(This story was published in 2004).

Paul and Morgan Hamm have gotten plenty of international attention since the duo won a combined four medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Long before that, though, they were the apple of their uncle’s eye.

Daniel Scott Hamm, who says he’s now “30-something,” is one cog in the wheel of a giant Hamm clan that hails from Wisconsin. In fact, Daniel says that Morgan and Paul are just two of 16 nieces and nephews he has. While Daniel is just one of a large family, for Paul and Morgan he is an important part.

The two boys were very young when Daniel brought a boyfriend home for Christmas. The boys’ sister at that time was becoming involved in gymnastics and Daniel’s sister-in-law was prodding Daniel to demonstrate some moves to build the boys’ interest in the sport. Daniel was a gymnast himself and his sister-in-law wanted Morgan and Paul, who had already expressed an interest in it, to pursue it.

Daniel, however, was leery of performing for the boys. He wanted them to explore the sport themselves and not feel like they had to walk in the footsteps of their uncle. Daniel and his boyfriend at the time were involved in Club MTV, a dance show that involved lots of hip-hop and R&B (the genre of music that Paul and Morgan have always been drawn to). Daniel’s boyfriend wasted no time in busting out a routine for the boys that was heavy on the gymnastics.

“My boyfriend started doing headstands and cartwheels that were just awful,” Daniel remembers. “But it got the boys interested.”

A couple years later, when Daniel saw his nephews perform, he was astounded at their talent-level.

“They were doing things at 12 that I wasn’t doing when I finished as a freshman in college,” he says. He remembers telling his sister-in-law, “The only thing that can stand in their way is if they don’t develop physically in time.”

Obviously, they developed just fine.

Daniel now lives in New York City with his partner, Edward Morgan. Together they run a ballet company in New York City, The MorganScott Ballet.

On their return to the United States, the twins made New York one of their first stops. That stop included a dinner with their favorite gay uncle and Edward.

The couple followed the sudden superstars to Connecticut for their first performance as part of the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Gymnastics Championships.

His family wasn’t always quite so welcoming of his sexuality. When he first came out of the closet, they were a little surprised and maybe a bit standoffish. It didn’t take long, though, for his brother, the twins’ dad, to come around, and for the rest of their family to follow suit.

Daniel says his relationship with the twins is special in their family because he is one of only a couple of family members with whom they can talk about gymnastics. Daniel remembers going home for Christmas after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The U.S. men’s gymnastics team had failed to medal and the twins came home empty-handed.

Daniel talked to them about the difference between gymnastics in America and gymnastics overseas. He talked about how deep homophobia ran in American sports, and how it had seeped into gymnastics. He pointed out how being a male gymnast in the United States meant proving your masculinity and strength; overseas, gymnasts were interested in expressing themselves and developing flair and extension. He encouraged Morgan and Paul to not succumb to these pressures they would watch other American gymnasts fall victim to.

They heard him loud and clear. Their comfort with their own sexuality allowed them to blossom into gold- and silver-medal winning Olympians, with Paul the first American male to win the overall competition.

While some people may wish that the twins were gay, Daniel thinks it’s even better that they’re not.

“How great is it that they’re not gay,” Daniel says. “We in the gay community keep putting pressure on gay athletes to come out. We should be putting pressure on the straight athletes to come out and take a stand and say, ‘I applaud my gay teammates. They should be able to bring their partners to games, and it should be OK.’”

When asked what might be on the horizon for his two bright nephews, Daniel got downright giddy.

“They are destined for things that are even greater than their achievements in athletics,” he says. While he wouldn’t elaborate, the realm of politics were mentioned.

With their gay-friendly attitude, and their uncle to help guide them, we can only hope that day comes sooner than later.