By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) - Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger. The Olympic motto made things so simple.
It was straightforward for the Ancients. A race? You run as fast as you can. You win, you lose.
But somewhere, in the last two-and-a-half thousand years, things became skewed and the rules of the Games became bent.
What was once an Olympic contest centered on purity of endeavor has become something far more complex where the line between rules and morals is increasingly blurred. That can be chalked down to one thing.
From sprinters and swimmers who fail to give their all in heats - to preserve energy - to baseball players bunting, to cyclists slowing down to help their team mates along, nobody can assume these days that any given athlete is always giving their all.
The latest example to rock the modern Olympics hit on Friday after teenage cyclist Philip Hindes appeared to admit he deliberately crashed in cycling's team sprint event to ensure Britain were handed a restart because they set off badly.
The British team of Hindes, Jason Kenny and the esteemed Chris Hoy, knighted by the British queen for services to sport, went on to clinch gold in front of a frenzied home crowd but Hindes' apparent confession has sullied the achievement.
"We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart," Hindes was quoted as saying by British newspapers. "I just crashed. I did it on purpose to get a restart ... it was all planned really."
DEGREE AND JUDGMENT
British Cycling were quick to say his comments were "lost in translation", adding the German-born rider only started to learn English in October 2010, while the International Cycling Union (UCI) confirmed the result was not in question.
The International Olympic Committee was also swift to staunch the issue.
"At present there are no plans (to investigate)," spokesman Mark Adams said. "People were not deprived of the contest. The UCI are aware of the situation. They do not see any reason to question the result and neither do we.
"It is a matter of degree and judgment," he said when asked to compare this case with the badminton fiasco where eight women players were thrown out of the Games for playing to lose.
"The race took place, best efforts were made in that competition by the British team."
The UCI's response to the growing furor was in stark contrast to that of badminton's world governing body which showed no clemency to the women, from China, Indonesia and South Korea, who had thrown group stage matches in order to secure preferable knockout clashes.
Ultimately, all the badminton players were guilty of was misjudging the wider impact of their decision to use short-term tactics for long-time gains. They could also argue that track athletes and swimmers race only as fast as they need to qualify in the early rounds.
China's badminton men's singles champion Lin Dan agreed that their actions were not in the spirit of the Games but said it was the system that was at fault.
"Why would the tournament rules people have (a format) like this?" he asked. "If they just had a knockout round it would all be fine. You lose and that's it."
Interpretation of the rules are also at the heart of the cycling issue.
"The team sprint regulations should be changed. We need more clarity," the silver medalist French team's technical director Isabelle Gautheron told Reuters.
"But the best team won, they beat the world record twice, they deserved their victory. They played with the rules. When you crash in the team sprint, it's considered as a false start."
While gracious in defeat, Gautheron suggested there should be a way to find out whether a crash was deliberate or not.
"I have no problem with that rule, it's just that they should find a way to see if a rider crashes on purpose or not," she said.
"For the sake of the sport, maybe one false start should trigger an elimination. Usain Bolt, after all, was eliminated at the world championships for a false start."
Touchingly, Australian cyclist Kaarle McCulloch, who was watching at the velodrome, chose to think the best of Team GB.
"I assume and hope that every athlete has good sportsmanship and I don't think that the Great British team would have done something like that on purpose," she told a news conference.
"I can't imagine that Philip (Hindes) would have done that on purpose, it was obviously maybe a slip of the wheel, the track is quite slippery with the tyres that we run."
McCulloch is very much in the minority among Olympic spectators who have become desensitized to this issue.
"No one gives you anything for finishing at the top of your group," U.S. women's soccer player Abby Wambach was quoted as saying in the New York Times, summing up the temptation of manipulating your place in a group in order to play a weaker team in the knockout.
It appears fair play, sportsmanship and Corinthian values may have been left in another age.
(Writing by Ossian Shine, editing by Peter Millership)