Injured gymnast Paul Hamm not going to Beijing

Paul Hamm won't be going to the Beijing Olympics, after all.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist announced today that he is withdrawing from the U.S. team because his broken right hand is not sufficiently healthy enough for him to compete.

He also hurt his rotator cuff in his accelerated recovery effort.

"I have put my heart and soul into my comeback and done everything I could to get ready in time to compete in Beijing," Hamm said in a statement released by USA Gymnastics.

"After returning home from the preparation camp, I had a few physical setbacks, and it became clear to me that my physical preparations would not be sufficient to properly represent the United States and contribute to the team's efforts to win a medal.

"At this point in time, the success of the team and fairness to the team, and the alternates, is most important. While I am very disappointed, I feel I can wait no longer to make this decision."

The U.S. men are scheduled to leave Wednesday, and competition begins Aug. 9.

One of the alternates &

Sasha Artemev, David Durante and Raj Bhavsar &

will take Hamm's place.

Hamm's injury is a blow to the Americans, who were fourth at last year's world championships and hoped his return &

and that of twin brother Morgan &

would get them back on the podium. It also clears the way for China's Yang Wei in the all-around race. Yang, the two-time defending world champion, is so technically superior that Hamm is believed to be the only one who could challenge him.

Hamm broke his hand May 22 at the national championships, just 11 weeks before the start of the games. He had surgery five days later and pushed his recovery in hopes he'd be healthy enough to help the Americans win a medal and defend his all-around title.

But a hand injury is one of the toughest for a gymnast to overcome. Every one of the six events puts a heavy load of stress on the hand, and many moves require the hand to be twisted sharply or to support a gymnast's entire body weight.

Hamm's withdrawal likely ends the career of one of the best gymnasts the United States has ever had. He is the only American man to win the world (2003) and Olympic (2004) titles, and he led the United States to a silver medal in Athens, their first at the Olympics in 20 years.

"We admire Paul for making this difficult decision," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "Paul's comeback this year has been phenomenal, made even more impressive following the injury to his hand. He has raised the level of determination among the entire team to put forth a medal winning effort in China. We respect his decision at this time, which is being made to serve the best interests of all of the athletes involved."

Hamm won the Olympic gold medal with one of the most spectacular comebacks in history. After a fall on vault dropped him to 12th place with only two events left, he rallied with two of the best routines of his career to win the gold.

Two days later, however, the International Gymnastics Federation said that bronze medalist Yang Tae-young of South Korea had been wrongly docked a tenth of a point on his second-to-last event. Add that extra tenth, and Yang would have scored higher than Hamm.

That assumes, though, that everything in the final rotation would have played out the same, something no one can say for sure.

The Koreans did not protest in time, and the FIG said it couldn't change results after the games. But the Koreans took the matter all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, forcing Hamm to defend his gold medal. CAS eventually declared Hamm the rightful champion.

"Paul Hamm is a great Olympic champion who has conducted himself with honor and integrity throughout his career," said Jim Scherr, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"His inspiring comeback to win the Olympic gold medal in 2004 was one of the signature moments of the Athens Olympic Games. Equally inspiring is the manner by which Paul worked to try to regain his full competitive form for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games," Scherr said.

"Through his determination, perseverance and courage, Paul has set an example that will lift his teammates in Beijing."

Hamm appeared to be on track at a weeklong training camp two weeks ago, where he proved he was physically able to compete at a July 19 intrasquad meet. Hamm did portions of all six events that day, looking particularly good on floor exercise, and estimated he was about 90 percent healthy.

But he struggled with some of his skills on parallel bars and acknowledged he still had pain in the hand.

When Hamm returned home to Columbus, Ohio, it was clear just what a toll the hard training had taken. Hamm struggled with practice and pain all last week, and he decided over the weekend that it was better to let a healthy athlete take his spot.

The Americans would have needed Hamm to compete on all six events in team qualifying, and likely would have put him up on all six in team finals, too. The scoring format in team finals is unforgiving, with three athletes competing on each event and all three scores counting. Make a mistake or struggle, and it costs the team dearly.

Despite taking 21/2 years off after Athens &

an unprecedented layoff in the sport &

he had firmly established himself as a contender for another gold, winning every meet he entered this year, often by large margins. At nationals, he was practically perfect through his first five events before breaking the fourth metacarpal in his right ring finger in the closing minutes of his parallel bars routine.

Even with the injury, he still finished the night almost four points ahead.

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