Paul Hamm, newly affirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as the Athens Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medalist, remains at odds with U.S. gymnastics officials over their handling of his case, another crack in the fractured relationship between the sport's governing body and a prominent athlete whose feats fill its coffers.
Hamm said Thursday "there could have been more done" by USA Gymnastics to fight a challenge from South Korea's Olympic Committee on behalf of Yang Tae Young. He also said he had "very little communications in general at the Olympic Games" or afterward with USA Gymnastics executives and expressed his feelings in a letter to the organization's board. He said he was promised the letter would be reviewed in the next month.
Hamm, who grew up in Waukesha, Wis., and trains in Columbus, Ohio, added he hoped to talk to U.S. gymnastics leaders, "but right now I'm just going to be focusing on my upcoming competitions." He said he didn't believe the rift would "affect my ability to make the team in the future."
Speaking to reporters in a conference call, Hamm said he was satisfied with his choice to shun USA Gymnastics' post-Olympic tour in favor of the 13-stop Rock and Roll Gymnastics tour. Hamm earned a reported $7,500 per show as the marquee performer on the rival tour; athletes on the T.J. Maxx tour, which will appear at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Saturday and at Staples Center on Oct. 30, earn $1,800 per show and have been promised shares of profits.
Women's all-around gold medalist Carly Patterson of the U.S. leads the T.J. Maxx cast, which is scheduled for 41 shows in 72 days from Sept. 18 to Nov. 28.
"I do feel I went on the right tour for me and I went for the right reasons," Hamm said. However, he was cautious when asked whether he believed USA Gymnastics' support would have been stronger if he'd committed to its tour.
"It's hard for me to say for sure," he said. "I can't say if the same thing would have happened."
Mike Burg, who promoted the Rock and Roll tour and promoted USA Gymnastics' official tours in 1992, 1996 and 2000, said USA Gymnastics "basically put a gun to the head of most of their athletes" to persuade them to join its tour. He said USA Gymnastics needed big-name draws because it had lost three key sponsors and a TV deal.
Burg's show, which will be featured in a Dec. 19 television special and will relaunch next year as a theatrical-style production, included Hamm's twin brother, Paul, and Athens Olympians Blaine Wilson and Tasha Schwikert. Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller, 1996 gold medalists, also performed.
"They told athletes, 'You've got to perform for below-market value, less than we paid in 1984, and you'll agree,' " Burg said. "The reason they signed is it's a subjective sport and kids say, 'Oh my God, if I don't sign, it will hurt my chances to make the team.' What kid wants to make that decision?
"If you look at their schedule and you see how hard they make those kids work, you have to wonder. Carly Patterson could make more money selling [merchandise] in the Gap than on that tour.... Without Carly Patterson, that tour would fold. But they're paying Carly Patterson the same as everyone else."
Bob Colarossi, president and chief executive of USA Gymnastics, disputed the contentions made by Hamm and Burg. Colarossi said he attended a CAS hearing about the Hamm-Young matter in Switzerland and that USA Gymnastics "had no status" to do more for Hamm earlier because authority during the Olympics rests with national Olympic committees, not national governing bodies.
"We availed every resource we had to Paul and we supported his position from the very beginning through today," Colarossi said from Turkey, where he is attending meetings of the International Gymnastics Federation.
He also said he had devised a tiered system that would have paid multi-medalists such as Patterson more than other gymnasts but changed it after athletes voted for equal pay. The tour is expected to make a profit, he said.
He denied the notion there might be retribution against athletes who chose Burg's tour. "We respect Paul's decision, and Blaine's and Morgan's," he said. "No one on our tour was forced into signing. No one has been denied funding, assignments or opportunities, including Paul Hamm. The tour has been handled poorly in the past by promoters who haven't put the sport first and aren't accountable.... Our tour is going to fund the future of USA Gymnastics."
Colarossi said Burg could have applied for USA Gymnastics' blessing but never did; Burg said he did so on past tours but USA Gymnastics didn't deliver promised athletes.
"The girls and the guys together, that would have been great," said Burg, who said his tour averaged about 6,500 fans and made "a little" money. "Could it have been done? Yes."
Colarossi acknowledged having Patterson and Hamm as castmates would have boosted the sport. "It's always better to have one tour, one message, one brand," he said. 'Our intent is to offer the opportunity and to respect the decisions of the athletes."