By DAVID NIELSEN
Scripps Howard News Service
June 09, 2005
Ten months ago Hamm became the first American man to win the all-around Olympics gymnastics gold, edging South Korean Yang Tae Young. But his celebration was short-lived when the revelation of a judge's scoring error prompted several observers, including the head of the international gymnastics federation, to ask Hamm to return the gold, while others floated the prospect of awarding a second gold medal to Young.
Called to testify before the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, Hamm expressed his dissatisfaction with how the U.S. Olympic Committee backed him during several tumultuous days in Athens.
"I believe that if the USOC had stepped in to vigorously support me from the beginning of the controversy much of the succeeding pain, expense, damage and embarrassment to sport could have been avoided," said Hamm, speaking calmly, but pointedly.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said that Hamm "had to fend for himself for hours and days on end" and vowed that this should "never (happen) again to an American Olympic athlete."
USOC CEO Jim Scherr acknowledged that his organization was too slow to support Hamm, saying they held back publicly for several days as requested by representatives of USA Gymnastics.
"We were asked by them not to interfere because (Hamm) was still in competition," Scherr said. "They assured us they were communicating our support to him.
"We now know that wasn't effective. In hindsight we would have done it differently."
Ultimately, the USOC mounted a vigorous defense for Hamm, denouncing any efforts to take away his medal, and spending $400,000 in legal fees to win an appeal filed by the Koreans with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
When asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, what the USOC would do if another American Olympian were ensnared in a similar debacle, Scherr insisted they would intervene directly.
"We have changed our procedures and adopted a new policy," he said. "We will not rely on the national governing body for communication with an athlete.
"We know we made an error. We feel we have adequately addressed it."
Subcommittee chairman John Hostettler, R-Ind., said the hearing sent an important message to the USOC.
"I think they understand today as they have over the last few years that they are under a microscope," he said. "The American people want to see a seamless and fair Olympic process. We want to see our athletes rightly judged by the international community and rightly defended by the U.S. Olympic Committee or the NGBs, the governing bodies. We heard that today. I think they understand that the Congress is watching, the American people are watching. While we would rather not interfere, if Mr. Hamm's situation repeats itself with another athlete, then we would probably be compelled to do so."
After the hearing, Hamm also expressed some satisfaction.
"I think we made some progress and hopefully some good things will come of it," he said.
Also testifying Thursday were Mark Henderson, chair of the Athletes Advisory Council to the USOC and Thomas Burke, the vice chair of the Pan American Sports Council. Burke represents non-Olympic sports like karate whose funding has been threatened.
Scherr said the USOC will continue to recognize these sports, but acknowledged that funding could be tightened as the USOC is opting to prioritize its resource allocation to Olympic sports.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor