Hamm-Strings Pulled All Over These Games

Hamm versus Hamm, a comparative study on how to pass a late-summer Monday in Greece:

Mia: Spent the evening playing soccer in front of dozens of fans on the island of Crete.

Paul: Spent the evening waiting for thousands of fans to stop booing inside the Olympic Indoor Hall.

Mia: Delivered the pass that led to the score that defeated Germany, 2-1, in the Olympic women's soccer semifinals.

Paul: Delivered the score, 9.812, that led to more booing during the men's gymnastics high bar competition.

Mia: Clinched at least a silver medal with her team's performance.

Paul: Clinched a silver medal with his performance.

Mia: Had the victory delayed, by 30 minutes of overtime, after the United States couldn't hold onto a 1-0 lead in injury time.

Paul: Had his second-place performance delayed, by 8 1/2 minutes of raucous jeering, after fans believed Russian Alexei Nemov was underscored for his high bar routine.

Mia: Bidding for a second Olympic gold medal when she and her teammates play Brazil in Thursday's championship match.

Paul: Has no interest at all in the International Olympic Committee's awarding a second gold medal to South Korea's Yang Tae Young in an attempt to defuse the controversy regarding a scoring mistake at last week's all-around competition.

The Hamms are not related in any way, other than the colors of their Team USA uniforms.

They aren't even pronounced the same way, Paul going with a version that rhymes with "mom."

They do, however, represent two of the more intriguing, still-developing story lines of the Athens Olympics.

Mia, perhaps the greatest player in the history of women's soccer, is a Stateside sentimental favorite to close her international career with a gold medal.

Paul, the first American man to win the Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medal, continues to rest uneasily amid international scrutiny about the legitimacy of that medal.

Mia has already won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and two Women's World Cups. How much is enough? She could call it a career on that alone and wind up on Pele's list of the 125 greatest living soccer players in the world. In fact, she already has.

But recent misses in 2000, when the U.S. lost the Olympic final to Norway, and 2003, when the U.S. couldn't even reach the World Cup final on its home turf, has made Mia a sympathetic figure in her last international tournament.

Germany took away the Americans' World Cup last year after defeating the U.S. in the semifinals, 3-0. The Americans were underdogs in Monday's rematch in Heraklion, a rarity in Mia's career, and she prepared for it by studying tapes of that galling loss.

She spotted a weakness, and she went right at it in the first period of overtime, freeing herself down the right flank and pulling the ball back to Heather O'Reilly, who minutes earlier had failed to put the ball into a wide-open net.

Provided a second chance, O'Reilly converted.

Provided a second chance, the U.S. defense closed down every second of the second extra period.

Paul Hamm wishes he had options such as that. Five days after what should have been the pinnacle of his career, he finds himself still mired in a nightmare not of his own doing, victimized by a judging mistake.

But he cannot shut it down. He cannot stop the noise. Monday, he again was caught in the wake of suspect judging that went against another sentimental favorite, Nemov, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

The Nemov supporters booed before Paul's routine, angered so much by Nemov's 9.725 score that they jeered until the judges re-huddled and bumped up Nemov's mark to 9.762.

The Nemov supporters booed after Paul's routine, because Hamm's 9.812 score was more bad news for Nemov.

What a sport, gymnastics. You spot a judging error made during the middle of the competition, you petition for a second gold medal. You think a subjective score is too low for your favorite gymnast, you boo and carry on until the judges' ears are aching and they throw up their hands and say, "We give, we give, we'll give you another 0.037, all right?"

Say this much for track and field: If you run the fastest or jump the highest, you win. Well, OK, you win unless you fail the post-competition drug test. There's always that. But on the track, on the field, there's usually a clear winner. It's only inside doping control where things can start to turn murky.

And say this much for U.S. track and field: Our men know how to run a lap around the track.

Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew placed 1-2-3 in the men's 400-meter final, completing the United States' first sweep of the event since 1988 -- although Americans have won 13 of the 18 medals awarded in the event in the last six Olympics.

Softball had a clear winner Monday. No controversy there. The U.S. defeated Australia, 5-1, to win its third consecutive Olympic gold medal and 79th consecutive game. In the process, the Americans outscored nine opponents by a cumulative margin of 51-1.

Any questions?

Yeah. One.

What's the deal with that run they gave up?

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