranking is clear. ... I respect totally Paul Hamm and all the decisions he makes. If he says give back the medal, I respect it. Don't give back the medal, I respect the decision. He is not responsible for anything."
The USOC had a much different interpretation of the letter.
"I don't know of any comparison in any sport anywhere where you crown an athlete, crown a team and then say, `Oh, that was a mistake. Would you fix this for us?"' USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said.
Ueberroth said the USOC considers the case closed, based on the FIG ruling that the scores cannot be changed. He also cited a statement from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who said the IOC would stick with the results turned in by the federation and wouldn't step in unless there were clear signs of impropriety.
"We are not going to give medals for so-called humanitarian or emotional reasons," Rogge said.
Grandi, however, did appeal to the emotional side in his letter. Above the "Dear Paul" greeting on the letter, printed in bold, black letters, all capitalized was the word "FAIRPLAY."
"The FIG and the IOC would highly appreciate the magnitude of this gesture," the letter said.
Earlier in the week, the USOC said it was willing to consider supporting the South Koreans' bid for a second gold medal. Scherr said that was no longer possible because of FIG's latest request. He said he regretted not coming out in support of Hamm as soon as the controversy began.
"I think we were at fault for not more strongly, more directly, showing our support for Paul," Scherr said. "I wish we would have done that more strongly and earlier."