HOUSTON - Olympic gold medalist Paul Hamm has a broken bone in his right hand, an injury that will take at least four weeks' recovery and will keep him out of next month's Olympic trials.

The men's competition at the Beijing Games begins Aug. 9, 11 weeks from now.

"He won't be able to do the Olympic trials," Miles Avery, Hamm's coach, said. "The course of action for that is to petition him to the team. And try to prove his readiness later in the summer, closer to the games."

USA Gymnastics officials would be almost sure to grant Hamm's petition, provided he is healthy. The U.S. men have a final training camp July 13-22 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"For the Olympics, he has an excellent chance of being 100 percent," said James Bicos, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine at St. Vincent Performance Center in Indianapolis and who was with Hamm when he had X-rays this morning.

Hamm is the only American man to win the all-around title at the world championships (2003) or Olympics (2004), and he has been dominant in every meet he's entered this year.

"Obviously, Paul is a prime candidate for the Olympic team. I don't think anybody doubts that," said Dennis McIntyre, the men's program director for USA Gymnastics. "I think it just comes down to having a reasonable expectation that he would be able to perform at the highest level.

"He's got the shot," McIntyre added. "There's enough time, and I wouldn't count that guy out, no matter what."

Despite the fall on parallel bars that caused the injury last night, Hamm finished preliminaries at the U.S. gymnastics championships with a score of 93.450, almost four points better than anyone else. Nationals continue tomorrow night, and the Olympic trials are June 19-22 in Philadelphia.

Indeed, Hamm was dazzling through his first five events at the U.S. championships last night, taking a commanding lead. But as he flipped to do work on one rail on the parallel bars, he missed catching the bar and jammed the fingers on his right hand.

Hamm fell, grimacing as he immediately grabbed his hand.

"I heard a small popping sound in the joint," Hamm said last night.

After Hamm finished his routine, USA Gymnastics medical officials spent several minutes examining him. Two large ice bags were put on his hand, and Hamm said he thought he might have dislocated his right ring finger. But X-rays this morning revealed he had broken a bone, the fourth metacarpal in his right hand.

"It's very disappointing," Avery said today. "You work so hard and lay a plan in motion, and this isn't in it, a setback like this. He was doing so amazingly well."

Avery said Hamm would return to Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. Hamm will consult a hand specialist next week, Avery said, and they're considering doctors in Indianapolis, Columbus and Baltimore. Treatment options are a cast or surgery, where a plate and/or screws would be inserted.

Though Bicos said recovery time is about the same for either option - four to six weeks - Avery said Hamm will have surgery because it will allow him to get back to training sooner.

"Eight weeks is a little too long to put it in a cast," Avery said.

Phillies all-Star second baseman Chase Utley had a pin inserted in his hand after breaking the very same bone in July 2007 and was back in the lineup a month later. Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith played 12 days after having a plate and six screws inserted when he broke his fourth metacarpal in 1999.

Under USA Gymnastics' selection procedures, scores from nationals and trials will be weighted and combined, and at least two athletes will be named to the Beijing squad at the end of the Olympic trials. Within 24 hours, other team members and/or a training squad will be named. Hamm is able to petition directly onto the Olympic team because he was part of the 2004 squad that won the silver, the Americans' first Olympic medal in 20 years.

Hamm also won the all-around gold in Athens and a silver on high bar.

USA Gymnastics has to name its six-man team and up to three alternates by July 1. Team members who are injured can be replaced by an alternate up to 24 hours before competition in Beijing begins.