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IOC denies appeals in controversies
These are moments frozen in time, controversies from the past that linger today, raising questions of fairness and the nature of the Olympic spirit.
Three times, the International Olympic Committee's executive board has been asked to rewrite the past for the benefitsome say justiceof American athletes. Three times it has declined.
Roy Jones, perhaps the best boxer of his generation, is stuck with silver awarded him in Seoul in 1988.Swimmer Rick DeMont, a 16-year-old stripped of a gold medal at the Munich Games in 1972 in for taking a medicine he needed to breathe, is still empty handed.
And the 1972 U.S. basketball team is still considered runner-up to the Soviet Union. Winners at first, then losers.
"Sometimes," IOC Director General Francois Carrard said in a recent interview, a piece of the Games turns out to be "tragic or dramatic. But it's a part of history too."
A review of the IOC executive board's confidential minutes obtained by The Times offers insight into the intricacies of Olympic politics in each caseeven as they highlight the human capacity for error and arrogance as well as humility and heartbreak.
Even today, years later, the cases raise questions about institutional integrity, the sanctity of principle and the responsibility of Olympic officials to make things right.
The Olympics survive because, as acclaimed U.S. film director Jon Turtletaub said Sunday during the opening of the IOC's 113th general assembly, the Games represent "the world as we wish it could be."
"Clocks don't lie," Turtletaub said. "Tape measures don't cheat.... During the Olympics your value is based purely on your ability. And, usually, the best prevails."
What happens, though, when reality clashes with the Olympic ideal?
ROY JONES Seoul 1988
Three days before he fought South Korea's Park Si Hun in the light-middleweight championship, Jones had this to say: "I know how tough it is to get a decision [here] against a South Korean, but it doesn't matter. If they cheat me, that's OK. I'll know I really won it."In the ring, Jones dominated Park. A company charting the fight for NBC had Jones landing 86 punches to Park's 32. Park was awarded a 3-2 decision.
"Veteran ring observers of all nationalities, reporters, referees and fans agreed that it was the worst decision they had ever seen," Olympic historian David Wallechinsky writes in the most recent version of his authoritative book on the Summer Olympics.
Park reportedly apologized to Jones, telling him through an interpreter, according to Wallechinsky, "I am sorry. I lost the fight. I feel very bad."
There were allegations of bribes. Allegations of payback for pro-U.S. decisions at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Several journalists quoted judge Hiouad Larbi of Morocco saying, "The American won easily. So easily, in fact, that I was positive my four fellow judges would score the fight for the American by a wide margin. So I voted for the Korean to make the score only 4-1 for the American and not embarrass the host country."
Wallechinsky writes that judges from Uruguay and Uganda did the same thing.
The matter rested until the spring of 1996, when files surfaced from the Stasi, the former East German secret police, purporting murky paymentsorigin unknownto boxing officials at the Seoul Games.
Later that year, the U.S. Olympic Committee asked the IOC to award Jones an additional gold medalit did not ask the IOC to take Park's. Anita DeFrantz, the senior American in the IOC and a member of the executive board, also requested an investigation.
Then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch agreed, according to the minutes, adding, "What had happened in Seoul was very clear." Samaranch went on to say the IOC "had had problems with boxing in the past," and that after the Seoul Olympics, he had spoken with officials from the international boxing federation, and told them the sport was "in danger of being dropped from the Olympic program" unless steps were taken "to avoid a repeat of such [judging] scandals."
The IOC set up a task force that reported back in November 1996, and longtime IOC member Keba Mbaye of the west African nation of Senegal, who once served as a judge on the World Court in The Hague, announced the initial results:
"Everyone agreed that the final decision of the bout had been unfair to Roy Jones, as it was obvious that he ought to have won."
The judges had been given money by their Korean hosts, Mbaye said. "There was also no doubt that money had been distributed to the tune of $300 per person for 16 days, to compensate, it was claimed, for the fact that the judges got out late after the competitions and were therefore unable to go to restaurants easily," he also said.
To understand what a rich per diem that was, NBA players today14 years laterget $93 a day when on the road.Samaranch asked for a further investigation and asked Carrard to find Larbi, the judge who allegedly told reporters he had voted for Park to appease the host nation.
Carrard reported back that while the judge spoke openly about the per diem given African boxing officials, he denied telling reporters that he believed Jones won and said the comments falsely attributed to him had been a "humiliating blow to his career."Jones, according to Larbi, had struck two "irregular" blows with the flat of his hand, and this "had been a factor in Mr. Larbi's decision to award the fight to the Korean," Carrard said.
Faced with the conflicting information, DeFrantz offered this compromise: Because Jones "had been a good ambassador for sport," perhaps the IOC would "consider giving him something in appreciation of the fact that he had complied with the investigators and never complained about the situation."
Samaranch recommended him for the Olympic Order, the IOC's highest honor. Only four other Americans have been so honoredtrack and field great Jesse Owens, four-time discus gold medalist Al Oerter, DeFrantz herself, and tennis legend Arthur Ashe.
In September, 1997, DeFrantz presented Jones with the order.
"I appreciate the efforts of everyone to fight and fight and fight for this, because they thought I deserved some kind of justice," Jones said. He said his mother keeps the silver medal in a safe.
"It's a symbol," he said. "It reminds me of the person that I am. It's a symbol of strength."
However, he added that he would "die with a little hope in me" that the gold medal would some day, somehow be his.
