Shin A-lam (second from right) and her South Korean teammates earned silver in team épée.
These Olympics started in horrible fashion for South Korean fencer Shin A-lam, who bizarrely lost an épée semifinal over a timing controversy, had to stay on the piste for an hour to protest, lost the following bronze-medal match and turned down the special consolation medal she was offered.
Shin's Olympics ended in fantastic style, though, as she was crucial in South Korea's run to the silver medal in team épée Saturday, winning seven of her nine matches overall (an appropriately dominant number). It may have taken an extra five days, but Shin finally has her medal.
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Of course, this came after it became more and more clear that Shin really deserved to advance to the final in the individual event. Fencing's governing body, the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime, announced Friday that the problem came from the timekeeper incorrectly starting the clock too quickly at one point, causing a reset that bumped it back too far:
During extra-time there were a total of four double hits, and the bout continued until the clock showed 00:01. At this stage there were two more double attacks, at the end of which the clock still showed 00:01," the FIE's statement said.
"Unfortunately during the pause in the fight, the clock was re-started in error which took the time down to 00:00," it said.
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Bizarrely, that timekeeper was apparently a 15-year-old Games volunteer. It's rather unbelievable that an Olympic medal could be lost because of a teenage volunteer and a bad timing system, but that's apparently what happened. At least Shin's medal-winning performance in the team épée means that she won't be leaving with only bad memories of these Games.
It was an amazing, unexpected medal for South Korea, too. The South Koreans were ranked 10th heading into the team épée and faced top-seeded Romania in the quarterfinals, but knocked them off 45-38 and then beat the fifth-seeded Americans (who would claim bronze) 45-36 in the semifinals. Shin was crucial to both victories, winning all six of her matches in those two contests.
This was just the latest fencing triumph for South Korea, which had never claimed more than three medals in fencing events in a single Olympics, but picked up their sixth of these Games thanks to the efforts of Shin and her team. They would have had a seventh if Shin's individual event hadn't run into the timing controversy, but this is still remarkable, and it's a great ending to what was looking like a very sad story. However, fencing really does need to get its house in order before the next Games so that what initially happened in Shin's match is never repeated.
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