Hamm Is the First to Land It

Times Staff Writer

His trials, Olympic and otherwise, were over. Paul Hamm couldn’t contain his relief when he completed his parallel bars routine in Saturday’s all-around finals and landed safely, his bones and Olympic hopes intact.

Secure in knowing he’d be among the top two finishers and get a berth at the Athens Games, the usually stoic Hamm waved to the crowd of 7,696 at the Arrowhead Pond, exultant and exhausted.

“This is a group of guys that can do something amazing,” said Hamm, who won the world all-around title in Anaheim last year, “and I just feel so excited and I’m ready for the journey.”


Hamm, of Waukesha, Wis., finished with 57.865 points, ahead of a resurgent Brett McClure, who had 57.059. After confirming the spots won by Hamm and McClure, the five-member men’s selection committee added Jason Gatson of Upland and Hamm’s twin, Morgan, to the team and designated the next seven finishers to compete for the last two spots and two alternate positions.

Sean Townsend, Stephen McCain, Todd Thornton, Guard Young, Blaine Wilson, David Durante and Raj Bhavsar will jockey for supremacy at a selection camp July 11-18 at Colorado Springs, Colo. Their fate is one the others were happy to avoid.

“I’m relieved. Training camp is going to be a dogfight,” said Morgan Hamm, who skipped the rings and parallel bars Saturday after realizing he couldn’t catch McClure and might have aggravated his chronically sore left shoulder.

Bhavsar ranked 11th in Thursday’s preliminaries but had the fourth-highest scores Saturday, including a 9.825 on rings. The scores from the U.S. championships were worth 40%, but the trials scores were worth 60% of each competitor’s total, so one slip Saturday might have dropped him out of contention.

“I certainly did a lot here they’ll have to look at,” said Bhavsar, who trains in Columbus, Ohio, with the Hamms and Wilson. “I rose my stock a little bit.... I came here and I rocked. I don’t know anybody else who was six for six. That should count for something.”

Wilson’s showing -- he ranked fifth Thursday and 11th Saturday -- bought him more time to recover from the torn biceps muscle he suffered Feb. 28. He’s a two-time Olympian; McCain, Townsend and the Hamms competed at Sydney.


McClure, who trains in Colorado Springs, wasn’t perfect. He fell from the high bar in the third rotation but rebounded to earn a 9.575 on floor exercise and a 9.875 on pommel horse. It capped a renaissance that began after a nightmarish performance at the 2000 trials kept him off the Sydney squad.

“I remember going into my last event at Boston,” he said. “It was the pommel horse, and I remember that instead of looking at the pommel horse and preparing for my routine, I was looking for the exit. I had done so bad the days before I knew I had no chance to make the team. After that, the tables turned. I got back in the gym a month later and got a [team] silver in 2001 and a [team] silver in 2003. Who knows what’s to come in Athens?”

The final two roles will go to event specialists who can help in the team event. The U.S. strengths are parallel bars, floor exercise and rings, so clutch performers on high bar, pommel horse and vault will get noticed in the camp.

“This was a great, great start to what’s going to be a great team,” said Kevin Mazeika, the U.S. head coach.


The trials end today with the women’s all-around finals. The top two finishers will be nominated to the Athens team pending proof of their readiness; the remaining four spots and alternates will be chosen by a selection committee headed by Martha Karolyi, the women’s program coordinator.

That leaves ample room for subjectivity. But 1984 all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton said that talking to the gymnasts left her confident in the selection process. “I do think the best team will come out of this,” said Retton, in Anaheim for a reunion today of the 1984 women’s team.