Men's team: Strengths, weaknesses
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Picking the men's Olympic team was no easy task for Kevin Mazeika, the men's gymnastics national team coordinator, and the rest of the selection committee. They spent three hours after Saturday's meet looking at score reports from nationals, trials and other competitions. When they finally picked the combination of athletes they believed was best, the committee slept on it and then reconvened in the morning to make sure they still agreed it was the right team.
At 10 a.m. on Sunday, the full U.S. Olympic men's team was announced. Danell Leyva and John Orozco had automatically qualified based on their top two overall finishes after two days of nationals and trials competition. Jake Dalton, Sam Mikulak, and Jonathan Horton were added to the London roster Sunday morning.
All of the analysis was warranted: This is a team that's even stronger than the one that won bronze in 2008.
"It's certainly one of the best teams we've ever fielded," Mazeika said. "We have incredible depth in the men's program right now, and it's pushed these guys to the highest possible level."
The U.S. men should earn an Olympic medal in London, and gold is even possible if the team competes to its potential.
High bar and parallel bars: The Americans are impressive, to say the least, on these two events. Orozco was a high-bar finalist at last year's worlds, Horton is the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the event, and Leyva has been beating them both recently. Leyva is also the 2011 world champion on parallel bars and a favorite to win in London. Horton and Orozco aren't quite as superb as Leyva, but both earn high marks on the event consistently, on par with the best parallel bar workers around the world.
Top all-arounders: Orozco and Leyva have also been challenging each other in the all-around all year. Orozco edged Leyva for the national title, while Leyva scored higher at trials. At last year's world championships, the pair placed second and third all-around in prelims, with scores that were bested only by three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura. Having such well-rounded gymnasts means the U.S. can rely on Orozco and Leyva for the majority of the six events in team finals and bring in specialists like Dalton on the few events where Orozco and Leyva aren't as strong.
The intangibles: These five men know each other well and have trained and competed together, in some cases since they were kids.
"Our biggest strength of all is how connected we are as a team, not only inside the gym, but outside the gym, as well," said Orozco. "We really bond well during competitions, and that's what makes us a great team. It's what will keep us progressing. If we do, I think we'll land in the top spot."
Pommel horse and rings: The Americans have the lowest scoring potential in these two events, but the rest of the world is also generally weak here, so it really shouldn't hurt the U.S. all that much. The selection committee opted not to put pommel horse specialist Alex Naddour on the competing team, believing the lineup was already adequate, if not great, in that event.
On rings, Horton will lead the team, as he did the standings after trials. Orozco has scored close to Horton, but there's a bit of a drop-off after that, with Dalton and Leyva earning marks that are often half a point lower than the top men. Mazeika isn't too worried about these two events, though he does acknowledge the team lacks some depth there.
"It's all about looking at six events as a whole, and I feel very confident that we'll have a very competitive total team score," he said Sunday.
Youth: The U.S. squad is young; Horton is 26, but the other members are 20 or younger. While loaded with talent, the team is a bit green.
"Everyone's going to think that we're a little inexperienced and wonder if we can handle it," said Horton. "But I think the more people doubt us, the more it's going to give us that fuel to perform the greatest any of us ever have."
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