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MASON: Giving Ohno gold was a bad call

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Steve Mason

 
   
 
Apolo Anton Ohno got the Olympic gold medal for his performance in the 1,500-meter short track Wednesday night, but he didn't win it. Ohno was nestled behind Korean Kim Dong-sung on the final lap when the Seattle whiz-kid attempted to make his move. The soul-patched wonder tried to take the South Korean on the inside, then threw his arms up in the air as if to say, "Hey, I'm Apolo Anton Ohno! I'm supposed to win!" Kim crossed the finish line first with Ohno just behind him. The partisan crowd at the Salt Lake Ice Center booed with the energy and enthusiasm of the ugliest of ugly Americans. Kim was taking a victory lap with his country's flag by the time Australian ref James Hewish made the pro-Ohno call. Kim Dong-sung, the 22-year-old co-favorite, was disqualified for "cross-tracking." I checked my handy pocket-sized International Skating Union rulebook, and Rule 292 says that overtaking is allowed at all times, but the burden for any obstruction or collision shall be on the skater who's doing the overtaking as long as the skater who's being overtaken doesn't do anything improper. In my estimation, the only thing improper that Kim did was disappointing the Americans that filled the arena. It is a little suspicious that Kim was left out in the cold in the 1,500, given that Ahn Hyun-soo from Korea was the guy who started the 1,000-meter wipeout on Saturday that left Ohno crawling across the finish line for silver. The South Korean delegation wasn't thrilled with the DQ last night. "In short-track speed skating, the ruling of the referee is final," Pierre Eymann, ISU Sports coordinator for short-track speed skating, told me. "The South Koreans wrote a formal protest and handed it to the referee, but it was handed right back." This is another case of the caring, sensitive International Skating Union hard at work for the best interest of its athletes. At least one other skater in the finals thinks that the ref made the wrong call. Italy's Fabio Carta told the assembled media, "We should take care of Ohno with a rifle. It's absurd that the Korean was disqualified." Even the ACLU might agree that mentioning firearms in that context at these Olympic Games is a lot like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre. But, his anger is real, and he's not alone. Overnight, the United States Olympic Committee received over 16,000 e-mails about Ohno, mostly from South Korea. The threatening e-mails have been turned over to the FBI for investigation. The anti-Ohno landslide was enough to overload the USOC server and shut it down for nine hours. Curious about just how angry Koreans are, I wandered over to the Korean Broadcast System (KBS) compound at the International Broadcast Center. KBS anchor Young Ho-oh was happy to vent. "Disqualification is not the right decision," Young said. "It's not just my personal decision. We've been hearing from so many people. They didn't even touch each other." Mr. Young seems to be the voice of 48 million disgruntled Koreans back home. "They are not happy at all. So many people are mad at the U.S. This is just a game, but these Olympics are not fair," he complained to me. "That's the problem. You guys have all the medals. So what? Big deal! If you guys have the most medals, what does that mean? Everybody's going to forget about it. But the people that sent e-mails to the USOC are never going to forget this." He's not the first to notice how medal-driven we are as a country. Every athlete here has a story. For many, the highlight of their career was marching into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the opening ceremony. My friend Jim Rome likes to say, "Scoreboard!" but it's really not appropriate at the Olympic Games. These athletes have dedicated themselves, trained and sacrificed while preparing for their few moments of glory, and medal or not, they all win. All but Kim Dong-sung. He finished first, then had his victory snatched away by a hometown call. "We see so many people who are so nice and doing so well, but you guys pay too much attention to the medal race. This is amateur. Just for the friendships, that's why people participate at the Olympics," Young told me, echoing the kinds of statements made by American hero Jim Shea yesterday. "We only have the two gold medals and you guys (USA) have so many. Be nice and act like a big country. Be like big brothers. Be nice. "You guys lose so much honor." If the skate was on the other foot here, the ref would not have made this call, as the Korean broadcaster points out: "If Ohno was in Kim's spot, would the judge have still called for a disqualification? I don't think so." Better yet, how about the identical situation, Ohno trying to pass Kim, at a track in Seoul. The ref wouldn't have dared to make an anti-Korean call. The boos in the arena had to be partly fueled by fans mistakenly believing that Kim Dong-sung is from one of President Bush's "Axis of Evil" nations. To be precise, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are on the Prez's hit list. Kim is from the Republic of Korea, which is South Korea, which is a U.S. ally. At least they were an ally until Kim got rooked by the cabal of Ohno, Hewish, the ISU, and the angry American mob. It's very fitting that Ohno and Kim will skate head-to-head in the 500-meter short track Saturday night. This is a weird sport that I'm only beginning to understand, but is it too much to ask for a clean, controversy-free race?

I'll be there for you

Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, Elena Berezhnaya, and Anton Sikharulidze shared the gold medal platform earlier this week, but they could be spending a lot more time together. The pairs controversy here in Salt Lake has apparently vaulted this "Fantastic Four" into skating superstardom. The latest rumor about their skating futures is that instead of skating with the established ice shows, Sale and Pelletier have invited the Russian duo to co-headline a touring ice show called "Friends." The tour will purportedly begin March 12 in Edmonton. Pelletier talked about feeling like a criminal as he skulked around venues at the peak of the controversy. Apparently there is an upside to crooked judges, uncomfortable press conferences and scathing exposes on the sport. The Canadians and the Russians are so big now that Michelle Kwan might have to skate on their undercard. Steve Mason regularly anchors Fox Sports Saturday Night and We Are There Sunday on Fox Sports Radio Network. He is broadcasting the Salt Lake Games for Westwood One Radio Network. Steve previously anchored the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. His new television interview show, The Steve Mason Show, will premiere on PBS September.

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