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Inside Gymnastics Article

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Hamm Resigns from U.S. Team

July 28, 2008

Paul Hamm, the reigning Olympic champ, officially bowed out of his third Olympic Games today, a little more than eight weeks after breaking his hand at the 2008 U.S. National Championships. Hamm, the first and only American male to win world and/or Olympic all-around gold, just couldn’t quite make it back to Olympic form following the hand injury and subsequent surgery on May 27—Hamm called this past week in the gym “disastrous”—and decided to cede his position for the good of the team.

“I made the decision yesterday,” a somber Hamm told the media early this afternoon. “I was giving myself the chance to see how this past week went, to see if I could turn a corner at any point, but that just never happened. I feel like I’m worse off than I was the previous week. If you would ever see me before any competition and how my preparation was, and then compare that to the way I am right now, it’s almost laughable, the difference. When you go into the Olympic Games you’re supposed to be in the best shape of your life, not the worst shape of your life.

“I discussed things first of all with [my twin brother] Morgan, and my parents,” Hamm explained of how he came to the difficult decision to withdraw. “I discussed things with [my coach] Miles (Avery). After that, I discussed things with [Men’s Program Senior Director] Dennis McIntyre. We discussed the possibility of being ready to do a few events and I gave it some time to think about and I still came to the same conclusion: that it was best for the team for me to step down.

“There are three alternates that are tremendous athletes, in the best shape of their lives, and they can easily replace me,” Hamm concluded. “I wanted to give myself as much time as possible to see if I could get prepared, [but] I didn’t want to push the decision any longer than hopping on the plane over to Beijing and not allowing one of those alternates to train with the team. I think [it would be] detrimental for the team spirit for this to happen over in Beijing.”

Hamm took part in a 10-day training camp earlier this month with the rest of the U.S. Olympic Team in Colorado Springs, Colo. and proved his readiness to the Olympic selection committee on July 19. The next day, Hamm started having pain in his left shoulder and was diagnosed with the rotator cuff strain. According to Hamm, things went downhill from there.

“Right after the competition in Colorado, I noticed that my rotator cuff was getting a little bit beat up and strained,” Hamm explained. “ Then when I went back home—in my plan I was going to have continue to keep pushing that entire week, where maybe some of the other athletes took some down time. I immediately jumped back into doing routines the second day I got back home. When I started doing my rings strength, I strained my shoulder even worse and was unable to do any of the rings strength parts I was able to do previously. Nothing was going the way I planned and I was taking a big step backward.

“My shoulder was definitely hindering me on certain events and, just my hand, in general, has not quite gotten to the point where I feel comfortable doing all of my skills on all the events,” Hamm added. “I was leaving out skills on every event because of my hand. … There came a point in the gym when I just threw my arms in the air and just knew this wasn’t working. It was a really tough decision for me to make. It’s pretty deflating.”

“It’s not fair to him, it’s not fair to the country. It’s not fair to this Olympic team,” Avery said of his athlete’s resignation. “It was a really tough decision, but it was the correct decision. I saw the effort that he gave to get back and get on this team and go out there and compete. I saw that, the day-to-day grind, his hand hurting, and him getting through it all anyway. I know he did everything he possibly could to get there in Beijing. There’s regret he didn’t finish it, but not that he didn’t do everything he could.

“I feel honored that he chose to come here and train at Ohio State,” Avery added of his star pupil. “It is a real honor to work with an athlete that is that good. To work with him daily and see how he internalizes what you say and how he puts that in his gymnastics. I hope that helps every athlete I work with, to get a little Paul Hamm into every athlete I coach from here on out.”

Hamm’s replacement will be named “as expeditiously as possible,” according to USA Gymnastics (USAG) president Steve Penny. The choice is between Sasha Artemev, Raj Bhavsar and David Durante, all of whom are already scheduled to travel to China, and the decision will be made by the men’s selection committee (National Team Coordinator Ron Brant, McIntyre, Athlete Representative Jay Thornton, Coaches’ Representative Bill Foster and MPC member Stacy Maloney), who are meeting now to discuss their options.

Avery, who was named the team’s assistant coach in Colorado, told Inside Gymnastics he plans to give up that position so that another athlete’s personal coach can be on the floor during the team competition.

