US Olympic Men's Gymnastics Team 2012: 5 Keys to Winning Team Gold in London
The U.S. men's gymnastics team is one of the deepest teams USA has seen in years but it is still highly unlikely they will win the gold medal.
They have elite gymnasts with great depth, like the 1-2 combination of Danell Leyva and John Orozco, veteran Jonathan Horton and collegiate stars Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton but they just don't have the skill levels of gymnastics powerhouses China and Japan.
China won the gold and Japan the silver in the Olympics four years ago. The Chinese return Beijing rings gold medalist Chen Yibing, while the Japanese are led by three-time all-around world champion Kohei Uchimura.
It's different than four years ago for Team USA, when the men were not even expected to make it to the finals and ended with a miraculous bronze medal. In 2008, China claimed seven of the eight gold medals, including Men's Team Final, while Team USA stood on the podium just once.
"People think that China and Japan are probably going to win, but that's the position we want to be in," said Horton in an interview with Voice of America. "We want people to kind of doubt us because when you put our scores and what we're capable of on paper, we're just as good as those two teams. It's going to come down to what team has the better day in the team finals. And I think that just our heart and our passion, everything's going to come out on that day, and we're all going to have great performances."
It's not going to be easy but Team USA has the potential to win gold if all the cards line up correctly. Here are five keys for the men to make it to the top of the podium in London.
Horton, Horton, Horton
Jonathan Horton is the leader of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team and he is going to be the driving force that pushes Team USA to gold.
It’s not really because of his gymnastics, although his skills on high bar and rings are definitely assets for Team USA.
It’s how Horton has seen USA gymnastics develop throughout his long career and how determined the veteran gymnast is to put Team USA on top.
Horton was there in 2006 when the men’s team finished 13th at Worlds, in its worst finish in the history of the sport.
“Getting 13th and knowing you’re a part of the worst men’s gymnastics team in the history of our country, that was rough on me and on the rest of the team,” Horton said in an interview with Fox Sports. “But I think that was the most important of my entire career. I think that’s why I had success the next few years, and I think that’s why I’m still going.”
That is the moment which motivates Horton. He has already had individual success—now he just wants team success.
He is worried that men’s gymnastics is losing popularity and thinks a gold medal can help bring that energy back.
“The team medal, the team gold medal, that’s my only goal,” Horton said in an interview with Fox Sports. “If we go in there and win the team gold medal, it’ll be, ‘Done. Mission accomplished.’ We have the team to do that. We can get that gold, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Use the Depth
The one thing Team USA has that China and Japan don't? Depth.
Team USA has five talented all-arounders who can come through in case disaster strikes. China and Japan cannot say the same.
“(Our depth) hurts the other teams,” Jonathan Horton said in an interview with Fox Sports. “China is so deep when it comes to specialists . . . our country, we’ve got four, five good all-arounders.”
Horton won the all-around at the 2009 and 2010 national championships. Jake Dalton took bronze in the all-around at the 2011 World Cup and is the 2012 NCAA all-around champion. Sam Mikulak is the 2011 NCAA all-around champion. John Orozco was the all-around gold medalist at the 2012 national championships and Danell Leyva won the gold in the all-around at the 2011 national championships.
“These guys have a natural fire in their belly,” said Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics in an interview with Fox Sports. “It’s amazing. They’re a special group of guys. We have as much depth on our men’s side as we do on our women’s side. It’s pretty exciting.”
Some Major Falls
It's a terrible thing to hope for, but if Team USA is going to win gold there's going to need to be some mistakes from China and Japan.
Zou Kai is at the forefront of the Chinese team, which he led to the 2011 World Championship. Kai won three gold medals in 2008. His specialties are floor and high bar, and a mistake on either event could prove very costly for China, who doesn't have the depth that USA does.
There is also Chinese team captain Chen Yibing who is the 2008 rings gold medalist. Orozco or Horton need to overtake his rings score.
Then of course on the Japanese side is Kohei Uchimura. If he screws up then Japan is toast. But he doesn't mess up, and he is easily the best gymnast in the world. He took second in the all-around in Beijing and is the first man to ever win three consecutive world all-around titles.
If all these stars have perfect days, it is going to be tough for Team USA to overtake them.
Capitalize on the Energy
You know what was so great about the Olympic Trials? How nothing bad happened.
The most dramatic event was that Sam Mikulak had to sit out because of his ankles. There was no major drama, no big falls and nothing too crazy.
The gymnasts just kept hitting and hitting one after another. It seemed like they were all feeding from each other's nailed routines and positive energy.
It also helps that the crowd was super engaged.
They need to recreate this atmosphere at the Olympics.
If all the U.S. gymnasts truly get in the zone, I believe they can be unstoppable. It can be hit routine after hit routine—ideally, China and Japan won’t have that intense of feeling of team synergy and Team USA can run with it.
Best Day Ever
This sounds very cliché, but Team USA needs to be at 150 percent if they want to win an Olympic gold. 100 percent is just not good enough. Their scores are not high enough to beat Japan and Russia.
The depth is important for them, but everybody needs to nail their routines. Nothing short of perfection, because as history shows, every tenth of a point counts. There cannot be any sloppy floor routines like at Trials, no half-stuck landings or wobbly moments on the bars.
The men cannot afford anything short of perfection if they want to catch the Japanese and Chinese.
It needs to be the best day ever, and then if Team USA wins the gold it really is going to be the best day ever for the five American gymnasts. And everybody else in America.