Hamm hitting comeback trail
Win or lose, Paul Hamm wants his career to end in the arena, not on the sideline.
The 2004 Olympic all-around gymnastics champion told The Associated Press this week that he has quit his job as a finance trader and is heading back to the gym to start training full-time, in hopes of making the U.S. team for the London Games in 2012.
Hamm made the 2008 Olympic team but a broken bone in his hand and an injured shoulder forced him to withdraw a few weeks before the games.
“I hated the way my last attempt at the Olympics finished up,” he said. “I didn’t want my career to end that way. I don’t feel I’m quite at the point in my life, as far as gymnastics goes, that I can’t contribute to the team and potentially compete for medals.”
Hamm headed back to his hometown of Waukesha over the weekend. In the next few weeks, he’ll decide where he wants to train. The two possibilities are the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and his original gym, Swiss Turners Gymnastics Academy.
Hamm hopes to be competing by early next year and says he’ll try to make the 2011 national team to get his funding. He said he liked his job as a bonds and futures trader in Chicago, but found himself thinking about gymnastics a lot and knows he can still compete. He plans to come back as an all-arounder, and if his skills haven’t deteriorated much, he would have to be considered among the elite.
He is 27—an age at which many male gymnasts are still in their prime.
“We all know my body won’t hold on for that much longer,” he said. “My feeling was like, ‘You either do this now or you can live and regret it later on.’ That job will be there in the future.”
Despite losing Hamm and his brother, Morgan, to injuries before the Olympics, the U.S. won a bronze in Beijing.
But getting a former world and Olympic champion back in the fold is welcome news for USA Gymnastics, said the organization’s president, Steve Penny. Hamm is the only American with a men’s world and Olympic all-around title.
“The way I look at it is, Paul Hamm is one of the best male gymnasts to ever walk on this planet,” Penny said. “He’s got some unfinished business he wants to try to take care of. I respect that, and people in the sport understand that.”
While living in Chicago, Hamm spent time in the gym at Chicago-Illinois working on his fitness and a few new tricks, including one for the parallel bars that he might use to replace the move he was doing when he broke his hand in 2008.
His hand injury stalled a comeback that began in earnest in early 2007, after he’d taken time off following his Olympic gold medal three years earlier in Athens.
Seeking to compete in his third Olympics, Hamm will try to come back as an all-around performer, not a specialist. It’s becoming a more popular route, even for top gymnasts, as the individual events become more difficult.
“There’s no real point in me not doing the all-around. I’m able to do it,” Hamm said. “When I look at my medal possibilities, there’s team, the all-around, and high bar is one of my other shots. These individual events are getting so difficult as the sport starts to specialize.”
Hamm hopes to be back for the Winter Classic, traditionally held in February. If he does well there, he could earn spots in international meets. Next year’s world championships are in October in Tokyo.