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COLUMNISTS

Tue, August 24, 2004

Wavering judges Shew no respect


ATHENS -- First, he was paid the highest of tributes.

Then, he was paid the utmost disrespect.

In the end, Kyle Shewfelt got screwed.

He was jobbed by a panel of judges who've proven over the last week they're every bit as shady as those who tarnished the Salt Lake Games.

On a night when Spain's Gervasio Deferr won the gold medal in vault by performing "The Shewfelt," which was invented by, and named after, the Calgary gymnast, Canada's golden boy was denied his second medal in as many nights by a flagrant abuse of the code of points governing judges.

Simply put, the fix was in and Shewfelt was out.

"And this time," said Canadian gymnastics coach Tony Smith, "we've had enough."

After determining officials ignored two of the most basic rules in judging when scoring bronze medal-winner Marian Dragulescu, Gymnastics Canada president and CEO J.P. Caron penned a letter of protest that was thrown back into his face by International Gymnastics Federation's (FIG) technical director, Adrian Stoica. As it turns out, Stoica and Dragulescu both just happen to be from Romania.

"In Canada, we're always the nice guys and we play fair," said Smith, a certified FIG judge himself. "We want the judges to play fair as well. Because there's a medal involved, we're not going to stand back and let it happen."

Upon conclusion of what he hinted may very well be his competitive swan song, Shewfelt said little about the gross injustice. Instead, with his gold medal in his backpack and a smile on his face, the 22-year-old floor champ graciously accepted that judging was part of the sport and that he would be every bit as gracious as Dragulescu was one night earlier, when he lost gold by tiebreaker.

He spoke of turning on his nightlight every half-hour to gaze at his medal the night before. He spoke of celebrating his historic accomplishment with family and friends before deciding on his future. It wasn't until Shewfelt left the building the controversy surfaced.

Simply put, certain errors in a competitor's dismount warrant mandatory deductions. It's indisputable the mistakes Dragulescu made on his final dismount added up to at least 0.8 of a deduction, making his best possible score a 9.1 (given his start score was 9.9). Yet, somehow, the judges gave him a 9.325, good enough to bump Shewfelt from bronze to fourth.

"His second vault score is impossible by a reading of the rules," said Caron in his protest.

"We ask that you rectify this injustice to avoid continuing scandal over the judging at these Olympic games."

Of greater concern is the head judge's decision to ignore protocol that insists all four of the judges' scores that count are within two-tenths of a point of one another. In this case the spread was four-tenths. On these technical points, there is no room for interpretation -- scoring rules were violated as was Shewfelt's right to bronze.

"This is the worst case of fluctuating judging we've ever really seen," said Smith, who said Shewfelt was upset over the outcome but wants to distance himself from the protest.

"There were some judges who judged properly and there were some who, as we say, were 'playing the game.' It seems like it's who you know and how many palms you have to grease."

None of this is to mention the first mark Shewfelt received was curiously low.

As Canadian officials sought advice on how to have their protest heard, 12,000 furious fans at Olympic Indoor Hall staged a protest of their own after a score on a brilliant routine by a Russian was marked so low they stood and booed the judges until they actually bumped the score up during an eight-minute delay. Earlier in the week three judges were suspended and a protest from a South Korean gymnast was tabled.

"If we don't say anything nothing's ever going to get better," said Shewfelt's coach, Kelly Manjak. "Kyle was just upset going, 'geez, everyone's telling me I should have had a bronze medal.' "

Everyone is right -- he got the shaft.

It's a routine Canadians should be getting used to by now.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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