Hamm brothers to return to competitive gymnastics

Updated: February 7, 2007, 1:32 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Paul Hamm
Donald Miralle/Getty Images Paul Hamm, whose gold medal at Athens was marred by controversy, hopes he can end his career on a better note.
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, Calif.

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 business school.

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 Gymnastics."

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 bronze.

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.

Paul Hamm
Adam Pretty/Getty ImagesPaul (above) and Morgan Hamm want to reverse the fortunes of the U.S. men's gymnastics team after last year's dismal 13th-place finish at worlds.

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 contention."

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 stronger."

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."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press