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Stretching Out: The True Legend of Paul Hamm
(32 votes, average 2.91 out of 5)

Like many in the sport, I was saddened by the Paul Hamm incident that led to his termination as an assistant coach at Ohio State. It only takes one slip-up in the Internet age, especially when video is involved. So Hamm, whose gymnastics brilliance had always shone brighter because of his humility, was humbled even further.

While I don't condone his actions, I certainly will not judge him on one night of his life. As a writer, I have covered him since he and his twin, Morgan, dominated the age-group scene. When he showed up at the 2002 U.S. championships in Cleveland, he ran off with the first of three consecutive senior national titles.

At the 2003 Worlds in Anaheim, Hamm performed one of the best routines I've ever seen under the circumstances. After China's Yang Wei had already finished his all-around performance with a solid floor routine, Hamm needed to nail the high bar set that had betrayed him more often than not in the past. That's what I remember most. He went up and hit the best routine of his life, stuck his dismount, and became the first American male to win a world all-around gold.

"It was just an awesome feeling," Hamm said at the time. "I was finished, and I finally beat high bar."

A year later, at the Athens Olympics, he again completed his all-around with a clutch high bar routine. And even though his Olympic all-around title was clouded in controversy because of a scoring error, he carried on as best he could. He did nothing wrong, yet was robbed of the elation that usually comes with being Olympic champion. At his athletic peak, he disappeared from the sport after that.

Hamm, who turns 29 Sept. 24, was the most successful U.S. male gymnast ever, but I'll always appreciate his demeanor off the apparatus. No matter the situation, he answered questions honestly, respectfully and thoughtfully. He was never too busy, or too full of himself. That's what impressed me more than anything.

So when I think of Hamm, I will consider the total picture, not just one unfortunate evening. Because all we really learned from his incident with the police is that nobody is perfect. And nobody ever will be.

Paul Hamm was great for gymnastics. He was pivotal to the resurrection of a U.S. men's program that had nose-dived after its 1984 Olympic team victory. And if his comeback stalls and he never returns to the sport, that's how I will remember him.

Comments (19)add comment

J.D. said:

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Thank you for sharing these uplifting thoughts about Paul! It is nice to hear some positive about one of our greatest male gymnasts even after one night of imperfection! Happy Birthday Paul and I hope that things turn around for you!!!
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +7

Frank Hui said:

Frank Hui
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I come away from this situation a little perplexed about his termination. OSU's reasons seems more than a little premature and more importantly vague. If this was consistent with prior incidences of bad behavior then I can understand their action. However if this was an isolated occurrence and he was doing his job up to expectations or beyond, then you would think he'd be given a second chance. OSU seems to be saying they have a zero tolerance for any human frailty that causes them embarrassment. Yet at the same time I wonder if there's more to it than they are choosing to disclose.

Either way, again, it's perplexing and kind of sad
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +2

BuckeyeFan said:

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It's not so simple as that. First, what he did was a fire-able offense. The refusing to pay and assault is at the word of the taxi driver, but his drunken rantings to the police were captured on video. Who says "I'm gonna kill you!" to the police? This is not someone who was just out having a good time but someone with some real issues.

Second, Paul didn't tell OSU or the head coach what happened. He should have informed them immediately! Instead they found out like everyone else... online. This was pretty disrespectful and made things worse for him when it came time to decide his fate.
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +11

Alex Liang said:

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No mention of 2004 controversy?
With all due respect to Hamm as a gymnast, I was somewhat perplexed by Normille's omission of the way Hamm benefited from the fiasco at the 2004 Olympics AA finals. So is nobody going to mention the elephant in the room? All of us in the gymnastics community who watched the 2004 Olympics remembered exactly what happened. Normille praised Hamm's demeanour off the apparatus, well Hamm wasn't exactly gracious about the 2004 Olympics AA gold medal in the interviews he gave reporters as pressure built on him to give Yang of Korea the medal. Do we need to dig up the articles from 2004 and go through them again?

Yes the guy's an amazing gymnast, no one can take that away from him. However, anyone who has seen the video of his arrest will be appalled at how he had let himself down by behaving in such a manner. I could hardly believe my eyes as I watched the video. To err is human - sure, but did you watch the video Frank? Surely for an offence of this severity, OSU is fully justified in refusing him a second chance. It's not like he got a parking ticket. He beat up a man - that's a really serious felony.

