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Injured Gymnast Paul Hamm Not Competing in Beijing Olympics

Paul Hamm won't be going to the Beijing Olympics, after all.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist announced Monday that he is withdrawing from the U.S. team because his broken right hand is not healthy enough for him to compete in Beijing.

He also hurt his rotator cuff in his accelerated recovery effort.

"I have put my heart and soul into my comeback and done everything I could to get ready in time to compete in Beijing," Hamm said in a statement released by USA Gymnastics.

"After returning home from the preparation camp, I had a few physical setbacks, and it became clear to me that my physical preparations would not be sufficient to properly represent the United States and contribute to the team's efforts to win a medal.

"At this point in time, the success of the team and fairness to the team, and the alternates, is most important. While I am very disappointed, I feel I can wait no longer to make this decision."

The U.S. men are scheduled to leave Wednesday, and competition begins Aug. 9.

One of the alternates — Sasha Artemev, David Durante and Raj Bhavsar — will take Hamm's place.

Hamm's injury clears the way for China's Yang Wei in the all-around race. Yang is the two-time defending world champion, and the all-around gold was expected to be a two-man contest between him and Hamm.

Hamm broke his hand May 22 at the national championships, just 11 weeks before the start of the games. He had surgery five days later and pushed his recovery in hopes he'd be healthy enough to help the Americans get back on the podium and defend his gold medal.

Hamm's withdrawal likely ends the career of one of the best gymnasts the United States has ever had. He is the only American man to win the world (2003) and Olympic (2004) titles, and he led the United States to a silver medal in Athens, their first at the Olympics in 20 years.

Hamm, who graduated last year from Ohio State with a degree in accounting, plans to go to business school.

"We admire Paul for making this difficult decision," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "Paul's comeback this year has been phenomenal, made even more impressive following the injury to his hand. He has raised the level of determination among the entire team to put forth a medal winning effort in China. We respect his decision at this time, which is being made to serve the best interests of all of the athletes involved."

Hamm appeared to be on track at a weeklong training camp two weeks ago, where he proved he was physically able to compete at a July 19 intrasquad meet. Hamm did portions of all six events that day, looking particularly good on floor exercise, and estimated he was about 90 percent healthy.

But he struggled with some of his skills on parallel bars and acknowledged he still had pain in the hand. Every one of the six events puts a heavy load of stress on the hand.

When Hamm returned home to Columbus, Ohio, it was clear just what a toll the hard training had taken. Hamm struggled with practice and pain all last week, and he decided over the weekend that it was better to let a healthy athlete take his spot.

The Americans would have needed Hamm to compete on all six events in team qualifying, and likely would have put him up on all six in team finals, too. The scoring format in team finals is unforgiving, with three athletes competing on each event and all three scores counting. Make a mistake or struggle, and it costs the team dearly.

Despite taking 2 1/2 years off after Athens — an unprecedented layoff in the sport — he had firmly established himself as a contender for another gold, winning every meet he entered this year, often by large margins. At nationals, he was practically perfect through his first five events before breaking the fourth metacarpal in his right ring finger in the closing minutes of his parallel bars routine.

Even with the injury, he still finished the night almost four points ahead.