After embarrassing arrest, Paul Hamm hopes to regain reputation
(AP) -- Paul Hamm wants to be remembered as a great Olympic champion, not the guy in the YouTube video.
More than six months after his embarrassing arrest on assault and two other misdemeanor charges, Hamm spoke out Tuesday, saying he regretted what happened and hoped to regain his reputation.
His contrite statement came during a conference call with reporters two days before he competes at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas. It will mark his first meet since the 2008 nationals where he broke his right hand, as well as a key stepping stone if he's going to make this year's Olympic team.
Aware, however, that he couldn't simply come back without addressing his June arrests, the 29-year-old took a proactive step by saying what he could about a legal case that is still pending, with his next hearing scheduled for Feb. 23 in Columbus, Ohio.
"Since my case has yet to be resolved, I have been advised by my lawyer not to discuss any details regarding what took place in Upper Arlington or the case in general," he said. "I would, however, like to say that I sincerely regret what happened and hope to regain my reputation through my actions moving forward. Currently, my lawyer is working with the local justice system to resolve the matter."
On gymnastics, Hamm said he will work on four of the six events this week (pommel horse, floor, parallel bars and vault), with two missions in mind:
-To help the U.S. team, about which he says, "if ever there was a time for us to win team gold, now is that time."
-To possibly prepare himself for a run at another Olympic all-around.
Hamm will compete Thursday, then likely again on Saturday, with the immediate goal of earning a spot on the U.S. national team, which will keep him in the mix for the Olympic team to be named later this year.
Hamm won the gold medal in 2004 and after a brief retirement, came back for 2008. But his Olympic dreams were cut short when he broke his hand during nationals, a few months before the Beijing Games.
He committed to another comeback for London, but in early 2011, he tore his right labrum and rotator cuff, and he is still overcoming those injuries with the Olympics less than six months away.
"I understand that I am now further from leaving the sport with extraordinary accomplishments, both in and out of the gym, than I was before, but it is still my mission to do just that," he said.
So, when he takes to the floor in a small sports center in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon, will gymnastics fans (and judges) see the Paul Hamm they've grown used to - impeccable, precise, uncompromising?
"Keep in mind that I haven't competed in four years," Hamm said. "But I think you're going to see Paul Hamm in four events this weekend."
For the last couple weeks, Hamm has been training in Houston with two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton, who is also overcoming injuries (foot) and will compete on two events this week. When healthy and performing their best, these are the two best male American gymnasts of the last decade. It would figure the Americans would need one, maybe both, if they want to truly contend for team gold in London this summer.
"Having each other in the gym motivates both of us," Hamm said. "As far as dealing with limitations, I've found my way around the limitations with four events and high bar is not far away. Rings will be much more of a challenge. Right now, my focus is mainly for what I can do to help the team. I'm not thinking about winning the all-around or winning an individual event."
What he didn't say - what doesn't need to be said - is that Hamm has never stepped onto a gymnastics podium without the goal of being the best. He has lived a life of disciplined, composed focus under a spotlight that could be harsh - during his 2004 Olympic gold-medal controversy with South Korea's Yang Tae Young, for example - which is what made the episode last June so seemingly out of character.
Hamm's arrest came after he was accused of hitting and kicking a cab driver, damaging the taxi's window and refusing to pay a $23 fare.
In a video of the arrest, Hamm sat handcuffed in the back of a cruiser and asked officers to let him go, saying, "I don't understand. I'm going to kill you guys." He can also be heard telling officers he had about eight drinks.
He lost his coaching job at Ohio State. But while the case is pending, he has made amends with the brass at USA Gymnastics, whose president said Hamm is eligible to compete this year.
"I've had several consultations with Paul and believe he is taking responsibility for his actions," Steve Penny said. "He has expressed a desire to do the right thing. USA Gymnastics will continue to work with Paul regarding his future activities."