Court case over, 'relieved' Hamm looking to London

Feb. 24, 2012, 5:59 p.m. (ET)

His legal troubles behind him, Paul Hamm is looking forward to focusing all his attention on what he does best.

The 2004 Olympic champion said Friday he is “happy” and “relieved” that charges stemming from a September altercation with a Columbus, Ohio, taxi cab driver have been resolved. Hamm pleaded no contest Thursday to two reduced charges, both misdemeanors. A misdemeanor assault charge was dismissed.

“It definitely weighed on my conscience the past five, six months,” Hamm told The Associated Press. “In the end, what I learned is I don't need to be doing those things, going out and getting into situations that can cause potential harm. Focusing on what's important is what I learned, and right now, that's training for the Olympics.”

Hamm is leaning toward a move to Houston, where he would train alongside two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton. Hamm spent two and a half weeks there last month before Winter Cup and said he felt he made “a ton of progress.”

“I'm hoping Houston can be the place for me to train and make the last push for the Olympics,” he said. “In the weeks leading up to Winter Cup, I was hitting routines on a daily basis, and they were good routines. So I know I'm capable. It's just getting in the right environment and don't do anything to injure myself.”

Hamm is perhaps the best gymnast the U.S. has had, the only American man to win the world and Olympic title. Despite taking a few years off after the Athens Games, he had established himself as a serious threat for another gold in Beijing before breaking his hand in an accident at the U.S. championships.

He earned a spot on the Olympic team, but the hand and an injured shoulder forced him to withdraw a few weeks before the games. He announced another comeback in July 2010 but tore his right labrum and rotator cuff in early 2011.

Just as his shoulder was on the mend, he was arrested in September, accused of hitting and kicking a cab driver, damaging the taxi's window and refusing to pay a $23 fare.

It was an embarrassing episode for Hamm, whose discipline and composed focus was as much his trademark as his superb skills. In a video of the arrest, he 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 also can be heard telling officers he had about eight drinks.

“The initial reason to come back was to leave the sport in a more positive way, and I sort of screwed that up,” said Hamm, who lost his coaching job at Ohio State. “Now I have even more work to do to leave the sport in a positive way. I do have the motivation to get back out there and show everybody what type of athlete I am.”

Winter Cup was Hamm's first competition since 2008, and he struggled so badly he didn't even make the finals. Although he won't blame his legal woes for the uncharacteristically poor performance, he acknowledges they were always on his mind.

“I wasn't sure what the outcome of the case would be; I wasn't sure if there would be civil case,” said Hamm, who can't say much about the case because the possibility of a lawsuit remains. “(Resolving the criminal charges) is going to clear my head and give me a fresh start.”

Though his days of being an all-arounder are probably over - “I just can't imagine myself being able to do rings” - Hamm still thinks he can be an asset to the Americans in London. Pommel horse remains a weak spot for the U.S. Not only is that one of Hamm's best events, he's consistent on it.

He also has the potential to put up big scores on vault, parallel bars and floor exercise, and could do high bar if needed.

“There are other gymnasts in the country that have higher start values on pommel horse than me. But I don't believe those gymnasts are also going to be able to do three or four other events at the same level as me,” Hamm said. “That's where my strength is going to lie. I can do pommel horse at a high level and also do three or four other events at a high level, as well.”

Hamm knows some people look at him differently now, and he knows he'll face more questions about the case as he gets closer to London. All he can do is move forward and let his actions show the kind of person he really is.

“People in general are forgiving. Though some may have a tough time forgiving you, most will usually be kind and understand that people will make mistakes in their lives,” he said. “I have to get used to the fact that it's something that happened and move on.”

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