Hamm: There are things I don't want to remember
Paul Hamm has a lot going on these days. There's that calculus class he's wanted to take for five years now. Tennis matches and volleyball with his twin brother and friends. And in a few weeks the highlight on every college campus, football season.
It sounds so, well, ordinary for an Olympic gold medalist.
Which is exactly the point.
"I'm definitely enjoying the time, just being a student,'' he said. "I feel like even throughout high school, our school has been somewhat sacrificed for gymnastics. ... It's nice to now actually be able to get back and do some of those things that we were planning to do earlier.''
It was a year ago Thursday that Hamm won gold in Athens, making an improbable comeback from 12th place with only two events left to become the first American man to win the Olympic all-around. Instead of celebrating the accomplishment, he found himself defending it in a controversy that would last two months and take him from the gym to a courtroom in Switzerland.
Two days after the competition, gymnastics officials announced that bronze medalist Yang Tae-young of South Korea was wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his second-to-last routine, the parallel bars. Add in that extra 0.100, and he would have finished ahead of Hamm.
But that assumes everything in the final event played out the same way -- something no one can say with any certainty.
The International Gymnastics Federation said repeatedly it wouldn't change the results because the South Koreans didn't file a protest in time. The South Koreans continued to appeal, though, and some criticized Hamm for not giving up the gold medal. FIG president Bruno Grandi wrote a letter to Hamm, calling Yang "the true winner'' and asking him to voluntarily surrender the medal.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport finally ruled in Hamm's favor last October, declaring him the rightful champion.
"I definitely have very fond memories of Athens for the most part. Just remembering the times spent with the team in the village and everybody working for that goal of the team medal. And also my individual performances, I remember those very fondly as well just because they're some of the greatest accomplishments I've had in my life,'' said Hamm, who also won silvers for the team competition and the high bar.
"Granted, there are parts of the Olympics I don't really want to remember as much,'' he said. "For the most part, it was a good experience.''
With the controversy out of the way, Hamm finally got to enjoy the fun that goes with being a gold medalist. He attended the premiere of Nicolas Cage's "National Treasure,'' went to Japan and won the Sullivan Award, given to the country's top amateur athlete.
He bought a new car -- "A 2005 Honda Accord. Nothing too flashy, but it'll do the job'' -- and got to meet director Steven Spielberg.
"He actually knew all about the Olympics,'' Hamm said. "I was just so surprised that this person who is so worldwide known knows me. It was cool to actually get to meet him.''
But the best part of the last few months has been enjoying everyday life.
Hamm and twin brother Morgan transferred to Ohio State before the Athens Olympics, but didn't start classes until January. Paul is majoring in finance and Morgan in physical therapy. Both are juniors, and their goal was to get their degrees in 2007 so they'd have the entire year before the Beijing Olympics to focus on training.
When they looked at their course loads, though, they realized that would never happen if they continued to compete.
"We figured we'd have to miss a lot of school for (training) camps, competitions like the world championships, which are usually two-week competitions, and it's very difficult to maintain a high level in school while you're gone,'' said Paul, whose GPA is close to a 4.0.
Added Morgan, "Especially with 10-week quarters. You miss two weeks at a time, it's hard to really get through.''
So the Hamms decided to take a break. They're still training, just not as much. In fact, Paul is working on a new skill for his high bar routine, already one of the most difficult in the world.
The twins also will be part of the Hilton Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular on Oct. 12 in Atlanta.
"School obviously takes precedence right now,'' said their coach, Miles Avery. "They're taking a break from competition, not from getting better and helping our program move forward.''
And if there's a good time for the twins to take off, this is it. The FIG is overhauling its scoring system this fall. The traditional 10.0 scale will likely be replaced with an open-ended format, but no one knows quite what the new rules will look like.
Rather than scramble to tweak their routines, the Hamms will have time to study the code and see what kind of impact it has on other gymnasts.
"The fact that we don't know what's going to be the new gymnastics rules right now kind of lets us feel that it's OK to take a break,'' Paul Hamm said. "We realized there are other things in life that we needed to get accomplished.''
Like being regular college students.
"Competing's a lot of fun,'' Paul Hamm said. "But we get to do all those fun things in the summer that we never get to do and enjoy being a normal person more so, not having to day in and day out put your body through all that stress. It's kind of nice to relax a little bit more.''
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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