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U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team 2012: Athletes Searching for First Gold Medal

James ReaganCorrespondent IIJuly 31, 2012

U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team 2012: Athletes Searching for First Gold Medal

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    With both the U.S. men's and women's gymnastics team this year full of youth, the London Olympics can be a special one for them. This is because the majority of these gymnasts are searching for their first Olympic gold medal.

    Now even a bronze Olympic medal is special. However, there's something that's just so overwhelmingly amazing about winning first place in an event that you have spent years of your life training for. The gold medal is a tangible representation of success, that you are indeed the best in the entire world at the event you just won.

    The women's team now knows all about this having just won a gold in the team finals. For this young team, all of them are currently in the process of celebrating their first Olympic gold medal.   

    Even with their loss in team finals yesterday, many of the men's team still have that hunger for success in individual competition. The opportunity may have been squandered yesterday, but they have to hope that will not be the case in the days to come.

    Here's a look at some of the U.S. men's gymnasts that hope to be getting their first Olympic gold medal within the next week.

Danell Leyva

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    No offense to the rest of the U.S. team, but Danell Leyva is the overwhelming favorite for any gold medal in the individual competition. He's favored in the individual all-around, the parallel bars and the horizontal bars.

    After qualifications in the all-around, Leyva currently leads the field with 91.265 points. He's going to need to learn from the collapse of the men's team yesterday, as they fell from expected medal contention all the way down to a humiliating fifth place finish. Leyva has little margin for error as Russia's David Belyavskiy, Germany's Fabian Hambuchen and his own teammate John Orozco are not very far behind him.

    Monday's performance in both bars categories will have to serve as a wake up call if Leyva wants to contend for a gold in either. He finished 10th in the parallel bar and fourth in the horizontal bar. Both competitions will be difficult as Leyva will going against elite Chinese gymnast Fang Zhe in the parallel bars and his teammate Zou Khai in the horizontal bars.

    With the failure on Monday still fresh on his mind, hopefully Leyva can remember to stay humble and simply do his routine. The potential for him to win three gold medals is still there if he steps up his performance. What remains to be seen is if the Leyva from Monday or the Leyva that is capable of becoming gymnastics next superstar shows up.

Jonathan Horton

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    As the oldest member of the men's gymnastics team, Jonathan Horton does have some experience. He even won two medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a silver in the horizontal bars and a bronze in the team competition. Only a gold medal eludes this decorated Olympian's resume.

    Unfortunately, his best chance was effectively wasted when the U.S. finished fifth in the team competition. At 26 years old, Horton is pretty old for a gymnast so he's not expected to win an individual gold medal.

    The area where he's most likely to get the gold medal would be in the rings competition on August 6. Three years ago, Horton won gold in the rings competition for the U.S. National Championships. More recently in rings competition, he's picked up a bronze at the 2011 U.S. National Championships and a bronze at the 2010 World Cup.

    What Horton has going for him the most now is the desperation of an Olympian nearing the end of his career. While it could be enough to get him a surprise gold medal, odds are likely that Horton will remember these Olympics mostly for the tremendously missed opportunity in the team finals. 

John Orozco

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    Like Danell Leyva, John Orozco is another Olympic rookie. Although not quite as versatile as Leyva, Orozco is also one of the U.S.'s more likely gold medalists in the individual events.

    In the individual all-around, Orozco finished the qualification round in fourth. He could possibly get his first Olympic medal out of this event, though it will likely be a silver or bronze medal. Right now Leyva is the favorite in the all-around, and it will be difficult for Orozco to catch him.

    Orozco could potentially medal in the pommel horse, which is another one of his better events. A gold medal here would be an upset though, as Hungary's Kriztian Berki is the overwhelming favorite. He'll also need to get past his critical failure in the pommel horse that arguably cost the U.S. in the men's team finals.

    With Leyva and Orozco representing the changing face of U.S. gymnastics, it's crucial that they shake of their failures and represent well for the duration of the Olympics. Failure is often a part of competition, so they need to accept that and move on. If they can do that, we may yet see an American male gymnast walk away from these games with a gold medal.  

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