SHIN A-lam, the South Korean fencer who refused to leave the field of play after a timing problem shattered her Olympic dream, was just a split second away from either gold or silver.
Fencing’s governing body issued an official statement on Friday explaining the sequence of events, including a timekeeper’s too-quick finger that resulted in a full second being added to the clock during the sudden-death minute of the epee semi-final.
The row erupted when two double-touches were recorded with a second to go and A-lam thought she had triumphed over Germany’s Britta Heidemann, having been given what is called priority.
The priority holder wins if the score remains tied when the time runs down. However, a single second was put back on the clock after some discussion and Heidemann used the extra time to launch a blistering attack and win the semi-final.
A-lam was reduced to a sobbing mess, sitting on the piste in the spotlight for an hour while her coaches protested. Heidemann eventually took silver. A-lam was left in fourth.
Such fractions of seconds are vital in a sport that moves so fast. If each fencer hits the other during a 40 millisecond window in regular time, both score a point – a double-touch.
Bouts go to a maximum of 15 touches, before the different sudden-death rules come into play where a single touch wins it all. It is believed the tip of a fencing blade is second fastest only to a marksman’s bullet.
In their statement, the FIE said they hoped future equipment – which is already able to measure milliseconds – would show the milliseconds for everyone to see.
The explanation, still short of an official apology, will not make up for A-lam’s lost chance for Olympic gold. It is unclear if A-lam will accept a consolation medal for sportsmanship offered by the FIE. — Reuters