Morgan Hamm: Injuries keep another star gymnast from Beijing

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On the eve of the Games, America’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams’ medal hopes have been significantly hit by a series of injuries.

For the men, the injuries have dropped them from possible contenders for a bronze or even silver to medal longshots.

Today, two days before the beginning of competition, Morgan Hamm withdrew from the Games with an ankle injury. He said he could no longer perform his floor-exercise routines – a key event for him – at anything near 100 percent.

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“Right now I am unable to perform my tumbling skills at the level that I need to,” he said in a statement. USA Gymnastics has not yet named his replacement.

Last week, his twin brother and 2004 all-around gold medalist, Paul, also pulled out due to complications from a wrist injury.

The loss of Paul Hamm, America’s best male gymnast, had already thrown the country’s medal chances into doubt. The loss of Morgan Hamm begins to seriously undermine the strength in depth that was needed to cover for his brother.

Paul Hamm will be replaced by Raj Bhavsar; Morgan Hamm, by Alexander Artemev.

The women have come to Beijing as the favorites for the team title, having won the 2007 World Championships. The US has perhaps the world’s best 1-2 punch in 2007 all-around world champion Shawn Johnson and 2005 all-around world silver medalist Nastia Liukin.

But its depth will also be tested as Chellsie Memmel, 2005 all-around world champion, injured her ankle in practice this week. Instead of withdrawing from the Games, however, Memmel will remain in Beijing and drop her floor and balance beam routines, competing only on the uneven bars in team competition.

Team captain Alicia Sacramone says the decision is based on the fact that any replacement would likely score significantly lower on the uneven bars. Memmel’s bar routine has a high degree of difficulty, and therefore can score more points for the team. It is also, obviously, the least stressful event for an ankle injury.

“We need her start score in that event,” Sacramone says.

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