P. Hamm chasing more gold

New all-around champion shifts focus to event finals after savoring historic win

Men's Gymnastics

Athens Olympics 2004

August 20, 2004|By Marlen Garcia | Marlen Garcia,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS -- Finally, Paul Hamm relaxed.

Yesterday, he basked in the glory of his Olympic gymnastics all-around championship that he won late Wednesday, the first such victory by an American man. He reflected thoughtfully on his comeback win in one of the closest finishes in gymnastics history.

"I did not sleep with it," he said of the gold medal hanging around his neck. "But it was right beside me when I went to bed."

Shortly after his victory, he watched a replay of his horizontal bar routine that clinched the championship over South Koreans Kim Dae Eun and Yang Tae Young. He won by 0.012 over Kim.

"When I saw it, it was really how I pictured it," Hamm said.

He said he has not viewed the fall on his vault landing, which almost cost him the title.

"And I don't know if I want to," he said.

He will not rest for long, with individual event finals looming next week.

Hamm, who led the United States to a silver-medal finish in the team event earlier in the week, could win four more medals by Monday. He is a finalist on the horizontal bar, floor exercise, pommel horse and parallel bars.

He said his best chances of winning a medal will be on the horizontal bar and floor exercise.

He dismissed accusations by two Romanian gymnasts who implied judges scored Hamm too high on parallel bars and horizontal bar. He earned 9.837 scores on both.

"I don't think the judges were overscoring me," he said. "They had no reason to want to overscore me. They were just two of the best performances of my life.

"It's upsetting for other gymnasts to see me win with a mistake. It makes them feel like you didn't perform in the way that other Olympic champions had."

All of the expected medal contenders made glaring errors in the final, though, allowing Hamm to recover from his mistake.

After Hamm's mistake on vault, "everyone was nervous," Hamm's coach, Miles Avery, said. "I think people got to thinking, `I don't want to be the next one.' "

Hamm will compete against his twin brother, Morgan, on horizontal bar and floor in the finals. They are the only American finalists.

Since they qualified for the Olympics four years ago at age 17, they have been well known within the small community that follows gymnastics.

Now Paul Hamm's popularity is about to boom.

"I feel I've been a role model in the gymnastics world for a long time," he said. "I've had so many young kids come up to me and tell me how cool they think I am and how much they look up to me."

He grinned and added: "I've always thought I was cool."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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