LONDON (Reuters) - Losing at the Olympics hurts. But suffering an injustice, real or imagined, is agony.
The 2012 Games have been peppered with debatable refereeing, a technical glitch in fencing, post-race relegation and - this one a first - the controversial expulsion of eight badminton players judged to have broken the spirit, but not the rules, of their sport.
Throw in an embarrassing mix-up over national flags and a fair measure of crowd-power, and London has provided its share of memorable moments where passion has spilled into protest and petulance, frustration and fury.
Early frontrunners for drama gold include South Korea’s Shin A-lam, who sat on the fencing piste, weeping, for an hour in protest at her elimination from the epee semi-final.
She is up against the North Korean women’s soccer team, who refused to take the field in the city of Glasgow for a match against Colombia because a giant video screen mistakenly showed the flag of their country’s sworn enemy South Korea.
While Iranian boxer Ali Mazaheri stormed out of the ring after being disqualified, home cyclist Victoria Pendleton simply held her head in disbelief after being disqualified in an event where she could have won gold, then fought back tears in an interview.
“Many athletes have worked with their support teams on possible outcomes,” said Andrew Lane, professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton in England, “but these unusual decisions you just can’t cater for.”
For all the theatrics, London still has some way to go to match previous Olympics.
In Seoul in 1988, South Korean boxer Jung-Il Byun refused to leave the ring for 67 minutes after losing a fight and was left in darkness after organizers decided to switch off the lights.
The all-time Olympic tantrum champion, however, may well be the Cuban taekwondo fighter Angel Valodia Matos, who, after disqualification for taking too much time out with an injury at Beijing 2008, kicked out at the referee’s face.
He was banned from the sport for life.
Some of the more emotional scenes in London have been grounded in reasonable grievances.
Shin, the fencer from South Korea, thought she had triumphed over Germany’s Britta Heidemann, only to see a single second put back on the clock during which she was hit, and eliminated.
To walk off the piste would have been to accept the decision and her long, lonely wait, during which she was at times calm and at others in tears, was for the outcome of an appeal.
Yet photographs of a distraught athlete, slumped and spot-lit against the dark backdrop of the venue, were among the most striking of the first week of the Games.
Two days before the opening ceremony, an angry North Korean women’s soccer team stormed off the pitch after the flag faux-pas and remained in their changing room, delaying kick-off by more than an hour.
“Bad Korea move” was the Sun tabloid’s tongue-in-cheek headline, though the fault in confusing two countries that are technically at war was clearly that of the organizers.
Boxer Mazaheri’s protest was shorter but more explosive.
On learning that he had been disqualified for persistent holding against Cuban Jose Larduet Gomez, the heavyweight left the ring before the referee held his opponent’s hand aloft.
“It was a fix,” the Iranian growled. “It was a set-up.”
The International Amateur Boxing Association defended the disqualification, although other London boxing results have been vociferously disputed, and a Turkmen referee was thrown out of the Games for bad refereeing.
Also in boxing, Angola’s team chief Antonio Monteiro railed against his country’s boxing coach for failing to get their only fighter, heavyweight Tumba Silva, to the weigh-in, meaning automatic disqualification.
“The athlete was inconsolable,” said Monteiro, “he cried like a child.”
Crowds have played a big part in London’s passion plays.
London’s ExCel Centre erupted in boos of derision when South Korea’s Cho Jun-ho was judged to have beaten Japan’s Masashi Ebinuma after a close judo encounter.
Startled judges referred their decision to a reviewing jury, which took the unprecedented step of overturning the result.
Perhaps fellow Olympians could learn from the ultimately defeated Cho.
Despite looking perplexed at the bizarre turn of events, he left the mat without dissent and refused to criticize referees.
“I thought I had won,” he said. “We both won bronze medals so I‘m very happy.”
The crowd also jeered and booed loudly at Wembley Arena during two women’s badminton matches when pairs from China, Indonesia and South Korea deliberately tried to lose to secure an easier draw in the subsequent knockout rounds.
The embarrassing scenes quickly attracted the attention of officials and media, and led to the expulsion of the eight players involved.
One of them, Yu Yang of China, pointed out to the sport’s administrators that she was playing within the rules and said she would quit the sport.
“You have heartlessly shattered our dreams,” she wrote on her Tencent microblog. “This is my last competition. Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Bases, Padraic Halpin and Michael Holden; Editing by Kevin Liffey