Shin A Lam of South Korea: The Saddest Story of the Olympics that American TV Neglected [UPDATE]
Recently, our own Bruce Jacobs wrote about how the coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games was just fine, and how nobody should be airing their grievances about it, which many have taken to the web to do. However, if you don't like tape delays, web streams that freeze or are blurry on many occasions, or have even one iota of interest in seeing nations other than the United States compete, you would disagree with Bruce's point of view. If you agree with Bruce, you probably don't care that you were not shown one of the saddest moments in Olympic history from an on-field perspective.
Monday, in the women's fencing epee semifinal match between Britta Heidemann of Germany and Shin A Lam of South Korea, Lam led with one second left on the clock. All she had to do was not be touched in that one second and she would be advancing to the gold medal match. Unfortunately for Shin, the clock never started after the referee signaled to restart the match, giving Heidemann more than one second to land the winning touch.
Incensed, the Korean team paid to file an appeal of the decision, while Shin had to sit on the playing surface, known as a piste, to indicate that she did not accept the decision of the judges. She was there for over a half hour, with much of that time spent in tears, before the appeal was denied.
Shin remained on the piste after the decision was made in protest, before then being removed by security. She was then sent into the bronze medal match shortly after and, understandably still distraught, was defeated by China's Yujie Sun. Shin should have been fencing for gold, but left empty handed.
Since the incident, it has come out that the timekeeper for the event was a 15 year old British volunteer. Really? This isn't fencing class at the Y, this is the Olympics. There was nobody in the entire world with any timekeeping experience that could have been called upon to take on such an important task? When I was 15, I wouldn't have had the attention span to do that job either. Whoever made the choice to put a child in charge of the clock for an Olympic event should be fired.
It has also been reported that Shin has been offered a "consolation medal" by the IOC for the myopia of the officials. Consolation medals aren't bronze, silver, or gold. They are glorified participation ribbons with a little greeting card attached that says "Whoops" on it. Shin justifiably turned it down.
This was a riveting story and one that would have been perfect for primetime television. However, it wasn't swimming, diving, gymnastics or beach volleyball and didn't directly involve an American, so NBC saw no reason to pay it much attention.
To an extent I can see their point in not covering Shin's case in prime time. We are in America and residents of this country want to see their countrymen compete. But instead of showing nauseating profile pieces about Missy Franklin and how much she loves Justin Bieber or an interview where Andrea Kremer asks a swimmer what their strategy was (obviously their strategy was to win, Andrea), couldn't NBC have donated five minutes to the biggest story of the Olympic Games to that point?
Maybe I'm stubborn for thinking that the Olympics should be treated as and covered like a sporting event. But as someone working for a sports radio station, who watches sports for the sports rather than the frills and the pageantry, I have been disgusted by NBC's coverage of these Games. Almost as disgusted as I am with whoever decided to let a 15 year old manage the clock in Olympic fencing.
UPDATE (8/4/2012 3:19 P.M.): Shin and the South Korean team won the silver medal in today's women's team epee final against China. A somewhat happy ending to the story.