US Olympic Men's Gymnastics 2012: 5 Biggest Potholes in Bid for Team Gold

Emily BayciContributor IIIJuly 25, 2012

US Olympic Men's Gymnastics 2012: 5 Biggest Potholes in Bid for Team Gold

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    The U.S. men's gymnastics team has their sights set on the gold medal, which would be the first for Team USA since 1984.

    Although Team USA arguably has one of the deepest teams ever, it still seems difficult for them to make it for gold, and more likely that they will take the bronze medal behind Japan and China.

    This is a far cry from four years ago when the Americans were not 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 the Men's Team Final, while Team USA stood on the podium just once.

    Now Team USA has top contenders in several of the individual events. However, there are still several factors holding them back from a team gold.

    Let's take a look at the biggest potholes in team USA's gold medal mission.

1. Top Level Competition

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    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.

    Zou Kai also 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. 

    Yibing, the Chinese team captain, is known for more than just the rings. He has won four world titles and may be the most experienced gymnast in the field.

    Uchimura seems to be the shoe-in for the all-around title on the men's end. He is a driving force on the Japanese squad.

    He said he is "fed up with being second in the team event and that's what we have to overcome," in an interview with Jim Armstrong of the Associated Press.

    Uchimura finished second all-around in Beijing, something he's not happy with. His claim to fame is his three consecutive world all-around victories, as he's the first man ever to do so. 

    "I have a lot of bitter memories from Beijing," Uchimura said to the Associated Press. "Hopefully, we can erase those memories and bring the gold back to Japan."

    Not only do these gymnasts have world-class skill sets, but they also have the determination which might be a combination Team USA can't top.

    Jonathan Horton, the only Team USA member from Beijing on the current roster seems to think otherwise.

    "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."

2. No Room for Error

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    At trials, Team USA seemed near-perfect as the men hit event after event and their electricity was just magnetic off each other.

    However, there are still worries that those performances were not enough and the errors the gymnasts made are going to haunt them in London.

    Nearly every gymnast made a key mistake on floor during Visa's and trials. Jake Dalton, who won the event, only scored above a 16 twice—during the two days of trails. No other athlete on the Olympic roster scored above a 16 and the gymnasts who took second and third in the event—Steven Legendre and Paul Ruggeri—did not make the Olympic squad.

    Also on pommel horse, nearly every gymnast struggled through his routine, even Alexander Naddour who won the event and is a key pommel horse alternate. I am worried Orozco or Leyva will actually fall off come the pressure of the Olympics.

    With Team USA already on the fringe, any mistake can prove unforgivable. 

3. Pommel Horse Problems

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    Pommel horse is an event Team USA has historically been weak on, and that problem continues in 2012.

    John Orozco is the top American on pommel horse as he beat out Danell Leyva in the event and has had consistently high scores. The duo is easily the top two Americans on the event.

    The problem is the duo is only respectable on the apparatus and all the others are below average.

    Pommel horse is the event where Team USA can fall behind, and they might not be able to come back from it.

    Pommel horse specialist Alexander Naddour won the event at trials and was chosen as an alternate purely for his pommel horse prowess.

    There's a thought that it could actually help Team USA more if they had his pommel horse score, similar to how important McKayla Maroney's vault score is on the women's side.

    Louis Smith from Great Britain, Krisztian Berki of Hungary and Koji Yamamuro of Japan are among the favorites to medal. 

    I'm not even sure if any U.S. gymnasts will make the finals, though Orozco and Leyva have the best shot.

4. Remember the Underdogs

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    All the focus lies on Japan and China, how they will claim the top two shots and Team USA will win the bronze. However, they cannot forget about their other competition, teams who are the underdogs just like them four years ago.

    Russia is a team who has consistently been a top contender in men's gymnastics. They could be said to be in the fight with USA for bronze. Russia's Alexander Balandin is one of the fiercest challengers on rings, and Emin Garibov is a force on the high bar, where he won gold at the European championships earlier this year.

    Britain is also a team who cannot be forgotten. The team will be fueled by the energy of home fans and doesn't have to face the discomfort of dealing with time zones and a foreign land.

    Daniel Purvis is Kohei Uchimura's closest challenger for the all-around gold. He was recovering from food poisoning at the London test event and vaulted into a judge's lap but nonetheless helped Britain win the meet. Talk about perseverance. 

    Britain can also gain a lead on pommel horse, where many of the teams especially Team USA struggle. Louis Smith, a pommel horse specialist, has three world medals on pommels and a bronze from Beijing. 

    These teams could sneak up and possibly even kick Team USA off the podium. But that would be a major shocker.

5. Nagging Injury Issues

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    As always in gymnastics, there has to be the concern of nagging injuries. Are gymnasts ever truly recovered from all the grind they put their bodies through? 

    Team USA has plenty of nagging injuries and we have to hope they won't sprout back during team competition.

    Sam Mikulak was kept out of every event except for pommel horse during the finals of Olympic trials because of an injured left ankle. 

    Mikulak, who has had constant injuries on both ankles, needs to be at full force to deliver.

    Horton, the team's only veteran, has gone through struggles on his foot. He broke two bones and tore a ligament in his foot last October. Doctors told him he wouldn't be able to compete in the Olympics, but he worked his way back. As shown at Trials where he did not perform perfectly, I'm worried he is still not at 100 percent.