BEIJING -- This will be a Hamm-less Olympics for the U.S. gymnastics team.
And, as a result, possibly a medal-less Olympics in the team competition as well.
In an unforeseen and unwelcome plot twist, the U.S. team announced early Thursday morning that Morgan Hamm was withdrawing from the Beijing Games because of a lingering ankle injury. That follows the news 10 days ago that Hamm's twin brother, 2004 all-around gold medalist Paul, was withdrawing because of hand and shoulder injuries.
Without their two most accomplished and experienced gymnasts, the Americans suddenly face an unknown immediate future when the men's team competition is held here Saturday.
"Morgan Hamm is an irreplaceable athlete, an incredible gymnast," said teammate Jonathan Horton, who was fourth at the world championships last year. "The expectations stay the same. The vision doesn't change at all. We still feel we're medal contenders.
"As for expectations of this team, I don't think it changes. … I feel we can still go out and put on a great performance. We still feel we are medal contenders."
Sasha Artemev will replace Morgan Hamm on the roster. Artemev, 22, the 2006 national champion, was the bronze medalist on pommel horse at the 2006 world championships, but struggled with consistency at nationals and the Olympic trials, where he botched three of four routines. He was chosen over David Durante as Hamm's replacement and already was training in Beijing.
Morgan Hamm tore a muscle in his chest in early October, an injury that required a five-month rehab. He was able to return, but the injured ankle continued to give him trouble, and he aggravated it after he got to Beijing. Bone spurs from his ankle dig into his tibia, producing "extreme" pain.
Morgan Hamm said he tried to make a go of it but has struggled in practice. Thursday morning, coach Kevin Mazeika asked Hamm to perform his floor routine to see if he was capable.
"His ankle did not respond in order for him to perform as he needed to," Mazeika said.
The injury is the latest blow for Hamm, who has been plagued by injuries and bad luck the past year. He feared his gymnastics career might be over when a nerve injury left his left shoulder numb in the summer of 2001. Feeling eventually returned -- though that shoulder never will be as strong as the other -- and he and his brother led the Americans to the silver in Athens, their first Olympic medal in 20 years.
"This has been an extremely hard decision to make," Hamm said somberly Thursday evening, with the entire U.S. gymnastics team flanking him in a show of support. I've given everything I had to compete in these Olympic Games.
"It's tough. It's the end of my career and it's not the way to end it."
Hamm had tried taping, ultrasound and other therapies to treat the injury early on. When those didn't work, his doctor gave him an injection of a glucocorticosteroid, a cortisone-like anti-inflammatory, on May 2 in hopes of reducing the swelling and inflammation. That resulted in a positive doping test at nationals; the drug is allowed if an athlete gets a therapeutic use exemption, which he failed to do.
Hamm had to have another cortisone shot before he left for Beijing.
"The doctors were looking at anything that could give him some relief, immediate relief," said Dennis McIntyre, the men's program director for USA Gymnastics. "But again, the timing we had to deal with in terms of whether he was going to be able to physically participate and the timing of replacing him if he wasn't, meant that we really had to make a decision today. He was aware of that."
Both brothers had said they planned to retire after Beijing, and Morgan already has been accepted at the National University of Health Sciences in suburban Chicago, where he will study to become a chiropractor. He is also getting married next spring.
Hamm's withdrawal comes just one day after he said his twin brother, Paul, was considering coming to Beijing to see him compete. Paul Hamm, the reigning Olympic champion, pulled out of the games July 28, two days before the American team left, because he wouldn't be healthy enough.
Besides persistent pain from the right hand he broke 2 months ago, the reigning Olympic champion has a strained left rotator cuff, and said it was better that a healthy alternate take his place. Raj Bhavsar took Paul Hamm's place.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.