Paul Hamm wins Pacific Rim Champs

March 28, 2008 10:30:04 PM PDT
Paul Hamm stepped up his comeback with a decisive victory at the Pacific Rim Championships on Friday night, surviving a fall on pommel horse to finish atop the 14-nation field.

Hamm, who took 2 1/2 years off following his gold-medal triumph in Athens, finished with a score of 94.45 to best teammate Sasha Artemev by a healthy 2.15 points as the Americans easily won the team title.

From his smooth opening vault to his final effort on rings, Hamm sure looked like the charismatic, precise gymnast fans remember from 2004 -- and he's still getting himself into competition shape.

"I just need to keep the momentum going, and hopefully I qualify onto that Olympic team," Hamm said. "I haven't competed with the team since the past Olympics, and our team did a great job today. I was really happy with everybody. We hit almost all of our routines."

Four weeks after decisively winning at American Cup in New York despite a fall on pommel horse, Hamm made a similar mistake at San Jose State's Event Center Arena -- and once again, it didn't matter in an otherwise poised performance. Hamm, who also won the all-around at the Winter Cup Challenge last month, is in just his second international meet since returning to competition.

Hamm again outpaced an international field missing most of his top rivals for gold in Beijing. China's team didn't include Yang Wei, considered by Hamm and coach Miles Avery to be the world's top gymnast. Some of Japan's biggest names also stayed home, and South Korea didn't even send a team.

Artemev, the talented 22-year-old U.S. hopeful who also finished second to Hamm at American Cup, gave another solid performance highlighted by the evening's best pommel horse score. He finished with a score of 92.3, better than his mark in New York.

China's Lu Bo was third at 91.35, while the United States' Raj Bhavsar posted the night's best rings score and would have finished fifth overall -- but only the top two gymnasts from each nation figure into the all-around scores.