Power of spectators in sporting events

  • Alan Baldwin (Reuters), PTI, Athens
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 24, 2004 19:54 IST

Russian Olympic gymnast Alexei Nemov, swimmer Ian Thorpe and Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher have little in common other than their sporting prowess.

But mention 'People Power' and all three would know what you were talking about.

The Athens Olympics have witnessed extraordinary feats of sporting endeavour, gut-wrenching failure and more arguments than ever before.

They have also shown that a crowd, if united and angry enough by what it sees, can be a formidable force for change.

Nemov, winner of 12 Olympic medals, saw that for himself on Monday when his score brought the men's horizontal bars final to a standstill as the crowd hollered and jeered the judges for almost 10 minutes.

Finally, his score was reassessed -- although not improved sufficiently to get him a medal.

It was a rare example, although not unprecedented for Olympic gymnastics, of popular outcry changing the course of a competition while it was still underway.

You would never expect a soccer referee to change a penalty decision or a tennis umpire to reverse a contested line call because of the crowd's reaction.

But Olympic gymnastics is a subjective sport and has been through this before -- notably at the 1968 Games when Czech defending all-round champion Vera Caslavska was awarded a low score on the beam.

The Mexico City crowd howled and jeered for 10 minutes before Caslavska's score was raised and she won another gold.

There have been other striking examples in Athens -- where errors by officials have made headlines in swimming, fencing and gymnastics and protests have multiplied -- of people power flexing its muscles.

In the pool, spectators booed and whistled when US swimmer Aaron Peirsol was disqualified for an illegal turn. He was reinstated on appeal. Some present were convinced that the crowd's response had been a major factor in the decision.


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