USA Gymnastics: Men's Team Remains a Step Behind Elite Global Opponents

Alex Butler@@alaboutsportsContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

The Team USA men's gymnastics team is unproven and inexperienced heading into a battle with titans China and Japan in London.
The Team USA men's gymnastics team is unproven and inexperienced heading into a battle with titans China and Japan in London.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As London readies the mats for the 2012 Summer Olympics, team USA already looks to be trailing behind the rest of the world in men's gymnastics. 

26-year old Jonathon Horton is the only returning male gymnast from the starting five at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, where he won a silver medal in the high bar.

Native Cuban Danell Leyva won parallel bars at the 2011 Worlds while John Orozco has recovered from a torn Achilles tendon in August of 2010 to become a team-leader for Team USA. Although Orozco told New York Times reporter John Branch "His Achilles’ tendon is still tender, and (Orozco) feels it during floor routines and on landings from the high bar," in March.

However, the team may need more than what the 19-year old injury-rattled kid from the Bronx can give.

In 2008, China claimed seven of the eight gold medals, including Men's Team Final, while Team USA stood on the podium just once.

Team USA's group of Alexander Artemev, Raj Bhavsar, Joey Hagerty, Jonathan Horton, Justin Spring, Kai Wen Tan finished in third place in the Men's team final. Horton finished in ninth place in the Men's individual all-around final. 

This year's five-some will have to compete with an elite encore of medal-wearers. Zou Kai leads the Chinese National Team. In 2008, Kai won three gold medals and he should earn more hardware in London. Specializing in team, floor and high bar, Kai led China to a 2011 World Championship in October in Tokyo. 

But there may not be a bigger star in Olympic gymnastic astrology than Kohei Uchimura.

And he is motivated. Uchimura told Jim Armstrong of the Associated Press that he is "fed up with being second in the team event and that's what we have to overcome." 

Uchimura finished second all-around in Beijing. His claim to fame is winning three consecutive world all-around titles, the first man ever to do so. 

Chinese team captain Chen Yibing will also be a strong force. He may be known for his work on the rings – a 2008 gold medalist – but Yibing cannot be taken lightly in any regard. The 27-year-old has won four world titles and may be the most experienced gymnast in the field.