Wis. Twins Hope for Olympic Spots

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) — With their red hair, freckled faces and burgeoning talent, Paul and Morgan Hamm stand on the cusp of capturing the country's imagination.

They're identical twins, both with legitimate shots at making it to the Olympics. The first major step begins Wednesday night at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

That's pressure.

Then, there's the pressure their mother, Cecily, will endure.

She'll be in the Kiel Center rooting not for one, but for two — or maybe neither — of her sons to get a leg up on a trip to Sydney.

``I think that's going to be really hard,'' Cecily Hamm said, imagining the dinner conversation if only one twin succeeds. ``It's not a completely unlikely scenario.''

It seemed very unlikely six months ago, when Paul was a newcomer to the U.S. senior team and before Morgan had even earned his spot.

But slow, steady improvement, combined with a push from coach Stacy Maloney to really start dreaming about the Olympics, pushed these All-American 17-year-old Wisconsin boys closer to Sydney.

Earlier this month at a qualifier for nationals, Paul finished third and Morgan fifth among the country's elite gymnasts, many with up to a decade more experience.

Suddenly, they've made themselves more than simply a nice footnote to the main competition. They're legitimate threats to make a six-man team on which only two spots — Blaine Wilson and John Roethlisberger — are thought secure.

The twins are getting good reviews from everyone, including the key decision-makers at USA Gymnastics.

``They're geniuses,'' U.S. head coach Peter Kormann said. ``I've never seen anybody whose got everything — the smarts, the talent — especially in people so young.''

``Three months ago, I would have said they're a longshot,'' team director Ron Galimore said. ``Now, you can't really say that about them.''

Under the men's selection process, scores from the national championships (40 percent) and Olympic trials (60 percent) will be combined to choose four of the spots on the Olympic team. The other two spots will be chosen by a committee, although Kormann has said scores in the two events will be heavily considered.

Wilson, the four-time defending national champion, said getting a fifth straight title isn't as important to him as contending for a team medal in Sydney.

``I'm so past the titles,'' Wilson said. ``I want everyone to come out of this meet healthy and I want us to end up with healthy team. If we don't come through with a medal, a title's not going to mean anything.''

The Hamms insist spots on the Olympic team don't mean everything to them — at least not yet. They're young to be competing at such a high level and know they'll have one, maybe two more chances at this.

``We've come this far because we've been together and been able to push each other really hard,'' Morgan Hamm said. ``Something like that can only help you get better faster. But we're going to be around for a while.''

The Hamms turn 18 on Sept. 24, the same day the individual event finals will be contested in Sydney. A year ago, nobody in the family could imagine celebrating in Australia.

``We just go one step at a time,'' Cecily Hamm said. ``I just know they would love to be over there together.''