HOUSTON - Never count Paul Hamm out. Not when he appears to be out of the running for an Olympic medal, not when he has taken 2 1/2 years off.
Not even when he has a broken hand.
The Olympic gold medalist said yesterday he believes there is a "definite opportunity" for him to be on the US gymnastics team at the Beijing Games, despite breaking the fourth metacarpal in his right hand.
"There's no guarantees, no matter what," said Hamm, his right hand and wrist encased in a blue cast. "The only thing I can do at this point is make an attempt, try and see what happens.
"It's going to be a push. But if anybody can do it, I can pull it off."
Hamm broke the bone in his right hand Thursday night when he jammed his ring finger in the closing seconds of his parallel bars routine at the US Championships. He could have surgery as early as Tuesday, and recovery time is at least four weeks.
He'll have to petition for a spot on the Beijing squad because he'll miss next month's Olympic trials in Philadelphia. Provided he is healthy, USA Gymnastics is almost sure to grant the petition.
Hamm is the only American man to win a world title (2003) or Olympic gold (2004). Despite his 2 1/2-year layoff after the Athens Olympics - an unheard of break in elite gymnastics - he has been better than ever this year, firmly establishing himself as a favorite to defend his gold medal.
Hamm was flipping to do work on one rail when he caught one of his fingers. Coach Miles Avery likened it to stubbing a toe - only with Hamm's entire body weight coming down on top of it.
Hamm said he heard a "small popping sound," but initially hoped he'd only dislocated the finger. X-rays Friday confirmed it was a break, and there is some displacement of the bone.
David Sender did just enough on pommel horse to edge Jonathan Horton for the all-around title at the US gymnastics championships last night. A 13.75 on pommel horse gave Sender 180.7 points for the two-day meet, a mere 0.25 ahead of Horton, who was fourth in the world last year. Joseph Hagerty was third and defending national champion David Durante was fourth.