If Hamm is trying to cash in on fame and market himself as gymnastics mentor/role model, then he has to protect his brand identity by not disgracing himself like that. That's marketing 101. I suppose OSU had expected him to be more than just a coach - they wanted him to be a role model and didn't want their students to think it's acceptable for a member of staff to go out, get drunk, assault a taxi driver, fight with the police then resist arrest. Perhaps OSU's reaction was a bit too swift for some, but it's the right decision.

Here in the UK (I'm British), British Gymnastics does have very strict guidelines about the roles of a coach and there is a code of conduct for all BG coaches.

 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +17

Amy said:

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Inexcusible
With all due respect, Mr. Normille, what transpired on September 6th was not simply an "unfortunate evening" or a "slip-up." While it's absolutely true that nobody is perfect, an individual who chooses to consume alcohol to the point of refusing to pay for a cab ride and then assaults said cab driver, refuses to obey commands given by law enforcement officials and then threatens to kill said officers, very likely has a problem with alcohol, serious anger issues, and/or a tremendous lack of respect for authority (not to mention a lack of self-respect).

Mr. Normille, while you will "not judge him on one night of his life," that is exactly what happens when an individual chooses to break the law. When a person allegedly commits theft, assault, resisting arrest and/or obstruction of a peace officer, the consequences can be catastrophic and far-reaching.

I believe that Ohio State was 100% correct in firing Mr. Hamm. Someone with the above charges has no business being employed in any capacity in which they work with young people.

As a long-time IG subscriber who also happens to be a police officer, I find Mr. Hamm's actions disgusting and tremendously disappointing. I hope that he will get the help that he needs.
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +14

melissa said:

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Paul Hamm
We all know what he has done for gymnastics so going through his successes was redundant. It was like you were trying to over -shadow his poor choices by his past success. The kids he is coaching are looking at his current behaviour, and when one does what he did he is condoning it. Drunk or not. He was not drunk when he took his first sip.

I agree with the above, comment. It is obvious by his demenor that he drank an exceptional amount. College students have enough pressure to drink and party and they certainly do not need to have a coach/mentor leading the pack. An athlete knows what it takes to take care of his body, leading by example in this manor would be a disgrace to all athletes who do shy away from such consumption of alcohol. Poor choices like this usually are not just a one night thing or one bad choice.
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +6

Jan Beach said:

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gymnastics fan
Although I don't condone Paul's actions on that night, it does make me kind of laugh that Ohio State decided that he didn't live up to the standards that they set for their coaches. Really? After the football/tattoo parlor scandal they just went through?? I'm sure Paul has learned a valuable lesson here and will pull himself back up and shine whether he has the support of OSU or not. Has anyone questioned whether the bar called the cab for Paul? I know most college bars offer "free" rides home if one has had too much to drink. Is that why he questioned payment? Just wondering.
 
September 14, 2011
Votes: +3

Dymphna O'Connor said:

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While I was and still am one of the critics of the AA gold fiasco and therefore never a supporter of Paul Hamm, I agree that it's a major shame to have one stupid night forever mark an otherwise great record and ruin the memory of an outstanding gymnast. I was one of those who complained and complained about Paul not giving up the AA gold back then but let's face it, the guy is still young. He had a night out, got so off his face that he didn't know what he was doing and ended up being caught on camera and having his life ruined because of it. I have sympathy for him although
I agree that the university had no choice and made the right decision. Im sure a lot of us have had a great night out turn sour because of having one too many drinks. A shame for Paul and he'll have to live with this but he should just brush it off now and continue with his comeback. People will respect him all the more if he stands up to this and doesn't slink off into the background. Come back with your head held high. You made a mistake. Nobody is perfect.
 
September 15, 2011 | url
Votes: +2

Alex Liang said:

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Wow, I am so impressed by the reaction of all the fans who have responded to Normille's story - thanks everyone, especially to Amy and Melissa. It's not like Paul Hamm simply got drunk and did something embarrassing or silly (eg. sang loudly in public and then threw up outside the bar) but no one got hurt, the whole reason why the police arrested him and charged him with a crime is precisely because someone did get hurt.

Have you been following the reactions on IG's Facebook page? There are so many Americans who are saying things like, "to err is human, no one is perfect, please don't judge". And my response is that is yes, to err is human indeed and none of us are perfect - then again, most of us don't go around assaulting innocent taxi drivers either and most of us have never been arrested by the police under such appalling circumstances (please watch the video, go to youtube and search for it).

What irks me is the fact that a lot of Americans are treating this as if Paul Hamm simply threw up on the sidewalk after getting drunk - when the reality of situation is that he committed a really serious felony. With all due respect to his achievement in the sport, let's allow the American justice system to do it's work - he does not deserve any special treatment on the basis of his 'celebrity' status. Whether you are famous or not, if you assault an innocent person like that, you need to face the consequences of your actions. Let's just hope the judge is not a gymnastics fan.

