Hamm to miss Olympic gymnastics trials

HOUSTON The men's competition at the Beijing Games begins Aug. 9, 11 weeks from now.

"He won't be able to do the Olympic trials," Miles Avery, Hamm's coach, said. "The course of action for that is to petition him to the team. And try to prove his readiness later in the summer, closer to the games."

USA Gymnastics officials would be almost sure to grant Hamm's petition, provided he is healthy.

Hamm is the only American man to win the all-around title at the world championships (2003) or Olympics (2004), and he has been dominant in every meet he's entered this year.

"For the Olympics, he has an excellent chance of being 100 percent," said Dr. James Bicos, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis and was with Hamm when he had X-rays doneFriday morning.

"Someone who is not an elite athlete like him, it's hard," Bicos added. "But his motivation, he should definitely be ready for the Olympics."

Despite the fall on parallel bars that caused the injury Thursday night, Hamm finished preliminaries at the U.S. gymnastics championships with a score of 93.450, almost four points better than anyone else. Nationals continue Saturday night, and the Olympic trials are June 19-22 in Philadelphia.

"It's very disappointing," Avery said Friday. "You work so hard and lay a plan in motion, and this isn't in it, a setback like this. He was doing so amazingly well."

Indeed, Hamm was dazzling through his first five events at the U.S. championships Thursday night, taking a commanding lead. But as he flipped to do work on one rail on parallel bars, he missed catching the bar and jammed the fingers on his right hand.

Hamm fell, grimacing as he immediately grabbed his hand.

"I heard a small popping sound in the joint," Hamm said Thursday night.

After Hamm finished his routine, USA Gymnastics medical officials spent several minutes examining him. Two large ice bags were put on his hand, and Hamm said he thought he might have dislocated his right ring finger. But X-rays Friday morning revealed he had broken a bone, the fourth metacarpal in his right hand.

Recovery time for the injury is four to six weeks, Bicos said. The break can be treated by putting him in a cast or a splint or by surgery, where a plate and/or screws would be inserted. Recovery time is the same for either option, Bicos said.

"(With surgery) they could get into more of a functional training a bit earlier. Put him in a functional cast and/or brace," Bicos said. "If they don't do surgery, they have to make sure he's immobilized."

"We're not worried about healing, it's just time."

All-Star second baseman Chase Utley had a pin inserted in his hand after breaking the very same bone in July 2007 and was back in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup a month later. Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith played 12 days after having a plate and six screws inserted when he broke his fourth metacarpal in 1999.

Avery said Hamm would return to Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. Hamm will consult a hand specialist next week, Avery said, and they're considering doctors in Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio and Baltimore, Md.

Under USA Gymnastics' selection procedures, scores from nationals and trials will be weighted and combined, and at least two athletes will be named to the Beijing squad at the end of the Olympic trials. Within 24 hours, other team members and/or a training squad will be named. Hamm is able to petition directly onto the Olympic team because he was part of the 2004 squad that won the silver, the Americans' first Olympic medal in 20 years.

Hamm also won the all-around gold in Athens and a silver on high bar.

USA Gymnastics hopes to submit a roster to the U.S. Olympic Committee by July 1, but it has until July 20. Team members who are injured can be replaced by the alternates up to 24 hours before competition in Beijing begins.

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