Olympic Gymnastics 2012: Breaking Down Team USA's Top Male Gymnasts

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2012

Olympic Gymnastics 2012: Breaking Down Team USA's Top Male Gymnasts

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    The London Olympics have not gone according to plan for the U.S. men’s gymnastics team.

    While the women stormed to a rousing gold medal victory in the team all-around competition, the men stumbled to a fifth-place finish. Team USA, one of the favorites to place in the team event, fell short of expectations on the grand stage after gaining an early lead in qualifiers. 

    The male gymnasts can still salvage part of their summer, though. In the individual all-around, Danell Leyva earned a bronze medal—hopefully his first of many during the Olympics.

    With six more individual events looming, here is a look at the U.S. male gymnasts fighting to capture more medals in London. 

Danell Leyva

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    Leyva narrowly escaped another disappointing finish at the all-around to exit with the bronze medal.

    After falling on the pommel horse during the team competition, Leyva made a similar error in the individual all-around. This time around, however, Leyva rallied back with rousing displays on the parallel bars and high bars.

    While Leyva could not top Japanese gold-medalist Kohei Uchimura—who Leyva described as “the best gymnast that ever lived” in a USA Today story—during Wednesday’s all-around, he still has a chance to leave London with gold.

    Leyva showed his abilities on the high bars by landing a daring move at the end of the individual all-around event that propelled him to a third-place finish. The 20-year-old, who finished first during the U.S. Olympic Trails, could make a mark in the event.

    A world champion on the parallel bars, Leyva is one of the favorites to step on the podium and claim the gold medal.

John Orozco

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    John Orozco—Team USA’s other representative in the individual all-around—did not fare as well as his teammate, finishing in eighth place.

    During the team all-around, Orozco fell on the vault—a critical mishap that helped seal Team USA’s exclusion from the podium.

    Like Leyva, the 20-year-old stumbled out of the gate before closing the competition out strong. Another faulty run at the pommel horse dropped Orozco to 23rd halfway through the event, but he shook it off to solidify a top-ten finish.

    While eighth is not exactly a high barometer, the result could have been worse. Now Orozco will look to put the first two events behind him in the quest for his first Olympic medal.

    The Bronx-born gymnast also excels at the high bars and parallel bars, earning second and third seeds, respectively, during the Olympic Trials. Although Orozco often plays second fiddle to Leyva, he can still make a name for himself at the Summer Games.

Jonathan Horton

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    Once Team USA’s top male gymnast, Jonathan Horton now takes a back seat to the young guns.

    At 26 years of age, the two-time Olympic medalist is the team’s captain and residential elder. Horton performed amicably on the high bars during the all-around, but his effort was too little and too late for Team USA.

    Due to the rule limiting two representatives per nation, which has gained notoriety for preventing Jordyn Wieber from competing in the all-round, Horton had no shot of participating in the event. At the World Championships last year, he finished fifth in the preliminaries but could not advance because Leyva and Orozco both beat his score.

    This could be Horton’s last chance to add another medal for his trophy case. His best chance of placing rests on the high bars, where he earned a silver medal during the Beijing Games.

Sam Mikulak

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    A month after injuring his left ankle, Sam Mikulak returned as one of Team USA’s top gymnasts during the all-around.

    During the trials, Mikulak fought through the pain to compete in the pommel horse, his signature event, to help solidify an Olympic appearance. The University of Michigan student was arguably the country’s standout performer in the team competition.

    The 19-year-old earned the country’s top vault score and tallied the second highest mark during the other three events—floor, parallel bars and pommel horse—in which he competed.

    Mikulak might have ousted Leyva or Orozco for one of the two individual all-around spots if not for the bum ankle, but just making it to London is a major feat for the teenager.

Jake Dalton

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    In his first crack at the Olympics, Jake Dalton is a seldom-discussed gymnast to keep an eye on.

    Still a senior at the University of Oklahoma, Dalton is the reigning NCAA all-around and parallel bars champion. In the 2011 NCAA Nationals, he claimed first place at in the vault and floor exercise, both events that he also won during the Olympic Trials.

    Although not the most prominent name from the U.S. gymnastics squad, Dalton is a valuable contributor who could take a medal in the floor or vault. He is part of a young nucleus that, as Dalton told the Reno Gazette-Journal, will use their substandard team finish to fuel them in the London Games and 2016 Rio Games.

    “We had a few mistakes which kind of threw us off our game. But that’s going to fuel us for the next four years, to be up on that podium. We know we have the talent and the depth to be on the gold-medal stand so we’re not going to stop until we get there.”