Perhaps Dwight Normille would like to respond as well to the wave of opinions here?
 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +3

Dwight said:

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I stated my opinion already, and I respect the opinions of others.
 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +0

Ono No Komachi said:

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Hamm has so far not been charged with any felonies. The assault charge will most likely be a misdemeanor.

If the justice system treats him as it would any other American, he will pay a fine and/or do some community service. That's it. No jail.

Some of that will depend on what kind of plea Hamm enters at his arraignment.

Hamm's problem is having his stupidity broadcast all over the Internet. That's the "special treatment" he's getting for being famous.

 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +4

Lindsay said:

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I have issues with grown men who feel the need to get drunk. And it's not like Paul is fresh out of college and still used to a college lifestyle. But if that's all he did, I would have said, "oh well, he's human".

But he went so many steps further than that! Going out alone in public while drunk is STUPID, even if you aren't the one driving! Refusing to pay for a cab, getting violent (especially towards someone else), and then moaning silly things to police officers only make it worse.

So while nobody is perfect, there ARE times when one's actions just aren't excusable. I think differently of Paul now.

 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +1

Carter said:

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I hate when people defend gymnasts who mess up because of the "great gymnastics they did" (paraphrase). They are people like anyone else and his horrible behaviour and abuse of the law (and people) have been fairly dealt with. Sorry. His accomplishments are separate from the accountability he must show.
 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +0

Trevis said:

0
Amazing how quick people are to judge
Stretching out is probably my favorite part of IG, mainly because the author's knowledge of the sport is truly legendary. I'm so happy to see that he wrote this article, because everything about it is true. The incident that happened to Paul Hamm is also a great indicator of the kind of people we have in the world.

People who are quick to change their opinion of you based on a news report or video. NO ONE here knows here exactly what went on and yet people are quick to judge and say "throw him in jail forever" or "he deserves this" based on very little knowledge of the facts. People love to immediately run onto their social network and update their status (who cares..?) then proceed to endlessly argue on forums about things they know little about (like this incident with Paul Hamm). Fairly pathetic but quite expected, people will be people.

I agree with the author, Paul has been extremely humble throughout his entire career. As gymnasts, we're some of the most humble athletes ever, especially considering that we're probably some of the fittest people on the planet. Paul demonstrated this humility in all his interviews and competitions.

On the note of his "controversial" career, I don't care what anyone says, he's the Olympic champion from Athens. Yang Tae Young and Kim Dae Eun have not EVER in their careers repeated the level of success that they had that one night (dare I say they got lucky one night..). That can't be said for Paul Hamm, who has repeatedly demonstrated his success over and over (did anyone see the 2004 High Car finals, that's Paul Hamm who handled himself quite nicely against a noisy and disruptive crowd).

I'm not defending him because he was an awesome gymnast. Let us also not forget that he is educated, had a great job prior to his comeback and is what is considered by most to be a successful man. My point is that people are so quick to judge based on very little (does anyone really know what happened? Is it any of your business anyways?). Paul is a celebrity after all, the media loves putting out stories like these because they know small minded people just love to gobble them up and point their fat fingers at others whenever they get the chance.
 
September 15, 2011
Votes: -1

melissa said:

0
judgement
When you air your stupidity in public, knowing you have some 'celebrity' status, you have just given permission to be judged. I think judgement is an over used term, anyhow. Having an opinion is no different than judgement and I think that is what this forum is for. People naturally have an opinion on everything that we take in, on any given day. We make unconscious opinions all the time.

Pauls situation, is no exception to that norm. When you are in the spot light, a person must take extra precautions not to sully their reputations, or integrity.

By the way there is a distinct difference in being humble, and integrity.
Interestingly enough the definition of integrity is this:

#2: The state of being unimpaired; soundness.

I got that from The Free Dictionary by FARLEX online.

I just think that is ironic given his condition that night.

Humility, is . Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.
2. Showing deferential or submissive respect: a humble apology.
3. Low in rank, quality, or station; unpretentious or lowly: a humble cottage.

He may have been humble, at the arena or gym, but lost it, the night he drank.
Alcohol, makes you lose the ability to make conscious choices.

People can be all up in arms because we have opinions. But we are ALL guilty of that.

