Injuries Force P. Hamm To Quit
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Paul Hamm, the country's most decorated men's gymnast, resigned from the Beijing-bound U.S. Olympic team yesterday, acknowledging that he couldn't recover from injuries old and new in time to help the squad.
Hamm, the 2004 Olympic all-around gold medalist, underwent surgery on May 27 after breaking a bone in his right hand at the national championships. Two weeks ago, he strained his left rotator cuff during a U.S. training session at Colorado Springs.
Hamm said he hadn't been able to do a single full routine since May and, over the weekend, confronted the fact that his body was "beat up" and his readiness for Beijing was "laughable."
Hamm, 25, had hoped to return to the sport's elite ranks after taking a nearly two-year hiatus from competition following his triumph at the Athens Games, where he became the first U.S. man to win all-around Olympic gold.
But his timetable proved too ambitious.
"I was pushing my body to the max leading up to the training camp [two weeks ago]," said Hamm, who didn't publicly disclose the rotator-cuff injury until yesterday. "While I was there, I was somehow able to perform. Unfortunately the week after camp has been a disaster."
Hamm called his resignation the most difficult decision of his life. But he said he concluded it was best to withdraw now so his replacement could be named before the U.S. squad leaves for China tomorrow.
Within hours, Raj Bhavsar of Houston, an alternate on the 2004 Olympic team, was added to the team.
"It has been a long journey," said Bhavsar, 27. "And it's unfortunate that a berth on this Olympic team came at the expense of an incredible athlete in Paul Hamm."
Hamm's withdrawal represents a major blow to the U.S. men, who face formidable competition for the coveted team gold from China, Japan and Russia.
In the team competition, each nation fields three athletes on each of the six men's events. Hamm was the most versatile member of the U.S. squad. Bhavsar's strengths are the pommel horse, rings, vault and parallel bars.
Hamm also was considered most likely to win an individual medal -- deemed a contender for a medal in the all-around and the horizontal bar, his signature event.
Whether his surgically repaired hand could have carried him to the medal podium had he not also injured his rotator cuff is unclear. But gymnastics fans were eager to see Hamm face off with China's Yang Wei for the all-around title in Beijing.
Hamm edged Yang for the honor at the 2003 world championships; Yang was favored to exact his revenge this summer. Hamm's withdrawal only heightens expectations for Yang to win gold.
Hamm said he had considered scaling back his ambitions at the 2008 Games, competing only in events that didn't tax his shoulder and hand excessively. But after continuing to lose ground in training, he decided that resigning was the proper course.
The 2003 world champion and 2004 Olympic champion, Hamm hardly needed more medals to confirm his contribution to men's gymnastics. But his dream of competing in Beijing was a personal quest on several levels -- to regain world-caliber form after an extended layoff, to defend his 2004 all-around title and, ideally, to win an all-around gold that was controversy-free.
Hamm produced a gutsy comeback to win the 2004 all-around title after a stumble on his vault appeared to knock him from contention. But the achievement was overshadowed by a controversy that erupted when officials confirmed that an error had been made in computing the score of bronze medalist Yang Tae-Young of Korea. Hamm found himself snared in an international dispute -- called on to surrender his gold medal by some, and urged to display proudly by others.
"Right now, it's a difficult moment for me," said Hamm, who will now retire from the sport as he had planned following Beijing. "But the truth of the matter is, I've had a wonderful career. The success that I've had in the sport has been more than I ever dreamed of, and I'm more than happy with the way things have turned out."