Korea faced its third highly controversial ruling in the 2012 London Olympics on Monday, just four days after the global sporting event opened. It started with Park Tae-hwan's dubious disqualification in preliminary heats in the men's 400-m freestyle on Friday. The decision was subsequently overturned on appeal from the Korean delegation but still meant an anxious wait for the swimmer. Park ended up winning silver, unable to defend his Olympic title.
Then in the men's -66 kg judo on Saturday the referee and two judges on the mat declared Cho Jun-ho the winner in the quarterfinals but were soon summoned by Juan Carlos Barcos, the chief director of referees, and Cho was pushed down to repechage on reviewing the video.
And on Monday, fencer Shin A-lam failed to advance to the final in the women's individual epee semifinal due to a timekeeping glitch.
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) admitted that it was unable to handle the timekeeping correctly in the women's epee semifinal between Shin and Germany's Britta Heidemann, and that cost Shin an Olympic medal.
A senior official in the Korean delegation said, "The FIE admitted the mechanical limitations of the clock and the poor job done by the timekeeper."
The FIE on Tuesday decided to give a "special award" to Shin after negotiating with the Korean Olympic Committee. KOC chairman Park Yong-sung told reporters in London that the FIE suggested awarding Shin for her sportsmanship and the KOC accepted it.
Park also met with FIE president Alisher Usmanov and solicited an official apology from the fencing body.
Shin had been given priority in a random draw prior to the game, so if the match would end in a draw after extra time, Shin would be the one advancing to the final. When the game was tied at 5 with just one second remaining, it seemed that Shin was likely to advance to the final over defending Olympic champion Heidemann.
But then things took a strange turn and the clock seemed to have stopped, so that three plays ensued in a span of just one second. Even when Heidemann's final attack was sustained and the game was over, the clock still indicated that there was one second remaining.
Shin refused to accept the decision, and when the Korean team appealed, Shin had to remain on the piste in tears, as leaving would mean she had accepted it. After about an hour's deliberation, the decision was upheld. Shin, who had to play for bronze medal just a few minutes after she was escorted off the piste by FIE officials, was not in form, and lost to China's Sun Yujie 11-15.
The Korean team believes the situation resulted from poor management by the referee and timekeeper. Kim Chang-gon, an FIE referee, said, "I checked after the game that it was a 15-year-old British volunteer girl who was doing the timekeeping." In fencing, the timekeeper stops and starts the clock when the referee makes the "allez (go)" and "halt (stop)" sign. When there is a hit, the clock is stopped automatically by an electronic device.
An experienced timekeeper would press the button at the same time as referee's hand sign, but inexperienced timekeepers sometimes press the button too early or too late.
Austrian referee Barbara Csar turned the clock back to one second when it lapsed to zero after the end of the second out of three plays that took place with one second remaining. It remains unclear why.
Kim said, "It's possible that the referee did it because she thought the timekeeper had pressed the button before she started the second play."
The Korean delegation protested, and when that was not accepted, they submitted an official written appeal. But after an hour of deliberation, the FIE gave the same response, saying that there is nothing it could do because the rules dictates that the referee decides the time by looking at the clock on the screen.
News agency AFP chose this controversial call as one of the five most controversial referring calls in the recent history of the Olympics. Had the decision been made correctly, according to AFP, Shin would have gone to the final fighting for gold. ESPN described her as the crowd's champion. There was a standing ovation from the crowd when Shin left the arena with her dream of an Olympic medal in tatters.