Performance to show if Hamm's physically ready for Beijing
Paul Hamm is ready to put his broken hand to the test.
The Olympic gymnastics champion will take part in an intrasquad meet Saturday to show he's physically able to compete at the Beijing Games. Though Hamm still isn't 100 percent -- his injury was only eight weeks ago -- coach Miles Avery said the selection committee will like what it sees.
"Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Those are the terms you hear," Avery said. "In some areas, it looks like he just didn't skip a beat at all. It looks like Paul Hamm doing gymnastics."
Hamm broke the fourth metacarpal in his right hand May 22, in the closing seconds of his parallel bars routine. The men's selection committee put him on the Olympic team, with the condition he show readiness at this week's training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Though Hamm was only cleared to resume gymnastics July 3, Avery said he will be able to do five events. Pommel horse and still rings look like they did before Hamm got injured, Avery said, as does vault -- stunning, considering Tuesday was the first time he vaulted since his May 22 injury.
"Paul's looking really good, he's recovering really quickly," said his twin brother, Morgan.
The only event Hamm won't do a full routine on is parallel bars, where flipping and swinging below the bars still presents a problem because of the twisting and force it puts on the hand.
Those are only four skills out of his routine, Avery added, and he is confident Hamm will be doing a whole parallel bars routine by Beijing.
"For the skills he's done on parallel bars, it looks like he didn't take any time off at all," Avery said. "They're just perfect as always."
The selection committee isn't expecting perfection from Hamm. It just wants to know he'll be able to do routines when the Americans hit the floor in Beijing.
Without the Hamms, the United States was fourth at last year's world championships, missing a medal by 1.25 points. With the Hamms back, the Americans are expected to contend for a medal with the Chinese, Japanese, Germans, Romanians and Russians.
"We need to see him go through some routine work," said Dennis McIntyre, the men's program director for USA Gymnastics. "He's done a great job. It's obvious with him what he's doing already in the gym. But again, we just need to see how routine ready he's going to be, especially on some critical events."
One of those is sure to be pommel horse. Pommel horse has long been a weakness for the Americans, and their best gymnast on it, Sasha Artemev, was passed over because of consistency problems.
Hamm had the highest pommel horse score the first day of the national championships, and that 15.5 was still the second-best after four days of competition at nationals and the Olympic trials.
"Pommel horse and rings are his two best events right now, which are two very vital and key events," Avery said.
Seeing Hamm back to his old self -- or close to it -- would give the Americans a psychological boost, too. He is, after all, the only U.S. man to win the world (2003) or Olympic (2004) titles, and he helped lead the Americans to a silver in Athens, their first medal in 20 years.
Despite taking a 2½-year break after Athens -- an unheard of layoff in the sport -- he had firmly established himself as a contender for another gold, winning every meet he entered this year. He was routing the field the first day of nationals until he got hurt, and still finished the day almost four points ahead.
"It is a Herculean challenge he has to come back in this amount of time, to be fully competitive against the world's best," said Dr. Lawrence Lubbers, the hand specialist who has been treating Hamm.
"But he's the guy to take on the challenge, and we've all put a full effort into it, if not 110 percent."
Added Avery, "We certainly had to crank it up. But he has amazed everyone, he really has, that he could look this good."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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