“My opinion is, and always has been, that the personal coaches should be with their athletes, on the floor,” Avery stated. “We should cover as any routines as possible, with the personal coach that goes out there. I still believe that, and if that’s not me, I will certainly look at that.

“This isn’t USA Gymnastics saying this, this is me,” Avery added. “We’ll see after they pick the alternate [that will replace Paul.] If they pick Durante, then I think Vitaly (Marinitch) should be the assistant coach, because he’ll have two athletes. Anyone that has two, three athletes on the team, they should be the coach. It’s very simple.”

The U.S. men’s team is set to leave for Beijing on Wednesday from San Francisco. The group will gather in California tonight and tomorrow for U.S. Olympic processing, prior to their departure to China.

Hamm’s twin, Morgan, who is also coached by Avery, is still also slightly questionable for the Games. Though he’s been cleared by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USAG following a positive drug test in late May (Morgan failed to get a therapeutic use exemption for a cortisone-like shot in his ankle), the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has yet to weigh in on Hamm’s status and retains the right to question his Olympic participation. Penny told the press he expects to “hear formally” from the FIG, which met over the weekend to discuss Morgan’s situation, tomorrow.

“I don’t have any real concerns,” Penny said. “I think we’ve done a great job explaining things this past weekend. [USAG vice president] Ron Galimore was there to represent us, along with two representatives from USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and the feedback they’ve brought back is somewhat reassuring. We’re very hopeful we’ll just be able to continue on and that Morgan will remain a member of our team.”

“All of this has been a strain on Morgan,” Avery confirmed. “I’m waiting on the time we can just focus on training. I’m anxious to get to Beijing with Morgan, to get in the confines of the Village, and just move forward with training. It was a struggle to get him here today and do everything he needed to do, but he did it.”

“I think Morgan is going to be fine,” his coach added confidently. “There’s nothing easy about it—all that is going on his life—and he and Paul did do this comeback together, to make it to another Olympics together. That’s why they started this. Right now, I think he’s ready to get to Beijing and train with the team. That will help Morgan because, you know, [the team] is like a family and everyone supports him.”

For Paul, his dreams of a comeback dashed, the disappointment was evident as he maturely made his announcement to the media.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into this comeback and I’ve done everything I could to get ready in time for Beijing,” an emotional Hamm stated. “For my comeback to be successful I needed to make continuous progress and have no setbacks. I was pushing my body to the max leading up to the training camp and while I was there I was somehow able to perform skills in the competition that I had not done since my recent surgery. Unfortunately, the week after camp has been a disaster. I have not been able to do a single full routine since I competed at the national championships back in May. There are only five days of training left before the podium training in Beijing and I can see now there’s no way I could be ready.

“From the beginning my attempt at a comeback has been a long shot,” Hamm went on. “The time frame I was given has been extremely short. … I did everything I possibly could and there just wasn’t enough time. Had I had another month I think I would have been able to get the job done. … This has been the hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make. I have too much respect for the Olympics [and] my team to continue on when I know the best thing for everyone is for me to step aside. I want to thank my family, my friends, my fans, for all their support, but the success of the U.S. team is most important.

“It’ll be tough [but] I’ll be cheering on the team and watching Morgan,” Hamm said of his plans for the Games. “I’ll try and enjoy it from a spectator’s standpoint this time around. There’s a chance I’ll end up going to China, but I’m just not sure. I’ll figure that out in the coming days.”

Though it is not the way he wanted to go out, Hamm, the single most successful male gymnast in U.S. history, is satisfied with his legacy.

“Well, of course, now is a difficult moment for me but the truth of the matter is that I’ve had a wonderful career and the success I’ve had in the sport has been more than I’ve ever dreamed of,” Hamm said. “I’m more than happy with the way things have turned out.

“As far as continuing,” he added resolutely, “I’ve made the decision previous to everything that has gone on in recent weeks to retire and that’s what I plan to do. I’m going to take some down time right now. After everything winds down, after the [post-]Olympic tour is over, I’m going to apply to grad school and get my M.B.A.

“I can’t say how, but I still want to be involved in gymnastics,” Hamm concluded. “Gymnastics has been a part of my life since I was seven years old and I can’t imagine it not being a part of my life going forward.”

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