RICK DeMONT Munich 1972
DeMont had taken allergy medicines since he was a young boy. When he qualified that summer for the U.S. team, he filled out a standard medical form listing the medications he was taking.
Apparently, the U.S. team physicians never bothered before the Games to look at the form.
The night before his 400-meter freestyle race, DeMont woke up wheezing and took a tablet of a drug called Marax, unaware it contained the stimulant ephedrine, which is banned by the IOC. He took another tablet the morning of the race.
That night, the 16-year-old from the Bay Area raced and won by a hundredth of a second over Australia's Bradford Cooper.
Two days later, DeMont, the world-record holder in the 1,500 meters, easily swam a qualifying heat in that race. The next day, he was told he had flunked doping control and would not be able to swim in the 1,500 final.
"A distraught DeMont watched from the stands," Wallechinsky writes.
The IOC medical commission had reported to the executive board that DeMont "needed this drug, not for his sporting performance but to keep alive."
The commission had asked U.S. officials why they had not declared DeMont was being given the drug because "they knew it was on the prohibited list." The minutes say, "They were unable to give a satisfactory reply."
The commission "had to be consistent in its work and declare the swimmer excluded," meaning from the 1,500-meter final, the minutes show. The "complicated" question was what to do about the 400-meter race.
The medical commission "recommended that [DeMont] keep the gold medal but be excluded from further participation," which seemed "reasonable on humanitarian grounds."
But the executive board reversed course: "Some level of consistency had to be kept."
Cooper was given the gold. The silver was awarded to U.S. swimmer Steven Genter, who finished third. There would be no bronze.
After the decision was announced, press and public opposition was fierce. The U.S. delegation appealed. But Avery Brundage, an American who was in his final days as IOC president, agreed that "while the board sympathized, there were several similar cases, and the IOC was bound by its rules," according to the minutes.
Testifying during a congressional inquiry three years later, Douglas Roby, a U.S. IOC member, said he believed DeMont would have had his gold if the team doctor had simply "assumed responsibility for the oversight."
In recent years, DeMont has mounted several bids for redress.
In March 1996, he argued that his case was like that of an Australian swimmer, Samantha Riley, who had tested positive for a painkiller a couple months before but had not been banned. The executive board turned him down.
That same year, DeMont sued the USOC. As part of a settlement reached in the case, the USOC acknowledged last year that DeMont had disclosed his medical condition and use of Marax to its doctors, but the information had not been relayed "to the proper authorities."
DeMont, now an assistant swim coach at the University of Arizona, had pressed the suit against the USOC because his name continued to be linked to athletes found to have used performance-enhancing drugs.Last February, the IOC considered DeMont's case again, albeit briefly. An internal legal advisory panel reviewed the matter but declined to take action.Last April, the USOC honored DeMont, presenting him at a meeting in San Jose with a black leather jacket given to all U.S. Olympians. Inside, the jacket was inscribed with DeMont's name, his events and the words, "Munich 1972." "It means a lot to get the support of the USOC," DeMont said. "I'm hoping this might be a steppingstone toward getting something similar from the IOCif I can stay alive long enough."
U.S. BASKETBALL Munich 1972
The United States had never lost a basketball game in Olympic play until the gold-medal game of the 1972 Olympics.
The records show that the Soviet Union prevailed, 51-50. But there are countless numbers of people who believe the United States did not lose that game.
It remains one of the great controversies in international sports.
With three seconds to play, Doug Collins of Illinois State was fouled by the USSR's Sako Sakandelidze.
Collinsnow coach of the Washington Wizardsmade two free throws to give the U.S. its first lead, 50-49.
The Soviets inbounded the ball. Two seconds later, the referee, a Brazilian, noted a disturbance at the scorer's table and called a timeout.
The Soviet coach, Vladimir Kondrashkin, claimed he had called for a timeout after Collins' first shot.
With one second to go, the Soviets were awarded a timeout. When play resumed, they inbounded. Time ran out. The Americans began celebrating.
But the secretary-general of the International Amateur Basketball Assn., Britain's R. William Jones, then intervenedeven though he technically had no right to make any decisions.
He ordered the clock set back to three seconds.
The Soviets inbounded again. Ivan Edeshko threw a long pass to Sasha Belov, who caught it, pushed past two Americans and scored. Now the Soviets celebrated wildly.
The basketball protest was heard by a five-man international basketball federation jury of appeal.
The intermediate stepgoing first to the international federation, instead of the IOCwas critical: Though the Olympic Games are the IOC's, the sports at the Games are run by the federations, and the IOC has long been reluctant to interfere with what it typically views as any sort of "internal" federation decision on what is called "technical" groundsin essence, the rules of the game.
The five-man jury ruled against the U.S., 3-2. Delegates from Italy and Puerto Rico voted to disallow the Soviet basket, which would have given the U.S. the 50-49 victory.
Critics saw something sinister in the outcome: This was during the Cold War, and the three votes against the U.S. were cast by representatives from Hungary, Poland and Cuba.The executive board, meeting hours after the jury of appeal issued its decision, declined the U.S. appeal.
The U.S. basketball team boycotted the medal ceremony.
To this day, the team has refused to accept the silver medals.In March 1996, the executive board was asked to take a fresh look. It opted to "study" the issueboard-speak for tabling the matter.
"The question is for the institution," Carrard said in a recent interview. "Do we rewrite history?"
"I think there are two things," he said. "The actual record of what happened is part of history. Someone won or someone lost.... This being said, if it is recognized ... that something wrong took place, one must look for a form of recognition of the situation."