- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The U.S. men’s gymnastics team will be without its most proven athlete at next month’s Beijing Olympics.

Defending all-around gold medalist Paul Hamm dropped out of the games yesterday, citing a strained left rotator cuff and a slower-than-anticipated recovery from a broken hand sustained May 22.

Hamm, 25, was set to appear in his third and final Olympics. He intended to retire from competition following the games, a decision to which he will stick.

“I’m healing a beat-up body,” he said during a conference call. “My hand was improving up until the training camp, and things were feeling OK but not to the point where I was feeling comfortable on any of the apparatuses. Throw another injury on top of that and that was more than enough for me to feel completely out of my element.”

Hamm worked out with his Olympic teammates earlier this month during a training camp in Colorado Springs. But on the final day of practice, he felt his shoulder pull during a rings routine. Over the next week, he felt his performance fall off.

“When I went back home [after the training camp], I was going to have to continue pushing that whole week, whereas some of the other athletes might have taken some down time,” Hamm said. “The first day was OK - I was able to push through some things. When I got to the second day, I started rings, and I ended up straining the shoulder even worse. I noticed my other events weren’t coming together and nothing was going according to plan, and I was taking a big step backward.”

USA Gymnastics named Raj Bhavsar as Hamm’s replacement. He was chosen ahead of alternates Alexander Artemev and David Durante.

“This is a tremendous honor, and the first feeling that comes to mind is that dreams can come true,” Bhavsar said.

Bhavsar was second on the parallel bars and third in the all-around, rings and vault in the combined rankings of the U.S. championships and Olympic trials.

If Hamm had made it to Beijing, it would have completed an unlikely comeback. Following the Athens Games, he and his twin brother, Morgan, retired from competitive gymnastics to focus on attending Ohio State. The brothers announced their comeback plans in February 2007.

Paul Hamm’s comeback was an instant success. He won three all-around competitions earlier this year before his broken hand required surgery.

“From the beginning, my attempt at a comeback has been a long shot,” he said. “The time frame was extremely short. … If I had another month, I think I would have been able to get the job done.”

Morgan Hamm’s status for the Olympics remains in doubt. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced July 3 that Hamm had been warned for a May 24 positive test of a cortisone-like anti-inflammatory. The drug is allowed if athletes get an exemption, something Hamm failed to do. USA Gymnastics expects a decision Monday.

Paul Hamm finishes his Olympic career with an all-around gold, a team silver and a silver on the high bar - all in Athens. In 2003, he became the first American man to win the all-around at the world championships.

“I’ve had a wonderful career, and the success I’ve had in this sport has been more than I ever dreamed of,” he said. “If you would see me before a competition and how my preparation is and then see where I am now, the difference is almost laughable. You’re supposed to be in the best shape going into the Olympics, not the worst shape.”

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