Political differences across the globe have always been a precursor for poor refereeing, and judging during the Olympics. During the cold war days, and even since, eastern bloc countries were not very generous when scoring western athletes and vice versa. Olympic judging controversies go back as far as the start of the games.

I am sure that during an event in 776 BC, Cronus, the titan god of time and the ages, felt as though Zeus may have been awarded a round or two he did not deserve during their fight. Seriously and more recently, the worst, but not the only proof of this came during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich Germany.

With a dark cloud already hanging over the games because of the terrorist attacks that killed 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and a West German police officer, the USA Men’s basketball team was robbed of their eighth consecutive gold medal. Through  a series of bad calls, and shall we say biased officiating, both on and off the court, the U.S team had its international winning streak of 63 games abruptly halted in the Gold medal game versus the Soviet Union.

72 Dream Team?

Coached by Henry Iba of Oklahoma State, the United States went into the gold medal game against the Soviet Union 8-0 and won their games by an average margin of almost 38-points. However, the USSR was not afraid of the Americans and took a 7-0 lead to start, and led 26-21 at the half.

After a very hotly contested first and second half, and with 12:18 to play in the game,  Dwight Jones, the USA’s top scorer and rebounder, as well Soviet reserve Dvorni Edeshko, were ejected from the game after a loose ball scuffle. On the ensuing jump ball, the United States’ Jim Brewer suffered a concussion after being knocked to the floor. No foul was called.

Then, with the Soviets ahead 49-48 and just 10 seconds remaining, Maryland standout Tom McMillan blocked Aleksander Belov’s shot and Doug Collins intercepted his pass as he attempted to pass it back out to center court.

Collins was awarded two free throws with three seconds remaining when he was undercut and fouled as he attempted a layup following the Belov turnover. Collins sank both free throws to put the USA ahead 50-49 with just three seconds left. During the middle of Collins second shot, the scorer’s table sounded the horn and began what can only be described as mass confusion, as all hell began to break loose.

Immediately following Collins’ free throws, the Soviets inbounded the ball and failed to score, but one official had whistled play to stop with one second remaining after hearing the earlier horn and seeing a disturbance near the scorer’s table. The Soviets argued that they had requested a timeout before Collins’ foul shots. The referees ordered the clock reset to three seconds and the game’s final seconds replayed. However, the clock was in the process of being reset when the referees put the ball in play. A length of the court Soviet pass missed its mark, the horn sounded and the U.S. again began celebrating.

R. William Jones, Secretary General of FIBA, and one of the figures considered the founding father of international basketball, stepped in and ordered the clock again reset to 0:03 and the game replayed from that point for a second time.

This time, the Soviet’s Aleksander Belov and the USA’s Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes went up for the pass, Belov caught the long pass from Ivan Edeshko at the foul line sending the two Americans sprawling, Belov then drove to the basket for the layup and the winning points. Post-game, the U.S. filed a protest and FIBA officials met to discuss the protest. The U.S. protest was denied and the Soviets were awarded the gold medals. The U.S. team voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals and to this day remain in a vault in Switzerland.


This was not the first time fans in the United States were subjected to this kind of poor officiating on the international stage. Boxer Roy Jones Jr. entered the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul South Korea as with an amateur record of 121-13. At the 1988 Games, he represented the United States in the light middleweight division, and won every round in dominant fashion to reach the finals.

There, Jones would face South Korean Park Si-Hun, who was a good boxer but he was he was no Roy Jones Jr. As he did throughout his professional career, Jones was artistic and thorough, and according to the ringside boxing numbers, Jones Jr. outpunched Si-Hun 86-32 during the bout. None of it mattered because Si-Pak was awarded a 3-2 decision and the Gold medal.

Outrage and an outcry came from all walks of the Olympic and international boxing world, especially in the United States, who demanded an investigation into the decision immediately. The IOC found that three of the judges were wined and dined by Korean officials, but allowed the decision to stand.

The decision was so bad that Park reportedly congratulated Jones after the bout and admitted that the decision was wrong and he was embarrassed by it. Despite winning the Silver Medal, Jones was awarded the Val Barker Trophy as Games’ most outstanding and stylistic boxer.

Perhaps the most complicated controversy occurred during the 2004 Olympics in Athens when American gymnast Paul Hamm won Gold during the all-around event. However, almost immediately following the event, Hamm’s gold called into question due to a scoring issue.

Before the controversy, it is important to know what happened prior. Hamm, The defending world champion made one of the most spectacular comebacks in the sport’s history, rallying from 12th place with just two events to go and winning the gold medal with a dazzling high bar routine that brought the audience to its feet.

Hamm became the first ever-American man to win gymnastics’ biggest prize. But two days later, no, that is not a misprint, two days later, the International Gymnastics Federation announced Yang had been wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his second-to-last routine, the parallel bars.

Yang finished third, 0.049 points behind Hamm. The extra 0.100 would have put Yang on top, 0.051 points ahead of the American, assuming everything in the final rotation played out the same way. That is one very big if.

The federation suspended three judges but said repeatedly it would not change the results because the South Koreans did not protest until after the meet.

The suspension only provided fuel for the fire, as the South Koreans approached both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the IOC in hopes of getting Yang a gold medal. They believed that because the judges were suspended they might be able to persuade the IOC to do as they did when during the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were given duplicate gold medals after a French judge said she had been “pressured” to put a Russian couple ahead of them.

However, and because there were was no evidence in this case, and this was an error, IOC president Jacques Rogge refused to even consider a second gold medal. What happened next took a lot of kahunas. International Gymnastics Federation president Bruno Grandi wrote Hamm a letter and asked him to surrender the gold medal voluntarily.

“The true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae-young,” Grandi wrote. Seemingly feeling as if he had momentum on his side because of the letter, Yang filed an appeal on the final day of the games.

The process dragged on and in many circles, especially in the endorsement world Hamm was not able to reap the benefits that Olympic champions are awarded. No Wheaties Boxes, no commercials, but finally on September 27, 2004, Hamm and the USOC appeared before the Sports highest court in Lausanne, Switzerland during a hearing that lasted eleven and one-half hours.

Nearly one month later, on October 21, 2004, a three-judge panel announced that the results from the Olympics would remain and that Paul Hamm would get to keep the gold medal. The verdict was final and could not be appealed.

Politics has always been an unwelcomed influential partner of the Olympic Games. This partnership has led to some of the biggest controversies in sports history and you can believe that with flags from 205 nations flying high above London, somewhere during the next 17-days, politics and poor judging will again rear its ugly during the Olympic Games.






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