“It was a very gracious move by him, very admirable,” Thornton said. “He knew what was best for the team.”
Thornton, the chair of the selection committee that put Hamm and five other top Americans on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team, scrambled to get the committee together for a conference call Monday afternoon. The committee members faced the task of finding a replacement for Hamm as quickly as possible.
“We felt it was important to let everyone know who’s stepping in for the sake of the team,” Thornton said. “We looked at what were our biggest holes and who can best fill in as a replacement.”
The selection committee chose Raj Bhavsar to fill the spot. Thornton, who was an alternate at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, never competed in the Olympics despite being a member of the U.S. Gymnastics senior national team for six years in the 1990s. He said making the phone call to Bhavsar Monday afternoon was a thrill.
“I had the privilege of being able to inform him that he would be competing in the Olympics next month,” Thornton said. “It was all I could do to hold my emotions in myself, because I’ve been there before, waiting. It was an honor and a privilege to make that phone call.”
Thornton said Hamm’s absence will be felt most in the rings and pommel horse events. Hamm broke his hand a little more than two months ago and was on an advanced rehab schedule when a rotator cuff injury set him back further.
The U.S. men’s gymnastics team had high hopes with Hamm, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, planning to compete in all six events. Thornton said those expectations will remain high even with Hamm out of the picture.
“Of course it’s a blow. He’s the reigning all-around Olympic champion,” Thornton said. “But without Paul last year, we were still the third-best team in the world. We still expect to be on the podium.”
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216