Praise for Paul Hamm

Today, gymnast Paul Hamm is being lauded for his unselfishness. What a difference an Olympiad makes.

Yesterday, Paul Hamm announced his withdrawal from the American gymnastics team, acknowledging that his attempt to recover from the broken hand he suffered in May had failed.

Four years ago, Paul Hamm refused to return the gold medal he had won in gymnastics’ most prestigious event – the all-around – despite the fact that he had won it due a judging error.

In truth, nothing has changed. The champion once branded selfish by some is the same man who now is putting the welfare of the team above his own.

I cannot claim to have great insight into Paul Hamm’s soul. I have only talked to him at a handful of press events, and never one-on-one. But what struck me was that he was always refreshingly frank.

In Athens, he had done nothing wrong, yet he was being asked to pay the penalty for someone else’s mistake. Sporting events often turn on a mistake, usually by the athlete, but sometimes also by those officiating. To publicly implore him to return the medal, as some officials did, was underhanded.

The rules were clear. The medal was his.

This, too, is clear. He cannot compete in Beijing. So rather than holding out in the hope that another few days might improve his condition, he has withdrawn.

Two different decisions, but the same man in each.

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