Realising a dream

AS soon as Paul Hamm's feet settled into the thick blue mat beneath the horizontal bar, the audience at the Arrowhead Pond arena in Anaheim, California rose with a roar so loud that it shook the venue.

Straigtening up, he thrust his arms skyward, a grin spreading across his handsome face. The Wisconsin-born gymnast didn't even have to see the score to know that he had won, becoming the first American man to take the all-around title in a World championship. He had dreamed of this moment since he was a kid. And now that it had arrived, it was far better than anything he had ever imagined.

And this truly was a performance for the ages as just a mere hundredths of a point separated the American from his immediate rival, Yang Wei of China. Hamm had been in the same position two years ago at the 2001 Worlds in Ghent, Belgium, and had faltered badly. Falling on a release move from the same apparatus — the horizontal bar — he hit his face and dropped all the way to seventh from a position of strength.

He could have played safe, taking out one of his five high-risk release moves. But that would have meant only the silver, and Hamm already had one of those from the team event. "I knew I was going to have to throw everything in order to win. I just went for it." He had desperately wanted to do better than America's only other all-around gymnast Kurt Thomas, who had won the silver in 1979.

The dream-like run of Hamm in Anaheim was to extend into the individual apparatus as well, though he was forced to share the floor gold with Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev. The two golds added to the silver that he had earlier won with the rest of his colleagues in the team event. Yet, undoubtedly, it was his show in the all-around which rightly pleased Hamm at the end of the nine-day-long event. "To be part of history in gymnastics is an amazing thing. It's going to be great to leave your mark in sport. And it is something, I have always wanted to do, to win the all-around gold. And finally, I did."

At 21, Hamm could indeed he proud of his achivement. But then, it is an ambition that he has nursed ever since he took to the sport at the age of seven. In fact, the first time his long-time coach Stacy Maloney saw Hamm, he knew the gymnast was going to be special.

Born on September 24, 1982, in a family that was always devoted to sports, he and his brother Morgan, were the babies of the American gymnastics team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They made history too as they became the first twins ever to compete in the same competition of the sport for their country. That was the year when Hamm had won the first of his three U.S. all-around titles, the latest among them coming in July this year.

Hamm is currently taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is interested in a career of physical therapy. However, that could happen only after he gives up his first love, gymnastics. The young gymnast, given his performance in the recent Worlds, should now be a hot contender for the top honours in the all-around competitions of the Athens Olympics next year.

He has already started dreaming of that title, yet to be won by an American male gymnast. Now that his dream of winning the World all-around title has materialised, it could just be possible that the young American would once again have his dream come true in the Greek capital. — A. Vinod