In the world of gymnastics Morgan and Paul Hamm are known for being fierce competitors. The twin brothers from Wisconsin are former world and Olympic champions and both are considered legends in the sport. However, you won’t be seeing either tumbling for gold in Beijing this week. Not because they didn’t qualify to compete, rather they will be watching the Games from their home just outside of Milwaukee because they possess a trait most of us could (and should) exercise more—humility.
Three days ago a teary eyed Morgan Hamm officially announced that the bone spurs digging into his left leg made it too painful for him to compete on the world stage. Consequently, he gave up his spot on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team, thus paving the way for a healthy alternate to take his place.
According to Morgan it was the right thing to do:
“This has been an extremely hard decision for me to make. I’ve given everything I can to be ready to compete at this Olympic Games,” Hamm said. “It’s best for me to step down and have another athlete fill my position. This is something for me that’s very tough because it’s end of my career, and it’s not the way I had planned it.”
Coincidentally (though is anything really a coincidence when it comes to twins), Morgan’s twin brother Paul, the reigning Olympic champion, was forced to withdraw from the Olympics on July 28 due to injuries. Back then Paul also issued an emotional statement saying if he wasn’t going to be 100% healthy in time for the Games it would not be right for him to travel to China to represent the United States.
The Hamm’s coaches and even their teammates were stunned by the news of the brother’s withdrawal saying the men are “irreplaceable athletes and incredible gymnasts.”
The team must now forge on without their leaders. (The Hamm brothers were the only athletes on the men’s team with prior Olympic experience.) Both men made their first Olympic team in 2000 at the age of 17. Four years later they led the Americans to the silver in Athens, the team’s first Olympic medal in 20 years. Athens was also the place where Paul was famously awarded the gold medal in the individual all-around competition, becoming the only American man in Olympic history to win the gold medal in that event. Which of course makes their withdrawal from what would have been their third Olympics even tougher to deal with. On top of that, prior to making this year’s team, both brothers announced that they planned to retire from the sport after Beijing.
Injuries ended their careers earlier than they had anticipated. Though some say the brothers could still have competed in China, rationalizing that even at 75% the Hamms could easily out tumble athletes from other countries. They are just that good. But to me that’s what makes Paul and Morgan world-class athletes and moreover, decent human beings; rather than sticking around for show they placed their pride aside and gave someone else the chance to make their Olympic dreams come true.