- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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Everyone loves a reunion, and USA Gymnastics is no exception.
If you are more than a passing Olympics fan, you probably remember those seven smiling, sensational fellows from 1984: Bart Connor, Peter Vidmar, Scott Johnson, Jim Hartung, Jim Mikus, Tim Daggett and Mitch Gaylord. They were the first and only U.S. men's team to take home the gold for a collective effort. On June 26, they made a triumphant reappearance at the Olympic Trials, being contested at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif.
Was it just a coincidence that this year's squad, two decades later, has a chance to equal their memorable feat?
"The last time we were this strong and this good was 1984," Bob Colarossi, the president of USA Gymnastics, said in Anaheim. "I'm absolutely convinced that these guys will challenge for the top of the podium when they get to Athens."
Twin brothers from Waukesha, Wis., Paul and Morgan Hamm, are the chief reason for the oozing optimism that sees the Americans in the same league with China and Japan.
"If we have a strong day, I see us ahead of China," Paul Hamm said. "I feel this is a special team, an amazing group of guys."
Paul, who is 30 minutes younger than his 21-year-old brother, has a certain credibility in the field. Last year, he became the first American man to ever win the world all-around title. He was the best performer on the squad that won the silver team medal (repeating a sterling 2001 effort) and also managed to bring home a gold medal in the floor exercise. The prospects for Athens, based on his effort at the Olympic Trials, are just as bright.
Paul won the floor exercise with a nearly flawless routine; a misstep early in his program left him with a 9.9. Added to his other results (9.85 on the high bar, 9.8 on pommel horse, 9.6 on parallel bars and 9.55 on rings), Hamm won the title comfortably over Brett McClure, 57.865 to 57.059, establishing him as the favorite in the Olympic all-around competition in a crowded field led byYang Wei of China and Hiroyuki Tomita of Japan. It is worth noting that no U.S. man has ever won all-around gold in a Games that did not involve a boycott.
"I think (Peter's) the man to beat," Morgan told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "If he goes out there and hits his sets like he can, I don't think anyone can beat him."
Paul is picked by numerous media outlets to win the all-around gold, in addition to individual medals in floor exercise and horizontal bar.
Morgan, nursing a sore left shoulder, shrewdly picked his spots in Anaheim. He scored a 9.7 on the floor and vault and scored better than 9.6 on high bar and pommel horse. Those numbers gave him the confidence to pass on the parallel bars and rings. An hour after the Trials ended, he was named to the Olympic team by the selection committee.
It should have been a familiar feeling for the twins, since they made the 2000 Sydney squad as 17-year-olds to become the first twins ever to compete in the same Olympics gymnastics competition. But, according to Morgan, it wasn't.
"I was just a kid back then," he told the Journal Sentinel, referring to the U.S. team that placed fifth. "Now it feels like something on the way to a final goal, which is medaling with the team and hopefully getting an individual medal on the floor.
"Last time it was just amazing to make the team. Now, I'm looking past that and seeing what the team can do."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Paul and Morgan Hamm hope to take men's gymnastics back to the medal podium.