LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Paul Hamm (search) can keep his Olympic gold medal. Sports' highest court rejected a South Korean appeal Thursday, ruling that Hamm is the rightful champion in the men's all-around gymnastics competition at the Athens Games.
The decision by a three-judge panel from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (search) ends a saga that began more than two months ago when South Korea's Yang Tae-young (search) claimed a scoring error cost him the title.
Yang asked the court to order international gymnastics officials to change the results and adjust the medal rankings to give him the gold and make Hamm settle for silver. But the CAS panel dismissed the appeal, leaving Hamm with the gold and Yang with his bronze. There are no more appeals available to Yang.
Hamm won the gold Aug. 18, rallying from 12th place with only two events left to become the first American man to win gymnastics' biggest prize.
But two days later, gymnastics officials discovered that Yang had been wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his second-to-last routine, the parallel bars. Yang ended up with the bronze, 0.049 points behind Hamm. Add that extra 0.100, though, and Yang would have finished on top, 0.051 points ahead of the American.
That, however, assumes everything in the final rotation played out the same way — a very big if.
The International Gymnastics Federation (search) acknowledged the error and suspended three judges. But it said repeatedly it would not change the results because the South Koreans didn't protest until after the meet.
The South Koreans appealed to the U.S. Olympic Committee (search) and the International Olympic Committee (search), but IOC president Jacques Rogge flatly refused to even consider the idea of giving Yang a gold medal.
Then FIG president Bruno Grandi confused the issue, writing a letter to Hamm and asking him to surrender the gold medal voluntarily. In the letter, Grandi wrote, "The true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae-young."
Buoyed by that statement, Yang filed an appeal on the final day of the games with CAS.
On Sept. 27, six weeks after the men's all-around, a three-judge panel heard Yang's appeal at CAS's headquarters. During the hearing, USOC attorney Jeff Benz argued there was no guarantee Yang would have won the gold if not for the scoring error. There was still one event left, and there's no way to guarantee everything would have turned out the same.
Benz also argued that "field of play" decisions — judgment calls by officials during competitions — were not subject to review by CAS.
The tug-of-war over the medal has overshadowed Hamm's performance, one of the greatest comebacks in gymnastics history.
The defending world champion appeared to lose a chance at any medal, let alone the gold, when he botched the landing of his vault and stumbled backward, plopping down on a judges' table. His score of 9.137 dropped him to 12th place with only two events left.
But one by one, the gymnasts above him faltered. And Hamm was spectacular, closing with a pair of 9.837s on the parallel bars and high bar to win the gold.
"I feel like I had to win my medal in three ways, really," Hamm said last month in an interview with The Associated Press. "Obviously, in competition. Then with the media. Then in court. It really feels like I've been battling this whole time."