For weeks, Paul Hamm's Olympic gold medal sat in a drawer at his boyhood home, carefully tucked inside a sock so it wouldn't be scratched or damaged. There was, after all, a chance he'd have to give it to someone else.
Now, two months after it was first draped around his neck, the gold medal is his -- finally and forever.
Sports' highest court rejected an appeal from a South Korean gymnast on Thursday, ruling that Hamm is the rightful champion in the men's all-around competition at the Athens Games. The verdict is final and cannot be appealed.
"It feels like it's mine now. If I were to damage it in any way, it wouldn't be going to anyone else. If I ruin it, it's mine to ruin," Hamm said. "Now I'll be able to put it in a safe place and leave it there."
And leave this whole mess behind him.
"There's been a lot of fighting for this medal. I feel like I've won it three times," he said. "I think it'll mean that much more, that I'll be able to keep it for the rest of my life."
The decision by a three-judge panel from the Court of Arbitration for Sport ends a tussle that began more than two months ago, when South Korea's Yang Tae-young claimed a scoring error had cost him victory. Yang asked the court to order international gymnastics officials to change the results and adjust the medal rankings accordingly, giving him the gold and Hamm the silver.
But the CAS panel dismissed the appeal, leaving Hamm with gold and Yang with bronze. Kim Dae-eun of South Korea will keep the silver.
CAS arbitrators said the Korean protest was submitted too late and that CAS was not in a position to correct results, anyway.
"The solution for error, either way, lies within the framework of the sport's own rules" and does not allow for a judge or arbitrator to step in later, the panel said. "An error identified
with the benefit of hindsight, whether admitted or not, cannot be a ground for reversing a result of a competition."
Hamm said he had been optimistic after the Sept. 27 CAS hearing in Lausanne, Switzerland, and he slept soundly Wednesday night.
He awoke at 6:15 a.m. Thursday to find a message from his agent, Sheryl Shade.
"It just said, `The medal ranking is going to stay,"' said Hamm, who immediately called his girlfriend with the news.
"This is obviously a great day for me," he said. "The decision from CAS confirms what I've always felt in my heart, which is that I was champion that night and the Olympic gold medalist. I competed my heart out. I'll put this behind me and move on."
That's what Yang wants, too.
"I hoped for a good decision, but I also didn't rule out a decision not in favor of me," he said in Seoul. "I don't want to think about it anymore."
The International Olympic Committee welcomed the decision,
noting "its position has always been to say that the gold medal
was awarded according to the FIG's results to Paul Hamm."
Few could have imagined such a debacle when Hamm stood atop the
podium in Athens on Aug. 18, the first American man to win
gymnastics' biggest prize. The defending world champion made one of
the most spectacular comebacks in the sport's history, rallying
from 12th place with just two events to go and winning the gold
medal with a dazzling high bar routine that brought the audience to
But two days later, the International Gymnastics Federation
announced Yang had been wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his
second-to-last routine, the parallel bars.
Yang finished third, 0.049 points behind Hamm. The extra 0.100
would have put Yang on top, 0.051 points ahead of the American,
assuming everything in the final rotation played out the same way --
a big if.
The federation suspended three judges but said repeatedly it
would not change the results because the South Koreans didn't
protest until after the meet. That didn't stop the chaos, though.
"I am really upset at the way FIG handled this whole
situation," Hamm said. "It would have been nice if it had ended
that very day."
The South Koreans approached both the U.S. Olympic Committee and
the IOC in hopes of getting Yang a gold medal. It brought back
memories of the figure skating scandal at the Salt Lake City Games
in 2002, when Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were given
duplicate gold medals after a French judge said she had been
"pressured" to put a Russian couple ahead of them.
There were no signs of impropriety in this case, and IOC
president Jacques Rogge flatly refused to even consider a second
Then FIG president Bruno Grandi wrote Hamm a letter and asked
him to surrender the gold medal voluntarily. "The true winner of
the all-around competition is Yang Tae-young," Grandi wrote.
Buoyed by that statement, Yang filed an appeal with CAS on the
final day of the games.
"That was probably the toughest time for me," Hamm said of
getting Grandi's letter.
After staying largely silent the first few days of the
controversy, the USOC rallied to Hamm's defense, criticizing FIG
and sending general counsel Jeff Benz to Lausanne to defend Hamm at
the appeal hearing. It also paid Hamm's legal expenses.
"We are exceptionally pleased with the decision," said Jim
Scherr, the USOC's chief executive. "We're very pleased for Paul
that he's recognized and there's no longer any question of his
status as the Olympic gold medalist."
The decision also frees some endorsement opportunities that were
put on hold, including a chance to be on the Wheaties box.
Hamm still wants an apology from FIG, which was faulted by CAS
for three different ways it mishandled the episode, and he has
complained in writing that USA Gymnastics could have been more
"We're happy to sit down at any time," USA Gymnastics
president Bob Colarossi said. "Whatever issues are out there,
let's put them on the table and work through them. We're going to
continue to work together."
For now, though, Hamm just wants to head back to his hometown of
Waukesha, Wis., to savor the gold medal.
"This is probably the most sought-after medal of the
Olympics," he said, holding it up. "Of all time, maybe."