Hamm thinking beyond one medal

Updated: August 20, 2004, 11:17 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- After a wild night and a wild comeback, Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm straggled back to the athletes' village only to realize he didn't have a credential to get in.

Not to worry. That gold medal around his neck served as a pretty good ID.

"It's basically like a free pass into anywhere," he said Thursday, laughing.

Soon, he might have more.

Although it would be hard to top his stirring performance from Wednesday night, Hamm has two individual event finals Sunday and another two on Monday. That means he could leave Athens with as many as six medals. And a month shy of his 22nd birthday, he has at least another Olympics in him. Maybe even two.

"I see no real reason to stop gymnastics until I've got a degree and I'm able to get a decent job," Hamm said.

Especially since he's so good at his current one.

No U.S. gymnast has won more than five medals at a single Olympics, but Hamm has a way of messing with history.

He was the first American man to win the world title last summer, and now he's the first to win Olympic gold. He will compete for medals on high bar and the floor exercise, his two best events, as well as parallel bars and pommel horse.

His best chance for a medal is probably on high bar. Hamm has one of the most difficult routines in the world with three straight release moves, but he's missed it only once in the last year. In the team finals, his right hand slipped off the bar on the landing of his second release, and he wasn't able to do the third toss. Still, he managed to stay on the bar.

And when he does his routine to perfection, as he did Wednesday night, he's almost unstoppable. His score of 9.837 was the highest on the event in qualifications, team finals and the all-around final.

"They never want to give anyone a 9.9 in this day and age," said Miles Avery, the Hamms' coach. "And even 9.8s, it's so rare. It's just not too often. They'll give you 9.7s, they'll give you 9.6s. But they just don't want to give those 9.8s. That is very rare air."

Hamm's second-best event is probably floor. His tumbling passes are so much higher than most other gymnasts, and his landings are so secure it's as if he's sinking into quicksand. He won a gold medal on it at last summer's world championships, and routinely scores above a 9.7. He earned identical 9.725s on floor in qualifying, team finals and the all-around.

His biggest challenge on the floor might come from his own house. Floor is Morgan Hamm's specialty, and he's qualified for the event final for a second straight Olympics.

"I'm trying to win floor," Morgan said. "He's got a gold and I'd love to follow up with gold on floor. He even said, `Now it's your turn.' We actually want to tie."

Parallel bars is less of a sure thing, but Hamm can put up a big score when he needs to. Just look at what he did Wednesday night. He'd tumbled way down to 12th place after a fall on his vault landing sent him stumbling onto a judges' table, and he was sure he'd cost himself the gold medal.

Even a bronze medal seemed like a reach, but Avery told him he could do it if he scored 9.8s on his final two events, parallel bars and high bar -- no matter that Hamm had yet to score a 9.8 on the parallel bars.

"I decided at that point and time, I'm going to go after the bronze medal," Hamm said. "I can do this. I can get 9.8s on the last two events and have a shot at the bronze medal. I attacked parallel bars and had the best parallel bars routine of my life."

Hamm's score of 9.837 was the highest of the night on the parallel bars, and bumped him up to fourth in the standings going into that decisive final event.

So that's three more medals Hamm could win. The fourth, pommel horse, could be the toughest.

"I'll take the next couple of competitions seriously because I have more shots at not only medals, but possibilities of winning, I think," Hamm said. "But events like pommel horse, it's going to be a struggle for me to come away with a medal. I'd have to have another spectacular event to come away with a bronze. It's a very competitive event and it's one of my weaker routines compared to other gymnasts in the finals."

Still, don't count him out, Avery said.

"He's Paul Hamm," Avery said, laughing. "He wants to win 'em all if he could."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press