Sunday, August 12, 2012

Geek'd: a measure of olympic success

Four days into the London 2012 Olympic Games, something incredible unfolded on the fencing floor.

For one entire hour, South Korea's Shin A. Lam sat on the fencing stage in protest of a controversial decision made by the referee that saw her lose her chance to make the gold medal round on a time-keeping error in the Women's Individual Epee.

She refused to leave. Leaving would mean that she had accepted the decision by the referee. And so she sat there - while the South Korean delegation appealed and appealed again - her emotions laid bare as she sobbed in front of a crowd of 8,000 - and the world.

They weren't tears of defeat though. They were tears of disappointment, of heartbreak and of utter dismay at the unfairness of it all.

It is a feeling anyone can relate to, and did.

Three hits in one second. The very idea leaves questions in one's mind. But it was those three hits and one second that possibly lost her a chance at gold.

An hour of deliberation passed. The appeal was rejected. As the International Fencing Federation (FIE) would later explain: "'It is for the referee to decide how much time remains. The referee confirmed the last hit. Neither the DT (the technical director) nor the refereeing delegations can change a question of fact. The DT decides to reject the protest."

Lam was then led off the stage by an official, still sobbing. But her sobs were now drowned out by the roar of an appreciative crowd as they rose to their feet out of respect.

In that hour, people came to appreciate her determination and her will to fight for what she believed in. Her stand demonstrated a courage above any expected to be seen at these Games. And though she went on to lose the bronze medal match, her heart and body stretched thin by the drama, she did manage to create a memory of a fighting spirit, and a reminder of the passion and pride that comes with the drive to compete for gold at an Olympic Games.

FIE later admitted the time-keeping error, personally apologizing to Lam for what transpired on the piste that day, but was unable to overturn the results. They attempted to "honour" her with a "special medal" for 'aspiration to win and respect for the rules'.

Shin A Lam refused to accept the medal. Said Lam: "It does not make me feel better because it's not an Olympic medal."

This was perhaps one of the most meaningful stories for me at these Olympic Games. It may seem like such an unusual, even odd choice, but it encompassed a human spirit that I think could only have been matched by the Canadian National Women's Team.

We see stories of triumph and defeat all the time at these Olympics. But rarely do they come with such a visual display of emotion and heart that can shake a little known sport. 

And it is likely that her loss that day will spark a change in the sport. Even if it is as small as a clock that shows tenths of a second.

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