Paul Hamm ought to get two golds for this performance.
With his medal hopes seemingly gone after he hit the judges' table on his vault landing, Hamm performed two of the most spectacular routines of his
career to win the men's all-around gymnastics title by the closest Olympic margin ever.
Hamm needed a 9.825 on the high bar, his best event, to tie Kim Dae-eun of South Korea for gold -- and he was dazzling. The highlight of his routine
are three straight release moves, and he did them to perfection Wednesday night to become the first U.S. man to win the event.
Hamm, the reigning world champion, threw himself up and over the bar, catching it on the way down once, twice and then a third time, soaring higher
with each toss. As he caught the bar the third time, the crowd roared.
Hamm's dismount was perfect, and he hit the mat with a solid thud.
Knowing the gold was his, he thrust his fists into the air and threw his head back. He waved at the crowd and then sprinted off the podium clapping
his hands while his coach, Miles Avery, jumped up and down on the sideline.
Yang Tae-young of South Korea won the bronze. Brett McClure of the United States finished ninth.
Hamm's margin of victory was .012. The previous closest margin in the event was .017 by Leon Stukelj of Yugoslavia over Robert Prazak of
Czechoslovakia in the 1924 Games. The women also had .012, in 1992, when Ukraine's Tatyana Gutsu edged American Shannon Miller.
After Hamm's victory, Avery grabbed him in a bearhug. His competitors did the same, then Hamm dropped into a chair, seemingly overwhelmed at what he
The celebrations were only beginning. When Hamm's score of 9.837 flashed on the scoreboard, the arena went into a frenzy.
"We all knew that Paul was the best coming in," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "To fall and then have to do a perfect routine to win
it and stick the landing, is incredible."
As the world champion, Hamm came in as the clear favorite. And the gold medal appeared to be within his grasp when he took a .038 point lead over
China's Yang Wei, his biggest rival, halfway through the meet.
Vault is usually one of Hamm's stronger events. He looked good when he hit the springboard and leaped forward, turning his body sideways before his
hands hit the horse.
Springing backward, he did 1½ somersaults in the air. But he didn't get enough height on the twists, and he hit the mat in a crouch. He had no chance
to stabilize himself, his left leg crossing over the right and sending him on a sickening stumble.
The crowd gasped as Hamm fell sideways and back off the mat, hitting the edge of the judges' table before he plopped down, a stunned look on his face.
He got up and walked off the podium, shaking his head and thinking he'd probably just cost himself the gold.
He looked dazed when he saw his score of 9.137, which dropped him all the way to 12th place and more than a half-point behind Yang -- a seemingly
insurmountable deficit. He still had two events to go, but he had to be absolutely perfect and hope that one of the gymnasts in front of him would
make a mistake.
Hamm did his part on his next event, the parallel bars. Going first, he flipped from one handstand right into another on the delicate bars, remaining
so still he looked like a marble statue. His dismount was textbook perfect, hitting the mat and not moving a centimeter.
His score, also a 9.837, was the highest of the night on the parallel bars, moving him up in the standings. But he needed help, and he got it as one
by one, his competition fell away. First went Yang, who lost the gold medal to Russian star Alexei Nemov in Sydney four years ago and then finished
second to Hamm at last year's worlds.
Doing a one-armed pirouette on the high bar, Yang reached to grab the bar with his free hand and came away empty. Swinging wildly like a kid on the
monkey bars, Yang tried to hang on but couldn't, dropping to the ground and taking his medal hopes with him.
Isao Yoneda of Japan fell on a similar move. Ioan Suciu of Romania stalled on a handstand. Marian Dragulescu couldn't keep his arms locked on a flip
on the parallel bars, sinking well beneath the bar with his legs flailing.
When the rotation finally ended, Hamm had moved all the way back to fourth place, only .313 points out of first.
Kim was the second gymnast on floor, and his routine was solid but not spectacular. He looked up as he walked off the floor, then went to the sideline
to wait. About five minutes later, it was Yang's turn on the high bar. His routine was serviceable, too, but hardly golden, and a small step on his
landing gave Hamm a chance.
He took it.
Hopping up and down as he waited, Hamm was the picture of calm once he stepped on the podium. Starting with slow swings, he quickly built momentum.
Jerking back on the bar as if to get as much power as he could, Hamm began his release moves, blind throws more than 10 feet in the air that some
acrobats wouldn't try.
But Hamm has a way of making it look easy. And now he has a gold medal to show for it.