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Hamms shaky in return to competition

August 16, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- It was not a triumphant return to competition for gymnastics twins Paul and Morgan Hamm on Wednesday night at the Visa Championships, the U.S. national team championships.

For the first time since Paul Hamm won the Olympic all-around gold medal in Athens and Paul and Morgan keyed the U.S. to a team silver medal, the 24-year-olds resumed competition.

They participated on only two of the six apparatus, floor exercise and the pommel horse. Paul had the top floor exercise, but his pommel horse routine was marred by a stop on a scissors move midway through the routine (he finished 15th overall). Morgan fell on his final tumbling pass on the floor exercise and finished eighth. He stumbled out of his pommel dismount, nearly falling (he was tied for 18th overall).

"I'm tired right now," Paul said. "I ran out of gas a little bit," Morgan said.

They weren't the only ones. The men's world championship team will be named after Friday's competition and the U.S. needs to improve at least one spot from last year's woeful 13th to qualify as a team for the 2008 Olympics. The Hamms, who had already said they weren't prepared to perform at world-championship level, had also said they were confident whoever travels to Stuttgart, Germany, next month for worlds will easily get the U.S. qualified.

But it wasn't a heartening performance.

Alexander Artemev, the two-time defending all-around champion and defending world bronze medalist on pommel horse, staggered out of his dismount on his best event but still finished tied for first overall with David Durante, a former Stanford gymnast. "There were some nerves tonight," Artemev said.

Two 21-year-old Stanford seniors, were in fourth and fifth place -- Sho Nakamori and David Sender -- with Guillermo Alvarez of Denver in third place, same as he finished last year.

Nakamori is just eight months out of shoulder surgery. He called himself "stunned" that he did so well.

That's in contrast to Justin Spring, a 23-year-old from Burke, Va., whom Paul Hamm listed as one of his favorites for the all-around title. Spring fell on both his vault dismounts, dropped off the parallel bars twice and stepped badly out of his high bar landing, landing him in 31st overall.

Paul Hamm said this comeback is a work in progress. "You can try to simulate competition in practice," he said, "but it's not easy."

Artemev, for one, was impressed with what he saw from the Hamms. "They bring such creativity to the sport," he said. "Of course they had a couple of stumbles tonight. But from what I saw, they're already close to the top. I'm excited they're back."

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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