It will be a while until the world finds out if Paul Hamm is the
same, gold-medal gymnast last seen during his strange odyssey at
the Athens Olympics.
If he's still that guy, or even if he's lost a bit, his return
should certainly help the struggling U.S. men's gymnastics team.
Hamm and his brother, Morgan, declared their return to
competitive gymnastics Tuesday, buoying a team that fell from
second place in Athens to an unseemly 13th-place finish at last
year's world championships.
"We know for a fact if we're in good shape, we can help the
team," Hamm said Wednesday. "Not just help the team improve from
13th place, but hopefully help the U.S. contend for a medal."
The Hamms are training six days a week at Ohio State as they
work themselves back into competitive shape. They plan to
participate in a limited number of events in 2007 while they finish
school, including the U.S. championships in August in San Jose,
Morgan will get his degree in exercise science in March and
plans to go to chiropractic school after the Olympics. Paul will
graduate with an accounting degree in June and plans to go to
They should begin a full competitive schedule in 2008 that will
culminate with the Olympics in Beijing.
"A very positive thing," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny
called the decision. "These guys know what it takes to win, and
I'm confident that they would only be doing this if they felt like
it was going to be positive for them and positive for USA
Paul Hamm won the gold medal in the all-around in Athens in
2004. Soon after the event, however, the International Gymnastics
Federation acknowledged a scoring error had been made on South
Korean Yang Tae-young's second-to-last event, and he wound up with
The Koreans protested. When FIG president Bruno Grandi suggested
Hamm share the medal as acknowledgment of a mistake, Hamm was
forced to defend his gold well after the Games were over, all the
way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
CAS eventually declared Hamm the rightful gold medalist, and
Grandi told the AP in October that he considered the American the
true Olympic champion.
The episode soured Hamm on gymnastics for a while, and his
relationship with USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee
became strained. All parties have worked out their differences in
time for the brothers to try to become three-time Olympians.
"That would be nice to end our career in this sport with a
different note," Paul Hamm said. "One without controversy,
hopefully, and a relatively high amount of success. We would love
to be able to go to another Olympics and have people remember us
for another great performance."
The Hamm incident and other scoring problems in Athens brought
about changes in the gymnastics scoring code. The Hamms, 24, sat
out and analyzed the new system before making their decision.
"A love of the sport is a big part of it," Morgan Hamm said of
their return. "We love gymnastics. We want to see what we can
accomplish. To see if we can make the Olympic team again and win
medals in Beijing.
"Our No. 1 goal is to help team get back into medal
The 13th-place finish at the most recent world championships put
USA Gymnastics in a delicate situation. It was obvious they needed
the Hamms to be competitive and have any chance of duplicating the
team silver won in Athens.
"We are somewhat of a package deal," Paul Hamm said. "We've
trained together our whole lives and we want to train together. It
makes us stronger, and it's going to make the U.S. team that much
The United States must finish in the top 12 to qualify for the
Olympics. Another 13th-place finish and the United States would
send only a few individuals to the Games, and the Hamms could be
left at home.
Though the Hamms aren't expected to compete at worlds, Penny
said he expects the team to finish in the top 12.
"We look at last year's world championships as a bad day in the
office," Penny said. "I have all the confidence in the world that
the men's program is committed to keeping the bar set high and
going after it as hard as they can."