It was set up to be one of the Summer Olympics' best comeback-against-adversity stories. But battling pain and soreness in his gym last week, Paul Hamm said he basically tossed up his hands, frustrated and disappointed, knowing he had run out of time.
Hamm, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the men's gymnastics all-around competition, announced Monday he was resigning from his spot on the U.S. team. In May he broke his right hand, which required surgery. Then he recently strained his left rotator cuff, which was exacerbated in workouts last week.
"I've put my heart and soul into this comeback and done everything I could to get ready to compete in Beijing," Hamm said in a teleconference. "For my comeback to be successful, I needed to make continual progress and have no setbacks. I was pushing my body to the max.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make, but I have too much respect for the Olympics and my team. I know the best decision is for me to step aside. There just wasn't enough time. I think if I'd have another month, I could have gotten the job done."
USA Gymnastics announced that Hamm will be replaced by Raj Bhavsar, one of the three alternates who were picked at the Olympic trials in June. Hamm did not compete in those trials but was selected to the team anyway.
Recently, Hamm showed the selection committee at a training camp in Colorado that he had made enough progress to go to Beijing. But he said his training last week was "a disaster."
He couldn't complete any of his routines. The rings, especially, hurt his shoulder. He tried to give himself more time, but by Sunday he knew he had to stop.
"If you would see me before any competition, how I prepare, and the way I am now, it's almost laughable," he said. "You're supposed to be in the best shape of your life before a competition like the Olympics, not the worst shape."
Hamm had been set to participate in a third consecutive Olympics with his twin brother, Morgan, who still faces some uncertainty . On July 3, Morgan Hamm received a warning from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for use of a prescribed anti-inflammatory medication without getting the required therapeutic-use exemption.
USADA accepted proof from Morgan Hamm and his doctors that the medication was administered for a valid need. But the International Gymnastics Federation still has to sign off on that. USA Gymnastics expects that will happen, but must await the decision, which is expected today.
Paul Hamm won the all-around in the 2003 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics . He was expected to be the only real challenge to China's Yang Wei for the men's all-around title at the 2008 Olympics.
Hamm, who'll be 26 in September, said earlier this summer he would retire after the Beijing Games, and he reiterated that Monday. He's not sure if he will still travel to China or stay home, but either way he will watch and cheer on his brother and teammates.
"Of course, right now it's a difficult moment for me," Hamm said. "But the truth is, I've had a wonderful career. And the success I've had in the sport has been more than I ever dreamed of."