No Kiss At All

The legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was once asked if he would go for a field goal if his team was down by three at the end of a game. He replied, “Hell no, a tie is like kissing your sister!”

Monday night’s Olympic uneven bars competition at Beijing’s National Indoor Stadium felt even less fulfilling than that.

China’s diminutive (and very possibly underage) gymnast, He Kexin was the first competitor. After some apparent minor deductions, He received a score of 16.725. Next up was Nastia Liukin of the United States, the 18 year old who had already captured the gold in the individual all-around. After a nearly flawless routine, Liukin was given the exact same score as He (16.725). But when Liukin’s score flashed up on the board, He had a 1 in front of her name and Liukin had a 2 (the tiebreaking procedure is programmed into the scoreboard computer). Though Liukin and He had the exact same score, He was awarded the gold medal because she received a lower average deduction (0.933) than Liukin (0.966). Liukin had to settle for silver.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics was the last time double or even triple medals were awarded in the event of a tie. But after 1996, the International Olympic Committee said judged sports needed a tiebreaking procedure, and Monday night it was used to decide two gold medals (in the men’s vault, Poland’s Blanik won gold over France’s Thomas Bouhail in a tiebreaker after both had an average of 16.537 for their two vaults).

Even the president of the international gymnastics federation (FIG), Bruno Grandi, admitted, “If you have the same score, you should get the same medal.”

Liukin now has four medals — gold in the individual all-around, two silvers and a bronze — and she will go for a fifth medal today on the balance beam, where she is the world champion.

Monday night’s uneven bars competition (and that somewhat tarnished silver medal) will be a constant reminder to Liukin (and the rest of the world who watched) that sometimes a tie doesn’t even measure up to a sister’s kiss. With the rules now in place in Olympic gymnastics, a tie is like no kiss at all.