“Clock Error” Spat Spoils Women’s Individual Epee Semifinals

Korean Shin A Lam fenced Chinese Sun Yu Jie for the bronze in women’s individual epee today, and this match turned out to be quite similar to the match described in my earlier post. Shin looked about five inches shorter, and Sun is left-handed, presenting the same challenges to the fencers. When fencing with epee target area is probably less of a concern as the entire body is a valid target (Shin got Sun in the foot twice). The sad thing about this match is that Shin had to be a little unhinged because of the fuss and furor over her earlier match with German Britta Heidemann when, after fencing three minutes to a draw, and another minute to a draw, they fenced for a “sudden death” one second. Heidemann made a touch, but it appeared to land later than one second. The Koreans protested, and a heartbroken Shin A Lam had to sit alone on the fencing strip for an hour as part of the protest.

The issue under contention is summarized in this online article. One of the video replays is on YouTube  and is attracting even more angry protests. [The YouTube video referenced has been removed as of August 4, 2012, 9:00pm. All the remaining “Shin A Lam” YouTube videos do not properly show the events of concern. The only location that still has reliable footage at this time is the NBC Olympics video. The final 0ne-minute face off begins at 43:40 minutes into the video. We can hope that NBC does not take down their videos of the games.]

The issue is over faulty timing devices, aka clock error, and looking at the videos at YouTube one would think the touch happened at 1:17 seconds. Why it took an hour to decide the touch was within one second probably reflects inconsistencies between the several timing devices being used.

However, there are other issues as well. First, a sudden-death standoff limited to one second is a silly rule for a contest in which the fencers spend more time dancing than thrusting. It’s much too short a time to decide anything; the increment should be another minute. This seems obvious when evidently one second is too short an interval to be timed accurately.

Next, the German fencer should have been reprimanded for failing to keep her distance. The ref kept telling her each time the women began another set-to “distance, distance” and Britta stepped back, but not in this one-second faceoff. It is clear in all the videos of this segment that Britta stepped away, then stepped right back to where she had been, and the ref didn’t call her on it. So, in effect, Britta had already begun her lunge when the command to start was given.

It’s unfortunate the people running this show could not have better timekeeping, and more quickly resolved the issue, perhaps by admitting their several clocks showed different times and calling for a do-over, especially because of the wrenching impact it all had on the Korean fencer, who was clearly too unsettled to be at her best for her next match.

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One Response to “Clock Error” Spat Spoils Women’s Individual Epee Semifinals

  1. James Lande says:

    After several revisions over the past two days, the Wikipedia article on Shin A Lam finally clarifies the sequence of events and the referee’s decision.

    “…The situation arose when the match was tied 5-5 in overtime (sudden death). With one second remaining on the clock, Heidemann made three attacks, the first two double-touches were unsuccessful. The third attack was successful but deemed not to have been a scored point. However the clock, which had failed to start immediately, then showed zero. With all time expired and the scores were level after sudden death, the match would have been a tie. Shin would have advanced to the final under the rules because she had priority, as she had made it through the one-minute sudden-death round without conceding a point. However the referee called for the clock to be reset to one second. With the time returned, Heidemann scored the winning point with a single attack. [2]”

    The “two double-touches…” and “…The third attack…deemed not to have been a scored point,” happened at the end of the one-minute face-off. The Wiki entry makes it clear that another one-second face-off was called for by the referee. It was the touch made then that was seen as having landed after one second.

    Volumes of inaccurate and distorted reportage have followed in only two days, evidently made by people who came by their information second-hand and did not watch the match, with doctored video which cut away enough to completely distort the events. We have been told that the First Casualty of War is the press, but here we can see that accurate and meaningful reportage (that later generations come to rely upon) is even more likely to be the first casualty of any incident reported on the Internet (especially when it goes viral). Sorting through it all needs extraordinary care.

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