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.