Hamm gets back on the (pommel) horse

Paul Hamm has pushed aside the graduate school applications and temporarily tossed out the want ads.

Instead, the reigning Olympic men’s gymnastics all-around gold medalist is after one more moment of greatness on the sport’s biggest stage.

Hamm, 24, and twin brother Morgan (a fellow Olympian) have not competed in two years while focusing on their educations. Both recently graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State with degrees in accounting (Paul) and exercise science (Morgan). But rather than sending out résumés, the twins have returned to the gym to work out five hours a day, the first steps in preparation for a possible berth in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The first competition in their comeback will be Aug. 15-18at the Visa Championships at HP Pavilion in San Jose. Tickets went on sale Monday and are available at the arena box office and at www.ticketmaster.com.

“We had started planning our lives without gymnastics,” Paul Hamm said Monday during a Stanford youth gymnastics camp. “But in this sport the window of opportunity to do something special is so small. It wasn’t something we wanted to look back on with regret.”

Hamm is already a legendary figure in United States gymnastics. The 5-foot-6, 142-pound Wisconsin native was the first American man to win the all-around title at the world championships in 2003 and then became the only American man to win an all-around Olympic gold medal. The accomplishment was not without controversy, however. Soon after the conclusion of the Athens Olympics, the International Gymnastics Federation said bronze medalist Yang Tae Young of South Korea had been improperly penalized a tenth of a point — a margin that would have pushed him into first place.

Hamm ultimately kept the gold, but the storm temporarily shook his enthusiasm for the sport.

“It was definitely a lot to deal with emotionally and it did tie in to me wanting to step away for a while,” Hamm said. “It has been tough to get back into the grind, but I’m at the point now where I’m starting to feel pretty good.”

Hamm will likely compete in the floor exercise and the pommel horse in the Visa Championships, while continuing to fine-tune his other events in anticipation of the Olympics. He speculated another all-around gold would require the best performance of his career because of the increased practice of having gymnasts specialize in one or two events rather than all six disciplines.

“What’s funny is that in some cases, I’m at the same level I was at before or maybe even a little better,” Hamm said. “But because of the way the sport’s changed, I need toget even better. It’s like a decathlete having to compete against the sprinters.”

Visa Championships

WHEN: Aug. 15-18

WHERE: HP Pavilion (artistic), San Jose McEnery Convention Center (rhythmic, acrobatic)

TICKETS: $10-$65 (artistic), $15-$20 (rhythmic, acrobatic). Available at www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster locations, the HP Pavilion box office and by phone at (408) 998-8497

melliser@examiner.com


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