SAN JOSE -- Paul Hamm took more than two years off from competition after winning the all-around gymnastics gold medal in a controversial decision at the Athens Olympics.
Watching his daring release moves on the horizontal bar, powerful vault and precise parallel bars routine Friday at the Pacific Rim championships, it seemed as though he never left.
Hamm, 25, overcame a slip off the pommel horse to win the all-around title and lead the U.S. men to victory at San Jose State's Event Center. Despite his miscue, he comfortably defeated teammate Alexander Artemev, 94.45 to 92.30.
"He's a beast," Artemev said. "He's amazing and he's rock solid, stone cold. You can't take him off the equipment. He's an awesome gymnast."
Lu Bo of China was third, with 91.35 points, Maxsim Deviatovsky of Russia was fourth with 90.80, and 2004 U.S. Olympic alternate Raj Bhavsar of Houston was fifth with 90.65.
The U.S. men won the team event with 367.75 points, well ahead of China's 356.90 and Japan's 356.10. However, China and Japan did not send their top gymnasts.
For Hamm, the return to a full international competition was like coming home.
"I haven't competed with a team since the past Olympics, and it's cool," Hamm said.
"Our team did a great job today. We hit almost all of our routines.
"This was one of the best competitions I've been in, in my whole career."
Hamm said he has regained about 90% of his old proficiency.
"I had a great vault today. It felt easy, high, nice landing, so that was good," he said. "All the way up until pommel horse my routines were wonderful. I was happy with them. There wasn't a whole lot I could do to improve them.
"As far as being prepared for big competitions coming up, I think I'm just about there. I just have to have those days where I hit all six routines."
Artemev performed a strong and sure pommel horse routine to pull within striking distance of Hamm.
Artemev, born in Russia but a U.S. citizen since 2002, finished third on that tricky apparatus at the 2006 World Championships and earned an event-best 15.85 Friday.
"Our team is the most important right now," Artemev said, "and we proved we're a medal contender definitely and we're the team to beat."