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What will Paul Hamm bring to the USA Men’s team?

Most of all, he’ll eliminate the need to use up an entire spot on a pommel horse specialist.  Prior to Paul’s announcement, it was looking like the USA men’s team would need at least one pommel horse specialist, as most of our top all-around gymnasts are quite weak on this event.  Using a one-event specialist on a six-member team is not ideal, especially considering the fact that the 2012 Olympic team will use only FIVE members.  This smaller team size will almost completely eliminate the luxury of using a one-event phenom to boost a weak area for the team; most, if not all, of the team members will have to compete in multiple events.  This is why Paul’s return will be especially valuable…he essentially provides the equivalent of TWO gymnasts because he should easily be able to compete in the team finals on five or even six events.  His versatility might actually allow us to use a specialist in an area where we need it the most.

Rings will be a big question mark.  Of course “weak” is a relative term when we’re talking about the greatest American gymnast of all time, but there’s no doubt that rings was never one of Paul’s biggest strengths.  Though he was actually stronger on rings in 2008 than he was in 2004, his increasing age and history of shoulder problems leaves some uncertainty about how that event might turn out this time around.  I have no doubt he can get a fairly strong rings routine again for his all-around effort, but as for a team finals spot, I can’t say for sure.  We may end up using Paul on rings, but it’s also definitely possible we may end up needing another rings specialist, like Brandon Wynn or even Kevin Tan.  Aside from Jonathan Horton and possibly Tim McNeill, we really don’t have any more depth on rings than we do on pommel horse.  In fact, now we may have less depth on rings.

Ideally, we need a couple of guys who could potentially do rings AND pommel horse.  They’re few and far between, but here are four I can think of (besides Paul Hamm):

Chris Cameron

Tim McNeill

Wes Haagensen

Kevin Tan

Because of their strengths on both of Team USA’s weakest events, these guys will have an advantage in the selection processes over the next couple of years.  This is assuming that Kevin Tan continues with his comeback…I haven’t heard otherwise.

It’s pretty much impossible to start predicting actual lineups for the USA men’s team with Paul Hamm because there are SO many contenders, not to mention the fact that it won’t be until 2011 and 2012 when this actually comes into play.  But here’s a look at how things might shape up.  I put in bold the spots that seem most likely on each event, and then added in the others that will likely be our strongest considerations.

Team USA’s Lineup with Paul Hamm

Floor

Paul Hamm

Jonathan Horton

Steven Legendre/Chris Brooks/Paul Ruggeri

Pommel Horse

Paul Hamm

Tim McNeill

Chris Cameron/Wes Haagensen/Kevin Tan

Rings

Jonathan Horton

Tim McNeill

Chris Cameron/Wes Haagensen/Kevin Tan/Brandon Wynn

Vault

Paul Hamm

Jonathan Horton

Steven Legendre/Chris Brooks/Paul Ruggeri

P-Bars

Paul Hamm

Jonathan Horton

Danell Leyva/Tim McNeill/Chris Brooks

High Bar

Paul Hamm

Jonathan Horton

Danell Leyva/Chris Brooks/Paul Ruggeri

As you can see, even with Paul Hamm there is a ton of uncertainty about who the other team members will be.  But what we CAN say with certainty is that if Paul Hamm stays healthy and makes the successful comeback we all know he is capable of, the USA men will be in serious contention for another medal, and possibly for an improvement over their bronze medal in Beijing.  There’s a lot of fierce competition on the men’s side right now, and it just got WAY fiercer with Paul’s announcement.  We’re about to see all of these contenders – except for Paul – take center stage at the upcoming USA Championships.

I’ll bring you some specific previews of some of these world team contenders in the next few days!