Aug 06 Morgan Hamm hears questions _ about Paul

Aug. 06, 2008, 9:39 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING(AP) With so many questions about Paul Hamm filling a news conference Wednesday, it could make someone wonder which twin actually is competing in the Olympics.

For the record, it's Morgan. And no, Paul isn't in Beijing - at least not yet.

As Morgan prepares for his third Olympics and his injured brother mulls journeying to China to support the U.S. team, it's become apparent that the defending Olympic champion - that would be Paul - overshadows the other gymnasts. Maybe not among the athletes themselves, but certainly within the media.

Instead of being grilled about his own comeback from a series of injuries and an inadvertent brush with a doping violation, Morgan immediately was asked about Paul. Several times, both in a formal setting and then during one-on-one interviews.

``It is definitely a little bit awkward,'' Morgan said of his presence at the games and Paul's absence. ``After my injury with my chest, I didn't know if I was able to come back in time. I did, which was great.

``I would love to have him here. But I'm really excited with the guys on the team, excited to compete with them and see what we can do.''

What they can do certainly is minimized by Paul Hamm's withdrawal from the team late last month. He was unable to fully recover from a hand injury sustained at the national championships in May, and a subsequent shoulder problem as he rushed to meet a U.S. Olympic Committee deadline to show he was fit for Beijing. Without Paul Hamm, the Americans go from serious medal contender to long shot.

``If he had another month, he'd be 100 percent on the team,'' Morgan said. ``At certain times, I would try to motivate him, and he really did an amazing job to get back to where he did. He really pushed hard.

``He asked a lot of times what my opinion was of his status. He had enough time to be OK, but not enough time to be great.''

Ironically, Morgan previously had been the Hamm battling a string of injuries. The most recent was a torn chest muscle that required a five-month rehab and jeopardized Morgan's chances of making the squad. An allergic reaction forced him out of an Olympic qualifier in late April.

But Morgan performed well at nationals, where Paul got injured.

After being chosen for the U.S. squad in June, Morgan nearly had another setback. On May 2, his doctor gave him an injection of a glucocorticosteroid, a cortisone-like anti-inflammatory, for treatment of a sore and swollen left ankle. That resulted in a positive doping test at nationals; the drug is allowed if an athlete gets a therapeutic use exemption, which he failed to do.

After Morgan sent the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency his medical records and letters from his doctor and physical therapist, USADA found the shot was clearly not a performance enhancer. His warning was the least severe punishment possible, but his results from the second day of nationals were wiped out.

He had to wait while USA Gymnastics crunched its numbers again, assuring that he still belonged on the team. Then came another wait while the International Gymnastics Federation confirmed his eligibility.

Yet on Wednesday, someone still asked USOC officials during a news conference that preceded the gymnasts' interviews about the appropriateness of Morgan being here.

``His use was inadvertent, he was cleared by the federation and cleared by the international federation,'' USOC chief executive Jim Scherr said. ``We believe it's perfectly appropriate that he's here participating. We don't believe that he gained any unfair competitive advantage through his inadvertent use of the substance in question.''

Overall, it's been a difficult eight months for the Hamms, who spent 2 1/2 years on the sidelines before deciding to pursue 2008 Olympics berths. Which makes Morgan's response to a text message from Paul on Wednesday all the more poignant.

Paul's message said: ``Thinking of coming to China. What do you think?''

Morgan thinks it's a great idea having Paul in Beijing before the men start Saturday.

``I told him to go for it,'' Morgan said with a slight smile. ``I told him, 'I'd love to have you here. Get on a plane.' He is at the point of finishing up the sport, while I am at the peak of gymnastics at the Olympics. We kind of coach each other, so it would be helpful.

``It would mean a lot to have him in the stands. This is an odd experience.''

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