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U.S. GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Hamm Dominates for All-Around Title

June 05, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

NASHVILLE — Just as a baseball can appear as big as a pumpkin to a batter in the groove or a basket can appear as wide as a bathtub to a shooter, the six apparatus of a gymnastics competition can seem as simple to swing over, jump from or tumble over as a backyard play set for a gymnast in the zone.

Paul Hamm is in that zone.

Hamm, 22 of Waukesha, Wis., was crowned America's best all-around gymnast Friday night at the U.S. gymnastics championships at the Gaylord Event Center. With a two-night score of 115.700, Hamm beat runner-up Brett McClure (114.00) by over a point. That's as if the Lakers beat the Pistons by 20, as if the Angels beat the Indians by five runs. It was a rout and after it was over, Hamm could only smile.

"I feel good," said Hamm, who won the world all-around title last year in Anaheim. "I feel as if I've found a groove and I just want to make it better."

These championships provide 40 percent of the final score that gymnasts will have considered to make the Olympic team. The other 60 percent will accrue June 24-27 at the Pond during the U.S. Olympic trials.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 10, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Gymnastics -- In Saturday's Sports section article about the U.S. gymnastics championships, gymnast David Sender's surname was incorrectly given as Bender.

The U.S. can take a team of six competitors and two alternates to Greece. The top 14 men of 32 here advanced to Anaheim. An 18-year-old from Chicago, David Bender, who had competed in the junior event Wednesday, took that 14th spot.

Hamm also won individual event national titles on floor exercise and the high bar and silver medals on the pommel horse and parallel bars.

"No doubt, Paul is in a special place right now," said his coach, Miles Avery. "What can I say? He's been hitting his stuff in practice and he came out here and hit it again."

Over two nights and 12 routines, Hamm missed on only one apparatus, his first-night vault.

"I just blew it," he said. "So I came out tonight determined to stick it."

Hamm did, earning a 9.675, the highest-scoring single vault of any competitor.

Hamm's gold-medal winning floor exercise has a dynamic tumbling pass highlighted by a double-twisting-double layout, which is a back flip with one twist followed immediately by another back flip with a twist. Picture a corkscrew in stretch pants. Hamm's floor exercise score of 9.850 Friday night was the highest of the competition.

The top two scorers from these nationals and the Olympic trials will be guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team. The rest of the six-man team and two alternates could be announced in Anaheim. But the men's selection committee has the option of taking as many other gymnasts as it wants to a camp and picking the team after further evaluation.

McClure, 23 from Mill Creek, Wash., is engaged to Jaycie Phelps, a member of the 1996 Olympic gold medal team. He won the pommel horse gold medal Friday night, was a member of last year's U.S. world silver medal team and said he was satisfied with his performance over two days here.

Hamm's twin brother, Morgan, was third overall.

The fight in Anaheim will be among the next group of athletes, Todd Thornton, Sean Townsend (a 2000 Olympian), Raj Bhavsar, Stephen McCain (also on the 2000 team) and 18-year-old Alexander Artemev, who earns gasps of awe from his straight body lines and who earned gasps of dismay Friday when he fell three times. Added to the mix will be Jason Gatson, who won the 2004 Visa American Cup, and Blaine Wilson, who is aiming for his third Olympic team.

Gatson was a last-minute withdrawal here because of back spasms and Wilson elected for a little more recovery time after his surgery for a torn biceps tendon. Both athletes are seeking an injury exemption into the trials and both are expected to receive one.

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