 
September 15, 2011
Votes: +0

ZRP said:

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...
Boy o boy, sounds like a bunch of liberal thinking idealists, all the judging, sensationalism, overreaction, statements of opinion as if they were fact, assumptions. Makes me sick! Who are any of you to judge? I bet all of you judgemental dweebs are perfect. Typical of the mindset, kick a man while he is down...best of luck to Paul...make your comeback and show these morons where they can shove it.
 
September 16, 2011
Votes: -2

Alex Liang said:

0
Vote up/down, accountability and how gymnastics competitions work
A few simple points to make today in response to the most recent postings.

1. Please have a quick look at how the 'vote up vote down' system works - this gives readers who may not feel inclined to post an opinion but are able to express how they feel about individual posts. I note that whilst 'Trevis' has posted a very eloquent piece defending Hamm, the current votes for Trevis' piece is at -2 (though that may change over the course of today) whilst the post for Melissa and Amy is currently at +5. Go on, have a look my friends.

2. I have a problem with people who are willing to forgive misdemeanours on the basis of "oh he was drunk so that's alright". Is it okay for a man to beat up his wife (say break a few ribs, break her nose, put her in hospital) when he is drunk, but not okay if the man is sober? Can you see how ridiculous it is to excuse someone's action just because they are drunk? I'm no prude, but you still have to hold people responsible for what they do even under the influence of alcohol.

3. As for what Trevis' wrote about Kim Dae Eun and Yang Tae Young, mate, that's not how gymnastics works. You have an AA final and if you make a mistake, you can't go to the judge and say "but you know how good I am normally, didn't you see me land that dismount perfectly at the last World Championships?" Yes it's harsh and I've felt that pain myself when I had botched some bad landings when I competed. I used to stick my HB dismount all the time and then at a crucial meet, I under-rotated and staggered 6, 7 steps just to stay on my feet and I just had this shock of "how in the world did that just happen?" Needless to say, I lost that competition and it still hurts today because had I stayed on my feet like I normally do in training. But such is the nature of gymnastics competitions - it's about delivering a good routine under pressure and you're judged on precisely that, rather than your track record. So had the judges done their jobs properly in Athens 2004, Yang would've been the rightful winner of the AA title because it was that scores that counted, not Yang's (or Hamm's respective track records).

And that's how gymnastics works my friend. Anyone who has competed would tell you the same harsh truth. And I say that with all due respect to what Hamm has achieved in his competitive gymnastics career.

 
September 16, 2011
Votes: +4

Coach Sommer said:

0
The Non-issue That Became an Issue
The judging controversy during the 2004 games was due to ineptitude on the part of several officials and should never seen the light of day for several reasons:

1) The PB judging panel issued an incorrect start value. However this is not normally a problem as there are an established series of checks and balances designed to deal with just such situations.

2) None of the Korean coaching staff however noticed that the displayed PB start value was incorrect and thus no inquiry was submitted. Furthermore submitting an inquiry for a start value MUST occur prior to that rotation ending for it to be valid.

3) The Korean coaching staff accepted the score as it was several tenths higher than this athlete's previous PB routines at the games.

4) After the fact it was a Korean JUDGE who noticed the start value discrepancy and submitted an inquiry AFTER the competition had already ended. This was a serious error and a clear violation. Judges are not a part of the coaching staff on the floor and have no authority for submitting inquiries for athletes.

5) The meet technical director should have instantly denied the inquiry, regardless of its possbile merits, for being submitted after the rotation had ended; let alone after the entire competition had concluded.

6) Grandi further exacerbated the issue by opening it to public discussion and making personal entreaties to the athletes involved rather than being decisive and enforcing the rules which were already in place; namely that the inquiry was submitted outside of the allowed time frame and thus had no further relevance for results obtained on the field of play.

This actually should have been a very cut and dried issue. The three athletes who became embroiled in this needless drama were completely blameless. All of the responsibility for the resulting media circus that ensued can, and should, be laid squarely at the feet of the officials (Korean coaching staff, Korean Judge, Meet Technical Director, Grandi) who failed to act in a competent professional manner.

Yours in Fitness,
Coach Sommer
 
September 16, 2011 | url
Votes: +5

Ono No Komachi said:

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" But such is the nature of gymnastics competitions - it's about delivering a good routine under pressure" - nobody ever did that better than Paul Hamm.

Let the US criminal justice system take care of Hamm. He's not going to get any special treatment one way or the other. He's the problem of the People of the State of Ohio now.

I think he should get "time served", as the thrashing he's taking all over the gymnternet has been awful, and look at all the free entertainment he's been providing. That could count as his public service.

 
September 16, 2011
Votes: +1

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