Hamm Sets Bar High
It’s been nearly eight years since Paul Hamm of Waukesha became the first American gymnast to win all-around men’s gold at the Olympic Games and four years since he last competed anywhere.
While his latest comeback hasn’t been without its challenges, Hamm is ready to take the next step by competing in the Winter Cup Challenge starting Thursday at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Sports Center.
Hamm, 29, plans to compete on four of the six apparatus: floor exercise, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars. He is not yet ready on the high bar and rings following surgery one year ago to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
“Keep in mind I haven’t competed in four years, but I think you’re going to see (the old) Paul Hamm on four events this weekend,” he said in a conference call Tuesday.
Hamm started the conference call Tuesday with a statement.
“First off, I want to address my ongoing legal situation,” he said. “Since my case has yet to be resolved, I have been advised by my lawyer not to discuss any details of what took place or the case in general.
“I would like to say that I sincerely regret what happened and I hope to regain my reputation by my actions going forward.”
“I want to be very clear that Paul is eligible to compete this weekend and in other competitions,” said Steve Penny, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics. “We believe Paul is accepting responsibility for his actions.”
Hamm said his ultimate goal was to help the U.S. men win team gold at the London Games this summer, but he didn’t rule out another shot at the all-around title.
“I’m looking at how I can help the team, first off,” he said. “If in three months rings and high bar are definite possibilities, then the all-around becomes an option.
“Whether I’m competitive with the top gymnasts in the world, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Hamm has been training at Swiss Turners Gymnastics Academy in West Allis. He spent the last 2½ weeks in Houston, training with Jonathan Horton, the 2010 world all-around bronze medalist.
“My shoulder isn’t ever going to be 100% again but as far as fully healed I would say yes,” he said. “I think it is still getting better. Certain skills are becoming a little easier every week, even a year after surgery.”
He added that he has been careful not to push the shoulder too hard.
“The sport is very tough on your body and you have to be smart with your training,” he said. “I’m trying to do things in a similar way but I have to be careful. Certain skills are more damaging to my shoulder and I’ll avoid them. The longer I do an event like rings, the better the chance of things breaking down.”
Hamm also won world all-around gold in 2003 but hasn’t competed since he broke a bone in his right hand at the 2008 U.S. championships. That injury forced him to resign his position on the Olympic team just days before the start of the Beijing Games.
He decided in the summer of 2010 to commit to training for one more shot at the Olympics.
“I have worked extremely hard my whole life and I know I am a contender,” he said. “I am solely focused on how I can help this U.S. men’s team. If there ever was a time for the U.S. to win (Olympic) team gold, this is it.”
The U.S. men last won team gold in 1984. The Americans won the bronze medal in 2008.