John Gurzinski, File, Associated Press
With the London Olympics approaching fast, Paul Hamm found there was one competitor he couldn't beat.
His own body.
The only American man to win a world or Olympic all-around title told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he is retiring, his body unable to handle the demands of elite-level training and competition.
"It's come to that time," said Hamm, who continues to be bothered by shoulder problems after having surgery in January 2011 to repair a torn right labrum and rotator cuff. "Your mind wants an outcome a certain way, and it used to be a certain way, but you can't get your body to perform that certain way. And I can see it."
The announcement comes four months to the day before the London Olympics start. Hamm returned in the summer of 2010, hoping to end his career with a positive Olympic experience after a judging controversy spoiled his Olympic title in 2004 and a freak injury forced him out of Beijing.
Hamm, who turns 30 in September, said he still can do gymnastics. But he already is noticing structural issues with his shoulder — "more shifting, more instability, more elasticity" — and worried about the damage the next few months of training could do, to say nothing of the U.S. championships and Olympic trials in June.
"I do have to worry about my body," he said. "This is the body I have to carry with me the rest of my life, and hopefully it'll be useful."
Hamm's retirement ends the career of possibly the best men's gymnast the United States has ever had. In addition to his 2003 world and 2004 Olympic titles, he led the Americans to a silver medal in Athens, their first at the Olympics in 20 years, and was the cornerstone of silver medal teams at the 2001 and 2003 world championships.
He has five medals from the world championships, three from the Olympics.
"What he accomplished in our sport was extraordinary," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said. "Becoming the first world and Olympic all-around champion from the U.S. is a huge statement about his talent. It's also made a difference in USA gymnastics emerging from a team that struggled to make the podium to a team that's consistently on the podium. Paul Hamm raised the bar in men's gymnastics in this country and worldwide, and we're continuing to benefit from the role he played."
Following the early 1980s heyday of Bart Conner, Peter Vidmar and the rest of the Golden Guys, the Americans became largely irrelevant on the international scene. They won two Olympic medals and one at the world championships from 1984 until 2000, and top-five finishes were considered cause for celebration.
But Hamm gave the Americans credibility with the rest of the world, and his success drove the other U.S. men to get better. When the Americans won a bronze in Beijing, it gave them back-to-back Olympic medals for the first time in history. The United States is the only country — not China, not Japan, not Russia or Romania — to medal in both the men's and women's competitions at the last two Olympics.
At last fall's world championships, the U.S. men won another bronze medal, and Danell Leyva won gold on parallel bars.
"We're going to miss him. He's been such great asset to USA Gymnastics, certainly one of the greats of all time," said Vidmar, now chairman of the board at USA Gymnastics. "He helped set the stage for the era we're enjoying right now. He helped to build the confidence of the other American male gymnasts, to say, 'You can get on the podium.'"
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