Originally created 08/20/04

Heavenly Hamm

Real life is stranger and far more exciting than fiction - and also less believable. Sylvester Stallone's movie Rocky, for instance, was fiction, but it was credible. The drama that Oympic gymnast Paul Hamm experienced Wednesday in Athens, Greece, was real life - but incredible.

Yes, in every Olympics there's drama and lots of it, but what the 21-year-old Wisconsin athlete went through was as unique as it was thrilling. First, let's get all the "firsts" out of the way.

Hamm became the first American, male or female, to win an Olympic gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event at an unboycotted Olympics. His victory margin over the silver-medal winner was the tiniest ever - less than one-thousandth of a point. His recovery from one of the Olympic Games' worst falls - from the vault - marked the greatest comeback in Olympic gymnastic history.

After Hamm's embarrassing failure on the vault, where he almost stumbled into the judges' table when he fell off, he plummeted from first place to 12th in the scoring. Even though as world champion he was the favorite going into the event, it looked like his dream of Olympic gold was shattered.

With only two exercises left - on the parallel bars and high bars - even a bronze medal seemed way out of Hamm's reach.

But the other gymnasts who were high up in the scoring had some bad moments of their own, opening a medal door for Hamm if he performed magnificently - which he promptly did, scoring a phenomenal 9.837 in both bar exercises.

At the finish, Hamm thought he might have come back to win the bronze. Then he and the rest of the world were stunned to learn that he'd done much better than that - that he'd come back to become the sport's new golden boy.

This was drama that Hollywood would dare not script, because no one would believe it. And there could be even more gold in the Hamm family's future as Paul and his twin brother, Morgan, compete in gymnastic's individual exercises today.


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