After four days of grueling competition, the United States now possesses two-thirds of a men's Olympic gymnastics team and seven prospects to fill the rest of it.
In a surprise move, during a 40-minute meeting immediately after Paul Hamm and Brett McClure secured the two automatic Olympic team berths awarded at Saturday night's U.S. men's Olympic trials, the men's selection committee for USA Gymnastics decided to double the team size by appointing a pair of athletes earlier than advertised.
With the fanfare generally reserved for beauty pageants or Oscar announcements, USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi took the microphone well after the competition and announced the change in plans to the fans remaining in the stands at Arrowhead Pond.
Colarossi then identified Hamm's identical twin, Morgan, who did not compete on two events Saturday because of shoulder problems, and Jason Gatson, who did not compete at the early June U.S. championships because of a back injury, as the bonus Olympians, calling them out to the floor.
The decision means the Hamms will attend their second straight Olympics together. At the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, they became the first set of twins to appear in the same Olympic gymnastics competition.
Another seven men were invited to a mid-July selection camp at the Karolyi ranch in Houston, where the final two team positions and two alternate slots will be awarded. Fairfax's Dan Gill, who finished 11th overall after a disappointing night, was not included on that list.
"I'm relieved it's over," McClure said. "It was a long process of four very, very tough meets."
The two automatic berths -- of six available Olympic team slots -- were awarded to the top two performers at this meet and the June 2-6 U.S. championships, which was worth 40 percent of the total score.
Blaine Wilson, who ruptured his left biceps four months ago, received an invitation to the Karolyi ranch after two days of solid performances. Wilson, who vowed to be back to full health well before the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games in Athens, received average marks and fell off the high bar Saturday, but two-time Olympian John Roethlisberger described Wilson's comeback from a debilitating injury as the most amazing he has seen.
Wilson will be joined at the camp by Raj Bhavsar, Steve McCain, Todd Thornton, Shawn Townsend, David Durante and Guard Young.
"No matter who we bring to Athens, we're definitely going to have medal potential," Paul Hamm said.
Hamm, who won his all-around world title last year at this arena, proved this month that he not only is the top gymnast in the nation, but that he is exceedingly consistent under pressure. Though he fell off the pommel horse Thursday night, he otherwise made no major mistakes and often was a wobble away from perfect.
Saturday, he earned a 9.900 on the high bar, a 9.800 on floor, and a 9.775 on parallel bars.
"I've been watching gymnastics for a very long time, and I can say with full confidence he's the best in the world now," said Bhavsar, one of Paul Hamm's training partners in Columbus, Ohio. "He's one of those gymnasts who doesn't give the judges any room for doubt."
McClure, who is engaged to 1996 Olympic gymnast Jaycie Phelps, hung on to second place despite falling off the high bar halfway through Saturday's meet. After that major mistake, McClure quickly stomped out any ideas Morgan Hamm, in third place at the time, might have had about moving up by nailing his floor exercise and pommel horse.
At that point, Morgan Hamm made it clear he had essentially given up on bumping McClure out of the second spot. Hamm elected to skip the still rings and parallel bars, events that are difficult for him given shoulder problems he has had. Even so, McClure said, he did not breathe easy until his dismount on his last event, the still rings.
"Anything can happen," McClure said. "A ring grip could have broken and I wouldn't have been able to finish. . . . It's not over until that last dismount."
Phelps, who won a team gold medal in 1996, watched nervously from the stands throughout these trials and the U.S. championships in Nashville.
"It's been such an emotional roller coaster," Phelps said. "I think my nerves were a lot worse sitting in the stands and watching him than it was in '96."
Gatson competed in four events for the second night. What he lacked in completeness, he made up for with stellar performances, receiving three scores above 9.700 and one of 9.625.
"I think our team looked very strong," Paul Hamm said. "Guys really stepped it up from Thursday."