US Olympic Gymnastics Trials 2012: 5 Stories to Follow

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJune 27, 2012

US Olympic Gymnastics Trials 2012: 5 Stories to Follow

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    The U.S. Gymnastics trials are set to begin Thursday, June 27 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The four-day event includes Olympic veterans and talented newcomers, all vying for a spot on the U.S. men's and women's gymnastics teams headed to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

    Thursday and Friday features preliminary competition that will pare down the number of gymnasts heading into the weekend. The men's final takes place on Saturday afternoon, while the women take center stage in prime time on national television Sunday night.

    As always, gymnastics competition carries compelling drama and a slew of storylines. It's events always seems to capture the Olympic audience's attention, even if the average viewer only tunes into the sport once every few years.

    As we await a finalized U.S. team roster, let's examine some of the hot topics that deserve attention heading into the weekend.

Can Jordyn Wieber Replace Shawn Johnson?

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    Jordyn Wieber already has one thing going for her. She's coming to a grocery store shelf near you. 

    Although Wieber has yet to win an Olympic medal, she's currently being featured on the front of the Kellogg's Corn Flakes box, a spot often reserved for Olympic heroes in recent decades. The 16-year-old will need to live up to the lofty expectations in order to ease the pain caused by Shawn Johnson's retirement.

    Johnson was one of Team USA's top performers at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She claimed a gold medal on the balance beam and added three silver medals, including in the all-around.

    Teammate Nastia Liukin took gold in the all-around in '08 and she is participating at team trials with hopes of going after another medal. However, the void left by Johnson's early departure opens the door for America's next Olympic standout.

    Enter Wieber.

    Although more people are likely familiar with Liukin after Beijing, it may be Wieber's event to lose in San Jose. She is a two-time defending national champion in the all-around and, ideally, the women's team would be able to rely on her to duplicate that success overseas.

    Fellow newcomer Gabrielle Douglas finished second behind Wieber at U.S. nationals and certainly could top her in trials competition. The duo could ultimately help the U.S. lock up both gold and silver in the all-around once again, but for now the spotlight shines brighter on Wieber.

    Her own expectations seem to match those of the folks at Kellogg's. Watch out for cases of "Weiber Fever" this summer.

Can the 2008 Veterans Make the Cut for Another Olympic Run?

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    Let's face it, Olympic gymnasts aren't often able to sustain lengthy careers. Slight frames, lingering injuries and younger competitors often derail dreams of return trips to the Summer Games.

    There are 15 women competing for five spots on the U.S. team roster. Of those 15, only three have appeared on the Olympic stage.

    Gone are 2008 medalists Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel, injury issues causing both elite performers to cut their comeback attempts short. The three remaining veterans are far from being locks for London.

    Alicia Sacramone, Bridget Sloan and Nastia Liukin (pictured) are the final members of the 2008 squad still fighting for a roster spot.

    Sacramone suffered a torn Achilles in 2011, but has recovered to compete for a role on beam and vault. Sloan has dealt with ankle injuries and has focused on staying healthy for one more run with Team USA.

    Sloan has tapered her training in order to avoid aggravating her injuries, but it remains to be seen how healthy she will be in San Jose. It might even be a surprise if she qualifies for the team.

    Liukin is the most intriguing of the bunch since she comes off a gold medal all-around performance in Beijing.  Some question her ability to consistently nail the double-front dismount, but no gymnast is without their flaw.

    It's not out of the question that the U.S. women's team could be entirely filled with new faces.

How Many Sooners Will Make the Men's Squad?

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    Believe it or not, one-third of the remaining 15 Olympic men's gymnastics hopefuls are past or present members of the University of Oklahoma gymnastics program. Four OU alumni and a current Sooners standout are among the final 15.

    Jonathan Horton (pictured), who competed for OU from 2005-2008, is an Olympic veteran. He was part a silver medalist at the 2008 Games and has his sights set on another appearance.

    Chris Brooks, Steven Legendre and Alex Naddour are also OU alums fighting for a spot on the team this weekend in San Jose.

    Legrendre, a 2011 graduate, broke Horton's school record for career NCAA individual titles (6) during his time in Norman.

    The Sooner with the most potential is probably the one still attending the school. OU junior Jake Dalton was recently crowned as the 2012 NCAA all-around champion and has earned recognition as an All-American on nine occasions.

    Odds are, OU will have at least one representative on the U.S. team. We'll find out Saturday just how substantial the Sooners presence is on the final roster.

Will Danell Leyva Lead the Way?

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    The 20-year-old resident of Miami enters the 2012 Olympics with pedigree on his side. His stepfather, Yin Alvarez, and mother, Maria Gonzalez each competed as members of Cuba's national gymnastics squad.

    Leyva has also built a solid amount of momentum in recent years. In 2011, he became the United States' all-around gold medalist and earned a world championship on parallel bars.

    Although he was edged by rival American gymnast Orozco in the 2012 national championship, Levya is considered a global talent in high bars.

    Charismatic, confident and occasionally brash, Leyva is the complete package you look for in an Olympic star. The Cuban defector can become an American icon if he peaks at the right time.

Will McKayla Maroney's Vault Skills Earn Her a Role?

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    Assuming Douglass and Wieber qualify and become the marquee members of the U.S. women's gymnastics team, it's important to ask what other competitors will step up. McKayla Maroney sticks out as a potential valuable asset to the squad.

    Maroney, 16, is arguably the world's best performer on vault right now. She won the 2011 U.S. national championship and earned the 2011 world championship as a member of the national team.

    She's currently the only one in the world consistently completing the renowned "Amanar".

    Although Maroney is really restricted to just one event, her prowess on vault is hard to ignore. She has looked the part of Olympian since suffering a concussion at the 2012 national championships in St. Louis.

    Now that Maroney has offically been cleared to compete in San Jose, it's a good indication that she is at full health and ready to make a legitimate run at an Olympic roster spot.


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