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Year in Review: Shin A-Lam triumphs in protest, victory

Dec 30, 2012, 9:58 AM EDT

468194_ORIG Reuters

OlympicTalk’s writers recount some of their favorite moments from the 2012 London Games. 

One of the most triumphant series of events during the London Games began as one of the most controversial – and most awkward.

It started with South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam sitting on the fencing strip, sobbing uncontrollably after she lost a semifinal epee bout that would have advanced her to the gold-medal match.

Moments earlier Shin held priority – a tiebreak – over Germany’s Britta Heidermann when the clock was stopped at 0:01 in overtime. Neither woman had scored in extra session, but because Shin earned the final point during regulation, by rule she would win if the score remained when the clock ran out.

The match recommenced and both women scored simultaneous; offsetting touches. Play stopped but the clock remained at :01. The bout was restarted and again both women immediately scored simultaneous touches. The clock stayed at :01.

“We’re talking fractions of a second here – has the clock even started?” the TV announcer wondered aloud.

Play was started a third time, Heidermann landed a quick touch and the final second on the clock ran off.

Incredulous that the clock had not moved at all during the two previous actions, Shin’s coach immediately argued with the judges. After 25 minutes of deliberation, the judges awarded the bout to Heidermann.

That’s when the real drama began: Shin refused to leave the piste, the elevated platform where fencers fight, because, by rule, a fencer who leaves the piste accepts the judges’ ruling on a bout.

So Shin stayed. And stayed.

For nearly 70 minutes Shin sat alone on the piste, sobbing, the uncomfortable drama all the more intense for its surroundings: All that was illuminated in the darkened ExCel arena was the piste itself – luminously brilliant in white, red and green – and Shin, still in her crisp white jacket.

Eventually the judges denied a formal appeal from her coach, and Shin was forced to leave. After losing the bronze-medal match, Shin was offered a consolation medal from fencing’s governing body.

She didn’t think much of the offer.

“It does not make me feel better because it’s not an Olympic medal,” she told the Guardian. “I don’t accept the result because I believe it was a mistake.”

Robbed, as she saw it, of an individual medal and disdainful of a sympathy medal, Shin refused to leave London empty handed.

She didn’t. Five days later she and her South Korean teammates stormed to a silver medal triumph in the women’s team epee competition.

“I am really happy now,” she told the Associated Press. “My teammates and people back in [South] Korea gave me wonderful support this week.”

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