US Olympic Gymnastics Trials 2012: Breaking Down Top Athletes to Watch

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIJune 26, 2012

US Olympic Gymnastics Trials 2012: Breaking Down Top Athletes to Watch

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    The gymnastics prowess on display at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose, California, this week should be among the best this event has ever seen.

    The men's side is deep and rich with young talent. The women, always loaded, feature even more Olympic-worthy tumblers than usual.

    With so many elite athletes in the mix, we're doing our part to keep things streamlined, highlighting seven gymnasts who will play a headline role in the high-stakes drama to come.

Jordyn Wieber

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    Age: 16

    Trials are a success if...

    She wins the individual all-around and earns an automatic Olympic berth.

    High expectations? Sure. But when you've won the most recent world title, as Jordyn Wieber has, the critics won't settle for much less.

    Wieber is America's best prospect in the Olympic all-around competition—an event Team USA has won two Olympiads running—and after a closer-than-expected victory at Visa Nationals earlier this month, the onus is on her to prove she's still the gold-medal favorite.

    Fortunes rise and fall fast in women's gymnastics, and Wieber wants to assure National Team coordinator Marta Karolyi that hers is still on the upshot.

John Orozco

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    Age: 19

    Trials are a success if...

    He makes the Olympic team.

    It's tempting to ask for more from rising star John Orozco.

    Earlier this month, he flashed big guts and even bigger talent while scoring an upset, comeback win over Danell Leyva in the men's all-around at Visa Nationals.

    It'll be fascinating to see if Orozco can summon a repeat performance at Trials, but I won't dock him too many momentum points if he can't. At this point in his young career, Orozco's aim should be simple: Make London.

    For a kid with no individual medals in major senior competition, an Olympic berth would be validation enough.

Danell Leyva

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    Age: 20

    Trials will be a success if...

    He either looks strong on one of his preferred apparatuses or wins the individual all-around.

    Danell Leyva is a year older than John Orozco and that much more seasoned. Thus, I'm expecting a bit more from the Cuban-born high flier than I am from Orozco.

    Leyva won a world title on parallel bars last year and, until losing to Orozco at Visa Nationals a mere weeks ago, looked like Team USA's best all-around threat.

    Trials is a chance to get some mojo back, either by reclaiming the top spot in the individual all-around or establishing high scores in his bread-and-butter apparatuses—the high bar and parallel bars.

    Leyva's spot on this team is all but assured. This week, look for him to bolster his medal credentials.

Gabby Douglas

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    Age: 16

    Trials are a success if...

    She keeps the heat on Jordyn Wieber.

    Gabby Douglas snagged some serious momentum at Visa Nationals earlier this month, going toe-to-toe with favorite Jordyn Wieber in the individual all-around and fueling speculation that Team USA could front two serious challengers for the Olympic title.

    The high-flying Douglas doesn't have Wieber's resume and likely won't catch her this week, but she does have recent form on her side. Plus, a strong performance at Trials puts her, not fellow all-around threat Aly Raisman, squarely in position to shine in London.

    If there is to be another all-American all-around Olympic showdown in the mold of Liukin-Johnson, Douglas will be the one to make it happen.

Nastia Liukin

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    Age: 22

    Trials are a success if...

    She proves she belongs.

    Defending Olympic all-around champ Nastia Liukin couldn't have envisioned this much drama when she announced her intention to pursue a second Olympic appearance.

    Past her prime and out of training, Liukin has drawn the ire of some fans simply for making it to Trials, with allegations flying that her comeback is motivated by money rather than competitive virtue.

    It would be quite a triumph if she qualified for the U.S. team as an uneven bars specialist, but I wouldn't count on it. In the best, most realistic scenario, Liukin performs well, validates her Trials selection and lives up to her name as a big-meet performer.

    Then she retires, her legacy intact.

Steven and Jeffrey Gluckstein

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    Ages: 22 (Steven) and 19 (Jeffrey)

    Trials will be a success if...

    They remain on speaking terms.

    We end our Trials preview with a brief foray into the little-discussed world of trampoline gymnastics, touching on a remarkable scenario set to play out on the men's side.

    Team USA has qualified for one spot in men's trampoline gymnastics at the London 2012 Games, and the two men expected to compete for that spot are brother Steven and Jeffrey Gluckstein.

    Adding to the intrigue, Steven earned the sole U.S. Olympic berth according to the New York Post, but he could experience the torment of ceding said berth to his more naturally gifted younger sibling. The brothers admit that the competition will take an emotional toll, but they have shown no signs of rancor.

    One only hopes it stays that way through next Sunday.

    From there, whoever qualifies will face an uphill battle to secure America's first Olympic medal in the discipline.