American Hamm Claims Men's Gymnastics All-Round Crown
ATHENS (Reuters) - Paul Hamm etched his name into the record books as he became the first American man to win the Olympic gymnastics all-round crown Wednesday.
Hamm overcame a fall from the vault to grab a last gasp victory with the final routine of the day for a total score of 57.823.
"I thought after the vault I cost myself any medal. My thought was I should shoot for bronze," said a jubilant Hamm after adding the Olympic gold to the world title he won last August.
"I dug down deep and gave it everything I had on the parallel bars and high bar. And after high bar, my coach said 'all right Olympic champion, and I said 'what, no way'."
Mounting the horizontal bar trailing in fourth place, Hamm completed his gravity-defying routine to perfection and threw his arms up in the air in victory even before the judges had declared their verdict.
His final score of 9.837 was enough to edge out South Korean's Kim Dae-eun by just 0.012 of a point and spark off ecstatic celebrations around the Olympic Indoor Hall.
South Korea's second representative Yang Tae-young settled for bronze with 57.774.
"This is the most amazing comeback in gymnastics history," said Hamm's team mate, Brett McClure, who was also in contention for the crown going into the final round.
"Paul's worked really hard and he deserved to win."
Hamm's title hopes appeared to have ended in spectacular fashion in the fourth rotation when he mis-timed his vault and ended up flat on his side before rolling off the mat.
With his disappointment etched on his face, the American walked slowly back to his seat thinking his title aspirations had vanished even before his score of 9.137 flashed up on the screen.
However, when his Chinese rival Yang Wei's gold medal hopes suffered a similar fate less than 20 minutes later when he inexplicably lost his grip from the horizontal bar, Hamm knew he was in with a chance and kept his focus.
"Paul was in 12th place after that vault and that's a hard place to climb out of," said Hamm's coach Miles Avery.
"After that vault I thought he had no odds left, we were so hoping for a medal at that point but after parallel bars I knew we were so in."
Earlier in the evening, the anticipated showdown between Hamm and Yang seemed to be following a pre-written script as both started their quest for gold with identical scores of 9.725.
While Hamm displayed his powerful tumbling combinations on the floor, Yang shared the spotlight by keeping a straight bodyline as he swivelled over the pommel horse with ease.
However, Hamm's crash landing proved to have a domino effect among his main rivals as one after another messed up their routines, leaving the unfamiliar South Korean duo on top of the pack going into the final rotation.
"When I started out tonight, I wasn't all that ambitious but by the parallel bars, I was looking good so I became ambitious," said silver medallist Kim.
"I saw that Paul Hamm had made mistakes and I thought I might have a chance of gold."