Hope he, uh, didn’t have other plans for August.
In a whiplash-fast change of plans, Houston-based gymnast Raj Bhavsar will be an Olympian after all, after Paul Hamm, who continues to recover from the broken hand that sidelined him at the beginning of the summer, chose today to cede his de facto spot on the American team.
Despite the most thrilling routine of his career on the parallel bars at the Olympic trials last month, Bhavsar fell just nine heart-wrenching hundredths of a point shy of guaranteeing himself a ticket to Beijing, and — because Hamm (whose injury prevented him from competing at the trials) won the individual all-around gold medal in Athens on the strength of a gutsy, fearless performance on the high bar, thereby cementing himself as the eternal hero of American men’s gymnastics, no matter his physical condition — ended up instead being named as an alternate. (A similar fate befell him in 2004, and Bhavsar’s has been quite candid about how his heartbreak over his initial failure very nearly drove him to suicide.) Hamm was awarded a spot on this year’s team, with the understanding that he would be in fighting trim by August 9, and as late as last Saturday, it seemed as though he would be: during a July 19 exhibition, Hamm showed the team selection committee that, though he still had a heavy training regimen ahead of him, his hand had sufficiently healed.
Now, nine days later, having decided that his body simply isn’t in the kind of shape that would allow him to make a real impact in Beijing, Hamm has selflessly decided to step aside and allow Bhavsar a chance to chase the same dream that Hamm himself was able to capture in such a thrilling fashion — seriously, I still get goosebumps when I recall that boy’s explosive, gravity-defying high bar routine (and, more importantly, the stuck landing, which Hamm nailed with such a shattering grace that the resulting echo must have rippled across the whole of Greece for days after the fact) — four years ago. This kind of story is what the phrase “Olympic spirit” is all about, methinks.
Paul and Raj, congratulations — and profound admiration — to both of you. Men, you’re each American heroes. And Raj, baby: go get ’em next month in Beijing. There’s absolutely no doubt you’ve earned it.