Sharing the Gold

After years of sacrificing, athletes don't come to the Olympics to put self-interest aside; they come to be No. 1.

And yet American swimming sensation Michael Phelps showed admirable magnanimity last week when he decided to give up his spot in the men's relay to Ian Crocker - arch rival, but also teammate.

True, by swimming in the relay preliminaries, Mr. Phelps qualified for whatever medal his teammates would win. But by passing, he lost his piece of the relay's world record, and the thrill of another victory.

The Phelps spirit of sharing is needed elsewhere in the games. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has ruled that an unintentional judging error cost South Korean Yang Tae-Young the gold in the men's all-around gymnastic competition. Instead, that honor went to American Paul Hamm, who made a spectacular comeback after crashing into the judges' table from his vault.

The FIG, however, did not change the awards; it simply suspended three judges. The reason was because the South Koreans did not formally complain in a timely manner, as the rules require, although the South Koreans maintain they raised a question, and were told to wait.

Though the cases are not identical, there is precedent in the conundrum involving pairs skaters at the 2000 Utah Games. Then, after an intentional judging error, the International Olympic Committee awarded gold to both the Russian and Canadian skaters.

US Olympic officials have said they would consider sharing the gold with Mr. Yang. Given the closeness of the competition (Hamm won by just .012 points), and the confirmed error, that seems an appropriate outcome, and one that upholds the Olympic - and Phelps's - spirit of sportsmanship.

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