Going for gold (in controversy)

Korean squatters, dirty judges and racism -and this is not the plot to some new ITV drama called EDL Housing Court. It is, instead, the Games of the XXX Olympiad. What better way to spend our brief respite from academia -recovering from monstrous fact-cramming sessions and post-exam inebriation – than to stay glued to our screens with some light nationalistic fervour!

London 2012 has so far been sensational, with many outstanding GB triumphs over former territories and imperial rivals, but we don’t give enough attention to the part that really makes the games interesting – the controversy. Two Olympians were already disqualified for some racist tweets. With accusations of doping and lots of bad sportsmanship we are going to have a very eventful summer.

The Chinese swimming prodigy and double gold medallist Ye Shiwen destroyed all opposition and broke the world record in the women’s 400m individual medley.  Despite being small in frame and sixteen years old she beat her male counterpart in the men’s final. And despite passing every single drugs test, some seemed to take liberties to brand her a cheat. US coach John Leonard is one of those guilty of backhandedness. He described her performance as “impossible” and “unbelievable” – clearly trying to tarnish this amazing achievement.

Yet, why is it that when the US swimmers such as Phelps continue to break world records no-one bats an eyelid? Surely the US has had many more high-profile doping scandals? I think the policy of innocent until proven guilty has worked pretty well thus far, and many in the swimming community such as multiple gold medallist Ian Thorpe agree.

We can forgive the guy who made the erroneous copy and paste job on the South Korean flag. It’s not a very difficult assumption to make, considering the nation in question calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic and is coincidentally one of the most authoritarian and secretive states in the world; but that’s all the slander I’m willing to giving those guys. After all, the DPRK do produce many extraordinary athletes (and I don’t want to be abducted to direct Pulgasari II: Kim Jong-Un vs the Avengers). Their estranged brothers below the 38th parallel have historically caused slightly more controversy in the Olympics.

ROK fencer Shim A Lam delayed the final for the women’s individual epee event for more than an hour by staging a sit in at the ExCel arena. The reigning German gold-medallist Britta Heidemann beat her in the semi-final due to an oddly upward counting timer. Fencing seems to be a very emotional sport. After each point the fencers have overdone celebrations on par with those for not failing Prelims. She was well within her rights to appeal, but squatting on the runway is slightly overdoing it. Credit where it is due, we should respect Ms Shim for sticking to her guns, not accepting defeat and claiming the bronze medal. Her actions are reminiscent of the Korean boxer Byun Jung Il – no relation to the late Dear Leader – who staged a similar protest after losing a boxing final against Bulgarian boxer Aleksandar Hristov during the 1988 Olympic Games. On that occasion, the officials and the audience just left him in the boxing ring alone and in the dark.

Currently boxing is also under the spotlight after Japanese bantamweight boxer Satoshi Shimizu was robbed of victory by some criminal judging and refereeing. He was down 7 points going in the third round against the Azerbaijani favourite Magomed Abdulhamidov. In the third round Shimizu brought the fight to his opponent, unleashing a ferocious volley of punches to knock him down a total of six times.

The referee in question decided to continue letting the favourite contender play on without issuing warnings until the penultimate knockdown, and never initiated the countdown. Amateur Boxing rules at the Games dictate that if three warnings are obtained then the offender is disqualified. The judges then ruled that Abdulhamidov had won by a huge margin, as though they had been oblivious to the bruised, wobbling, unbalanced frame of the Azerbaijani. The decision was met with boos from the crowd. The Japanese decided to contest the ruling with AIBA, the amateur boxing governing body, and put forward the five hundred pounds required for an appeal. AIBA officially reversed the decision and are scrutinising the shady officials, thus allowing Satoshi Shimizu his chance to compete for the gold medal once more.

This reeks of the corruption seen in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, where Roy Jones Jnr almost killed every opponent with an impressive display of skill and strength. Jones had lost the final with the judges ruling 3-2 against him in favour of the Korean Park Si-Hun. It turned out that Korean officials had bribed the judges by wining and dining them. The decision was never reversed and the 3 judges were banned from the sport, leaving a nasty stain on the Seoul Olympics and Olympic boxing. This led them to change the scoring system since – but it is evident that this system can be corrupted too.

The new round robin format of the badminton unleashed on London 2012 has partially contributed to one of the greatest controversies in Olympic history. From the women’s badminton doubles it is evident that players can exploit the system to greatly to their advantage, possibly with some direction from their coach. Throwing a match can lead to a much easier draw in the elimination rounds. On the other side of controversy to Miss Ye, the top seeded PRC badminton duo tried to throw the match so that they would not meet their countrywomen on the court during until the final. This led to a huge chain reaction of teams also trying to evade the Chinese in the quarter-finals. In a disgusting display of bad sportswomanship, the Chinese pairing continued to serve faults and hit shuttlecocks wide.

The opposing team cottoned on to what was going on and followed suit. This meant both teams competed to be the worst – resulting in a farcical game with the longest rally lasting four strokes. In the end the PRC team was better at being substandard, leaving the Korean team as the sore winners. The following match also copied the same format as the first – devolving into an apraxic display of badminton. All four teams have since been disqualified from the event.  The audience definitely did not get their money’s worth of badminton. With tickets at an astronomical price and very hard to come by it is insulting to the public, particularly to those who spectated.

The gauntlet has now been set down, with the Koreans leading for gold followed closely by the Chinese in silver and the US team trailing with the bronze. It’s still a tight race at the front with all teams trying to lose, but I reckon there are still some cracking scandals to come. GB is at the back with the wooden spoon. It is a race that Britain can be proud of losing – there is no prize and there is not even a cake.

Enjoy the rest of the Olympic Games.

PHOTO/Nagarjun Kandukuru