Paul Hamm, 15 Most Clutch Performances, US Summer Olympic History
Olympic glory is a one-shot deal and, as such, the Games make a perfect stage for clutch performances.
For most athletes, you go. You take your result, good or bad. You accept that four years from now someone younger, faster and stronger will have relegated you to competitive obsolescence. Imagine then the strength of mind it takes to perform at one’s best in the context of such finality.
Consider what the following American athletes had to overcome, both within and without, to become their very best selves when the moment demanded it.
Although it has been obscured in later years by the scoring controversy over his gold medal, there’s no denying Paul Hamm’s resolve in the most crucial moments of the 2004 men’s gymnastics individual all-around competition.
After a spectacular fall on the vault, Hamm stood 12th with just two rotations left. The podium was a long shot, much less Olympic gold.
Hope resurfaced after Hamm nailed his parallel bar routine. Perhaps Hamm could somehow manage a bronze.
Entering the final apparatus, NBC play-by-play announcer Al Trautwig set the stakes.
“If he could pull a medal out of this, it would be an amazing comeback.”
It was an ambitious hypothetical, one Hamm would soon render into an understatement.
With a sterling 9.837 on the high bar, he shot past South Koreans Yang Tae-Young and Kim Dae-Eun, winning the all-around title by the smallest margin in Olympic history.
The controversy opened a Pandora’s box of added questions… All that buzz, however, misses the point.
Hamm had pulled off the two greatest routines of his career mere moments after his most public and painful failure.
Gold medal or not, that right there deserves some love.