Why the U.S. men's gymnastics team is un-American.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Aug. 17 2004 1:20 PM

The 2004 Olympics

Why the U.S. men's gymnastics team is un-American.

Morgan and Paul. Or is it Paul and Morgan?
Morgan and Paul. Or is it Paul and Morgan?

Watching the American men's gymnastics team last night, I couldn't help but think they were getting away with something. Sure, it's great that they won a medal for the first time since 1984, but isn't it kind of cheating to have a set of identical twins tumbling for the stars and stripes?

Paul and Morgan Hamm, 21, are both a pixieish 5 feet 6 inches tall, weigh 140 pounds, and have slightly receding hairlines. They also act the same. Exactly the same. At one point last night, after Hamm Two followed the routine of Hamm One, the thrilled NBC announcer shouted, "That was almost identical!" Well, that's what happens when two gymnasts come from the same womb.

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I'd like to think that our nation's gymnastics program nurtures athletes, taking young prodigies and slowly molding them into world-class back-flippers, high barrers, and giant ringists. America should be about diversity, about men and women from all races, religions, and DNA sequences having an opportunity to make themselves into something great. If we're just letting nature do all the hard work for us, are we really supporting the values that make the USA great?

Let's take this one logical step further: What if, instead of spritely twins jumping on a maple-tree-turned-pommel-horse in a Wisconsin barn, the Hamms had come into this world in threes, fours, or sevens? Wouldn't it be disquieting to see a set of little, barrel-chested septuplets with receding hairlines trundling onto the mat in red, white, and, blue? Sure, if they ever invented synchronized gymnastics—which seems like a cinch at this point—the Hamms would have it locked down. But for now, we should stick to a few core principles for male gymnasts: No mustaches. No bleached hair. And each one has to come from a different egg.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

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