Not much comes between Paul Hamm and his identical twin brother, Morgan. But Brett McClure drove a wedge between them Thursday at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, trailing Paul but leading Morgan and the rest of the pack after the all-around preliminaries at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
Paul Hamm, of Waukesha, Wis., was the leader with a combined total of 57.600 points, followed by McClure with 57.425, Sean Townsend with 56.625, Stephen McCain with 56.550, Blaine Wilson with 56.350, and Todd Thornton with 56.175. Morgan Hamm was ninth with 55.700 points.
McClure was happy but drained. The best part came "when it was over. Not to say that in a bad way, but it was a relief," said McClure, who was second to Paul Hamm and a spot ahead of Morgan at the U.S. championships.
"I stayed on and had no major deductions on all six events."
The top two after Saturday's all-around final will earn automatic berths on the Athens Olympic team and avoid leaving their fate up to the men's selection committee.
"Whatever worked today I'll take to Saturday," said McClure, who's from Mill Creek, Wash., and trains in Colorado Springs, Colo. "It's all in my hands now. I know what I need to do to keep second place. That would be a major relief."
Paul Hamm, who won the world all-around championship in Anaheim last August, fell off the pommel horse Thursday but was otherwise solid and led after each rotation. McClure was second after each apparatus, but the rest of the rankings fluctuated.
The combined standings for the U.S. championship and Thursday's competition had Paul Hamm, McClure, Townsend, Thornton, Morgan Hamm, McCain as the top six.
McClure's 9.825 (out of 10.0) on the pommel horse was the highest score on that treacherous apparatus. He also earned a 9.725 on the high bar, and, in what's supposed to be his worst event, he earned a respectable 9.3 on still rings.
McClure, a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. men's team at last year's world championships, is engaged to marry 1996 U.S. Olympian Jaycie Phelps next February. Having a partner who's familiar with the stress and frustrations of elite gymnastics has helped him persevere.
"It's great, really, especially over the last two weeks," he said before the competition. "She told me she almost quit between nationals and the Olympic trials because it gets real intense.... It's awesome to have somebody who's been there and can share this success with you."
His strengths lie more in his poise and steadiness than flash.
"I see myself fitting in as a consistent team player. They've trusted me on the team to do well and put up big scores the last three years," he said. "That's my strong point, the experience I've had with the success of the men's team. I think it counts for something.
"You don't really know. I think they're going to cover all grounds possible and try to put together the best team possible. I have faith in our program committee and the selection procedures."
Jason Gatson of Upland, who skipped the U.S. championships to nurse a back injury, skipped the vault and floor exercise Thursday. That means his Olympic hopes are in the hands of the selection committee.
A USA Gymnastics spokesman said Thursday the committee hadn't decided if it would announce the Olympic team Saturday or hold a selection camp. It might need the time to plot its strategy in choosing event specialists who can maximize scoring in the team event.
Paul Hamm opened with a 9.8 for his floor exercise routine but hit his leg on the pommel horse and fell off, earning merely 9.0. He got a creditable 9.475 on the still rings and did better on the vault, earning a 9.65.
He followed with a difficult parallel bars routine on which he stuck the landing, getting a 9.775. On the horizontal bar, on which he's the U.S. champion, his fearless release move and sureness brought him a 9.90.
Thornton, of Houston, caught the crowd's fancy with an aggressive high bar routine that earned him a 9.7, and energetic Raj Bhavsar was applauded for his still rings routine, which brought him a 9.75. Bhavsar, however, fell off the high bar and earned only 7.75, dropping him from fifth after three rotations to eighth after four rotations. His best events, though, are the rings and vault, so he has a chance of making the team as a specialist.
The women's competition begins with the preliminaries today, and they don't carry over their scores from the U.S. championships. The top two all-arounders after Sunday's finale will be nominated to the Olympic team, subject to proving their readiness at a selection camp.