- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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SAN JOSE -- Jonathan Horton has been mulling over the scenarios in his head, juggling and jumbling the combinations of the five gymnasts that will make up the U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics team.
Not surprisingly, in every scenario, he's on the list.
"I want to make it, a no-brainer," Horton said Wednesday, a day before the U.S. trials open here at HP Pavilion. "I don't think anyone is a lock on the team, but I want to do everything for the [committee] to say, 'Horton needs to be in there.'"
Horton has something no one else in the competition has: Olympic experience. He is the lone returner from the bronze medal-winning team in the 2008 Beijing Games, where he also won silver in the high bar event. At 26, he is also the oldest competitor in this field. The Olympic rings tattooed on his upper back are a testament to where he's been and where he hopes to go again.
"Yeah, he's old, he's over," joked training partner Chris Brooks, who is also competing.
What's different this time around for Horton? He is recovering from an injury, something that's not as easy as it used to be, particularly when you haven't had to do it before. He sustained the first major injury of his career in October, tearing up his left foot while landing a vault at the World Championships.
The injury, which required surgery, sidelined him for four months, but it allowed him to rehab, recharge and renew the love for a sport he has participated in since before he went to kindergarten.
Horton said he viewed his time off as a reality check.
"It was a reminder of how much I loved gymnastics," Horton said. "I had time to think about my career and what I wanted out of it. It was like a really long breather."
Horton said he is "sore" heading into trials, and he'll likely be sore for the next few weeks, but he's prepared to live and compete with the discomfort.
"The foot, structurally there's no worries," coach Tom Meadows said. "The doctors said a month ago that there's nothing that can happen to it again. The foot isn't going to hold him back on anything. It's not even a concern."
Meadows said he was never concerned Horton would squander his time off.
"If anything, I knew I had to keep him from doing too much," Meadows said. "I knew he would do everything he could possibly do and then some. It was the 'then some' that I had to worry about. There were days in the gym that I had to say, 'Jonathan, chill.'"
Brooks said Horton was "a beast" when he got back to work after the injury.
"He was coming in to work out, going 100 miles a minute, really attacking everything," Brooks said.
Horton had the benefit of a settled life in Houston with his wife Haley, a former gymnast. They've been house-hunting as he made his preparations for trials.
"A little one-story, something a little closer to the gym so I don't have to drive as far," Horton said.
This is Horton's third go-around at the Olympic trials, but he says it doesn't feel any different.
"Yeah, I'm a little older, a little more experienced, but it's the same nerves, the same competition," Horton said. "We have a different group of guys out there these days, but I feel the same. You have got to deal with the pressure and just go out and do your best. My nerves are through the roof, to be honest."
Meadows wouldn't entirely agree that nothing has changed for Horton.
"I think there's a sense of calm about him," Meadows said. "I can see a difference in him. There's a little bit of a different mentality. There's apprehension, but at the same time, I can see the calmness in him. He's much more under control."
Horton admits he doesn't feel as secure about his potential spot on the team as he did four years ago. In fact, he knows there are a handful of athletes who will deserve a spot on the team, but will go home disappointed.
"I kind of knew [in Beijing] they really needed me on these events," Horton said. "Now, I think it speaks volumes about the strengths of our team that there are so many combinations of five guys you could put on the floor at the Olympic Games."
Trust him, he has been through all of them in his head.