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Hamm: There are things I don't want to remember

8/18/2005

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.''