The former Soviet gymnast whose record for most career Olympic medals was broken by Michael Phelps wanted to give the American swimmer his record-setting 19th medal Tuesday night in London. Her request was rejected by the International Olympic Committee.
The New York Times reports:
[Larissa] Latynina had hoped to congratulate Phelps and present him with his record-setting medal. But her daughter and others said that Olympic rules did not allow it. It seemed a shame, a grand moment to celebrate the most prolific Olympic champions squandered by red tape.
You almost have to give the IOC credit for its inflexibility. Nothing, least of all common sense, is going to sway the organization from its rigid rules and bylaws.
When it comes to matters like this, the IOC either stays silent (as it undoubtedly will in this circumstance) or it issues statements that are as obstinate as you'd expect. But you can almost hear the internal conversations. Officials don't want to honor the Munich victims because they'd feel obligated to honor the Centennial Park bombing victim and the Georgian luger who died in 2010. Or then a great Olympian of the past dies in the weeks leading up to the Games and there are calls for a tribute.
[ Related: Phelps emerges as history's most decorated Olympian ]
Let Latynina give Phelps the medal (even if she thinks she is still the greatest) and Carl Lewis is going to ask to give Usain Bolt his gold for the 100. Then Bela Karolyi will barge into an IOC board meeting and demand his mustache bestow the Fab Five with their team medals. Rather than bring those potential firestorms into play, the IOC cuts everything off at the head. It's not an awful strategy if you think about it from a practical sense.
But there are exceptions to everything. Munich is the worst tragedy in Olympic history. Phelps just broke a 48-year-old record of a woman who was there watching. The IOC makes it difficult to break the rules, even when looking the other way would be so easy.
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