At the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. men's gymnastics team plans to give powerhouse Japan a run for gold along with any others who seek the coveted team title.
Team USA, made up of Jake Dalton, Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva, Sam Mikulak and John Orozco, is talented and exudes attitude, no doubt. However, none of the members are 16-point-plus scorers on every apparatus, a lofty feat. Come late July, North Greenwich Arena in London will be transformed to a battlefield.
So what will each man bring to the table? And how do their individual strengths and weaknesses fit into the puzzle that leads to the ultimate objective – Olympic bling?
Between the Visa National Championships and the U.S. Trials, Jake Dalton solidified himself as a well established floor ex competitor, never falling below a 15.70 and a high of 16.10. Sticking his triple twist dismount is key to maintaining an elite last impression in a subjective sport such as this one.
Overall, Dalton produces stable routines in the high 14 to low 15-range, which is a fair showing. His vault is another highlight to his game. One of the most difficult vaults to stick, Dalton turns his Tsukahara triple twist like a top.
If Dalton has a weakness, it's his pommel set, which is not doing any favors for team USA. Of late, his best showing was a 13.35 during the U.S. Trials preliminaries. It is doubtful any of his pommel scores will count toward the team effort. He must make up for it elsewhere.
Jonathan Horton brings valuable Olympic experience to the table this summer. Always more concerned with his team and mates than any personal accolades, Horton is by no means a has-been.
High bar is definitely one of his strong suits with multiple releases that come one after another throughout the set. When Horton is awarded full difficulty for his routine (6.7) he is capable of hitting in the high 15s. Equally impressive is his parallel bar and still ring work, again in the high 15-range.
The downside of Horton’s repertoire is pommel, the bane of the U.S. men’s existence. Rarely does this seasoned veteran slip beyond a score of 13. Needless to say, his stature, in that his arms are not as long as some who excel at this apparatus, hampers his ability to make smooth connections. It is what it is.
Still, Horton will play a significant role as leader and no doubt any number of his scores could be tallied to advance the team competition bottom line.
Undoubtedly the no. 1 or 2 U.S. male gymnast - depending on the day, Danell Leyva will be a key player in the medal hunt this summer. His high bar routine is filled with flight skills that soar along with an aggressive, take no prisoners attitude toward the apparatus.
When he hits his routine to collect all 7.2 points of difficulty, there is little judges can take away from his execution score. Leyva scores consistently in the high 15s to low 16s.
Leyva’s parallel bar routine is equally world class that lands most often squarely in the 15.800 area, but has seen at least one score of 16 of late. More than likely his vault will play a part in the overall team score as well.
As far as shortcomings are concerned, still rings and floor ex are not his best events. Though not exactly an Achilles’ heel, others do surpass him on these two apparatus. Barring any disasters from his teammates, these event scores will probably not count in the team standings.
Sam Mikulak has labored intently to see his dream as an Olympian come to fruition. His workhorse ethic has served him well this year as the NCAA all-around silver winner and high bar champion as well as the 2012 U.S. Bronze all-around and parallel bar silver medalist.
Mikulak will aim to represent America well on vault with scores on par with teammate Jake Dalton, floor ex (FX) and pommel horse. He consistently bested John Orozco on FX in their last two outings together and the team is desperate overall for more competitive pommel routines.
While Mikulak may not post the highest pommel scores, he is one thing: dependable throughout any given meet. Where the difference between first and fifth can be a missed connection or a step out of bounds, it is essential the men keep it clean. Mikulak can accomplish that.
Mikulak may play a part on parallel bars, but this will depend on actual results as a number of the men are close to one another - numbers wise. The same goes for high bar. There are too many in the mix to determine if his scores will count.
This Olympian’s weak spot may be that most of his starting values are not such to challenge more advanced international gymnasts. There is very little time to monkey with his routines and if he does try to increase his difficulty it could prove to be disastrous if anything goes wrong. Best to keep the status quo where Mikulak is concerned.
His second issue is to question whether or not his ankles are ready to take the pounding after breaking both legs just above the ankle last year. Mikulak only performed on Pommel day two of the Olympic Trials due to a sprained left ankle on day one. If the weakness persists this could be a serious matter in London, opening the door to one of the three alternates.
John Orozco’s meteoric rise through the ranks of U.S. gymnastics seems to be peaking at the right moment – the summer of 2012. His diligence and pure love for his sport of choice is demonstrated each time he approaches a piece of apparatus with his now recognizable, determined glare.
Orozco’s strength lies in his ability to raise the stakes on pommel horse, an area plagued with mediocrity where the U.S. is concerned. He is capable of breaking into the 15s and most often performs cleanly.
On rings, this guy is reliable, scoring in the low 15-range as well due to very few execution faults. His routine should be added to the team event tally. Vault and high bar are also areas where Orozco can add value. He posts unfailing high 15s and even pushes into the 16-range on vault with his Tsukahara 2.5 twist.
His trouble spots include maintaining the health of an Achilles’ tendon tear suffered during the 2010 Visa Championships, particularly as it applies to vault and parallel bars. There are others who will most likely score higher on bars than Orozco, but make no mistake - if he maintains his cool demeanor and competitive intensity, Orozco's presence will be felt at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.