- "A Bad Law is Still Law" Controversy on Ruling for Shin A Lam, "Is There Nothing We Can Do?"
- By London | Lee Jeong-ho
On July 30 at the ExCel South Arena in London, the semifinals of the individual women's epee were held. A rather unknown Shin A Lam, who received the 11th seed in this competition, consecutively defeated athletes ranking 5th and 3rd in the world to reach the semifinals.
She fought against Britta Heidemann (Germany), the gold-medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but was robbed of a medal because of a mistaken ruling just at the doorway to the finals.
Shin and Heidemann cautiously exchanged the tips of their blades and were closely tied at 5-5. Unable to determine a winner during the regulation time, they went into overtime. In overtime, the game ends in sudden death when a player scores the first fente (lunge) within the given minute.
Shin A Lam of the national fencing team at the 2012 London Olympics drops onto the piste shedding tears at losing the match to a doubtful ruling, after a close match that went to sudden death with Britta Heidemann (Germany) at the women's epee semifinals at London's ExCel South Arena. London | The Olympic Photo Group
Both players struggled exchanging simultaneous scoring chances eight times. Shin, who blocked off her opponent's attacks until a second remained in the game, would have entered the finals if the game ended in a tie, for she had priority from a random draw before the game.
But for some reason the last second of time did not go.
In a situation where Heidemann cornered Shin with her attacks, that second seemed like an hour. Shin defended her opponent's attacks with counterattacks twice, yet there was still a second remaining. What's more, when she blocked a third attack, they put a second back on the clock (when the clock had already ran out of time) due to a malfunction in timing.
Ultimately, Shin was not able to block Heidemann's last fente, which she executed on her fourth opportunity to attack. Shin, who lost her chance at a gold medal, broke into tears and did not leave the piste for over an hour in protest to the judge's ruling.
AFP introduced this scene as "Shin's Tears of Anguish" indicating this as one of the major judging rows in the Olympics.
■ Why Did the Clock Stop at 1 Second?
Plainly, it is hard to understand how 3~4 attacks could have been possible in a second. Even if we take into consideration the points of a second that were not displayed on the board and say that there was close to two seconds left, it is difficult to say how one could execute a fente more than twice in fencing, which accompanies steps.
Shim Jae-seong, the coach of Korea's national fencing team, who guided Shin, fiercely complained, "Once or twice I can understand. But it's not like there were 10 seconds left. The fact that 3~4 attacks continued is problematic. I can only be suspicious that the timekeeper intentionally or unintentionally did not push the button."
The ruling is especially difficult to accept since according to fencing regulations even when the judge calls a halt for an invalid attack within a second, they do not turn back the clock to a second.
In addition, when Shin and Heidemann both exchanged valid attacks for the third time, the judges turned the clock which had already displayed 0 seconds remaining back to 1 second, fueling the controversy. The judges explained that time had lapsed after the movements had ended.
Even Heidemann's final attack is not free from judging controversy. Heidemann executed a fente after brushing Shin's blade once, but it is the common view of the fencing circle that it is impossible to execute such an attack in a second.
One official of the Fencing Association expressed his anger saying, "Anyone can see that the fourth attack took more than a second to execute."
Oh Gyeong-seok, the fencing commentator for KBS, who was broadcasting the game on site, pointed out problems in the judge's ruling saying, "A second on television consists of 30 frames, but the last movement alone filled 47 frames."
Shin A Lam sits on the piste where she competed after losing the match to a doubtful judgment. London | The Olympic Photo Group
■ Why Wasn't the Judgment Overruled?
Not only did the athletes in the Korean fencing team who were watching the game in the arena, but reporters from around the world, fans, and even the Federation International d'Escrime (FIE) officials recognized there were problems to the ruling. However, Shin was not given another chance.
According to formal procedures, FIE accepted Korea's appeals of strong protest after the game, but they did not show any will to free itself of the ruling controversy. The Korean bench delivered a firm appeal through the Technical Director, which consists of 6 people, but they added to the confusion, not being able to make a decision for over 30 minutes.
Since the judgment was not corrected right away, people expected it to be difficult to overrule the ruling. And as expected, the answer we received was an explanation that, "We cannot overrule the ruling because it is the judge's sole right to decide when the game is over by referring to the arena clock."
Immediately, Park Yong-sung, Chairman of the Korea Sports Council, visited the arena and submitted a written appeal to the Technical Director. In the process, Korea asked them to review the video to see if Heidemann's final attack was made in a second, but this was not accepted.
In international fencing competitions, an appeal is only possible through the Technical Director. This is the managing committee or judging committee that supervises the ruling of the judges during the competition.
However, some are arguing that the absence of any corrective measures for the clearly mistaken ruling on this day was another display of a strongly European fencing world's hostility towards outsiders.
Coach Shim lowered his head for not being able to defend his athlete's 4 years of hard work as he left the stadium saying, "The technical directors came up to me and said they understood our frustration, but followed up with words stating they could not overrule the judge's ruling. Right now, we have no other ways to appeal and since Shin will have to play in the match for the bronze medal, we can only step back."
■ A Bad Law is Law, Isn't It?
For the time being, the Korean athletes have no further plans to appeal. This issue coming across as a mistaken judgment by a judge from a particular country as in the case of Park Tae-hwan in swimming or stirring bigger controversy as a biased judgment is not what we want, and in a situation where the athletes still have competitions to take part in, we are cautious in leaving sparks of controversy.
Also, since there have been no similar cases in international competitions like the Olympics, this incident could lead to discussions, but chances of overruling the judgment is fairly low.
Chairman Park Yong-sung stated, "A bad law is still law.
In this case, we have already heard that they cannot overrule the judge's decision according to the rules, so we must accept the situation. We are not above the law." He further expressed his regrets saying, "I am sincerely sorry to the athletes and to our people, but we have no choice but to accept the ruling."