Work in Sports
Wilson falters, but Hamm brothers pace U.S. men
SYDNEY -- Ordinarily a sub-par performance by team leader and gymnastics rock star Blaine Wilson would have spelled doom for the American men's medal hopes in Sydney. But thanks to a twin brace of Wisconsin Hamms and a gutsy performance by 30-year-old John Roethlisberger, the U.S. men finished a surprising fourth in Saturday's preliminaries to advance to the six-team finals. Since preliminary scores are not carried over, the Americans stand all-square with Russia, China, Ukraine, Japan and Romania heading into Monday night's medal round. "Once you get into the top six, it's anyone's game," said U.S. assistant coach Yoichi Tomita. "And we are there."
The oft-disparaged U.S. men did it despite a sub-par performance by the tattooed, tongue-studded Wilson, whose marks in the floor exercise and parallel bars were so low that the U.S. team didn't need them (only the top four of the five apparatus scores are counted). "I was so angry after the floor I wanted to choke somebody," said Wilson, who never seemed to regain his focus after the shaky start. "But one person doesn't carry the team. That was proved tonight."
The 17-year-old identical twins from Waukesha, Wisc., Paul and Morgan Hamm, performed as if they'd been cured in a pressurized can. Nailing dismount after dismount, Paul finished sixth in the overall point standings, eight places ahead of five-time U.S. champ Wilson and five spots ahead of SI cover boy Ivan Ivankov of Belarus. "Having the Hamms on the team is going to make all the difference," said teammate Stephen McCain, who also qualified for the all-around finals. "They're our secret weapons. Nobody's ever heard of them, and they go out and never miss. They're so even-keeled, it's unbelievable."
Said Wilson of the twins' performances: "It must be the cheese."
Digit dilemma? No problemo. Team trainer Rigo Carbajal popped the finger back into place and Roethlisberger proceeded to score a team-high 9.6 on the horse. "The last time I dislocated that finger I was 14 years old and I cried like a baby," Roethlisberger said. "But nothing hurts in the Olympics."
Well, failure hurts, and Wilson will wake up tomorrow smarting. Barring a major breakdown, top seeds Russia and China will wage battle for gold and silver. But if the Hamm twins can perform similarly, if not exactly identically, to the way they did Saturday night, and Wilson reasserts himself as top dog, the American guys might finally take the spotlight from the gals. The U.S. men have never won a team medal in a non-boycotted Olympics, but this could be the year and the team. Wilson is the key. "Blaine gets pissed off when he has bad days," says Paul Hamm. "He'll turn it around on Monday. I'm not worried about him."
They make a helluva pair. Like Hamm and cheese.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Ed Swift is in Sydney covering the Olympic
gymnastics competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read
Swift's behind-the-scenes reports from Down