SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The world waited overnight to learn which three gymnasts would join automatic qualifiers Danell Leyva, 20, and John Orozco, 19, on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. For all the suspense, there was very little drama. The selection committee took the straightforward route.
On Sunday morning, it nominated two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton, 26, and a pair of NCAA all-around champions: Michigan’s Sam Mikulak, 19, and Oklahoma’s Jake Dalton, 20, to complete the roster for London.
"It’s all about the highest possible team score," said Kevin Mazeika, the men’s national team coordinator. The six selectors used a computer to crunch results, but their decision closely followed the overall rankings from the four-part trials.
Horton had placed third overall. Dalton was fourth, and although Mikulak had won the third day of competition, his scores were incomplete because a swollen and bruised left ankle prevented him from competing on anything but pommel horse in Saturday’s finale. But Mikulak had already proven he could consistently hit his routines.
Still, Mikulak was tense at Sunday morning’s athlete meeting.
"I was the last person announced," he explained. "They said 'Jake' and everyone clapped. And then, 'Horton,' and everyone clapped. And, 'Sam.' And I was just like, no way. So many emotions, and I was welling up. I've been dreaming about this moment for so long."
Last summer, Mikulak had broken both ankles on floor exercise at a meet in Puerto Rico, so in addition to training, healing will be a priority for the next few weeks.
Given the risk that gymnastics require and how quickly things can go wrong, the three alternates (also named Sunday), may play a vital role. In 2008, for example, Paul Hamm scratched due to an injury and his sub, Raj Bhavsar, ended up taking a bronze medal in the team event.
For 2012, the alternates will be: Chris Brooks, 25, (who tied Dalton for fourth place overall), and two members of the U.S. team that claimed bronze at the 2011 world championships: Steven Legendre, 23, and Alex Naddour, 21.
Brooks is the generalist among the alternates, having placed fifth on every apparatus except high bar and pommel horse.
Legendre placed second on floor and third on vault in the combined scores to clarify his strengths. Naddour is the most specialized, excelling in pommel horse (the U.S. team’s greatest vulnerability) and placed first in that apparatus’ combined scores.
It has been said that the men’s squad could be the deepest since 1984 when the United States won gold at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. It is also one of the more colorful. Did you know:
* Danell Leyva recently appeared in GQ, modeling tank tops with some of his teammates, but, this spring, his face took a beating when he attempted to break up a dogfight in his yard. When he tried to take his American bulldog out of the fray, his dog sunk his teeth into Leyva’s right cheek and ear. The scars are hardly visible now. He also appears naked in an upcoming issue of ESPN the Magazine, along with other elite athletes. “It was something new and different,” he said, but he wasn’t shy, admitting, “If it was up to me, I’d wear no pants all day. I’m very comfortable."
* John Orozco travels with an array of rosaries. “I have different ones that mean different things,” he said. “When I’m on the floor, I don’t feel like I’m by myself.” The one he wore most in San Jose was from Rome. The others, he bought at home in the Bronx, New York. Orozco currently trains at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and said that when he returns on Monday, he would like to see how he can help victims of the local wildfires. He also wants to buy each of his parents a laptop. “They always want to Skype me and I have to tell my mom, it doesn’t work on your phone.”
* Sam Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal-Berkeley and when Sam was young, his father, Steve, used to give him pointers. But his dad was so old-school that he would use outdated terms, and squabbles ensued. These days, Mikulak is happy to have his parents around – especially given his recent ankle injuries because his dad is an orthopedic surgeon in Southern California. Sam is a psychology major at the University of Michigan.
* Jon Horton met his wife, Haley, his freshman year at Oklahoma, and they married on June 20, 2009. “I’m a pretty simple guy,” he said. “Gymnastics wears me out so much.” But he still makes time to ride motorcycles on Friday nights north of Houston with his national teammate Chris Brooks. Since they don’t have practice on Saturday mornings, Horton said, “We’ll go out at around 11 when the traffic’s cleared and ride till midnight or 1 a.m.”
* Jake Dalton began doing gymnastics to improve his pitching arm when he was 6. Two years later, he committed exclusively to gymnastics. He said the greatest carryover from baseball to his current sport was “learning to be part of a team.”
* Alternate Chris Brooks was just starting his senior year at the University of Oklahoma in 2008 when he received word that his father and gymnastics mentor, Larry Brooks, died in a car crash in Houston. “Someone in a tow truck ran a red light and he was killed on impact,” he said. When training becomes a grind and he needs a lift, he often thinks of his father. And before every routine on Sunday, Chris said, “I said a little prayer and talked to my dad a bit.” After being named as an Olympic alternate, Chris said, “I think he’d be pretty pumped.”
* Alternate Steven Legendre proposed to his girlfriend, Alaina Williams, in early November, and when he wasn’t preparing for his own events in San Jose, he was at the trampoline venue to support his fiancée’s Olympic bid (although she did not make the team). Legendre grew up in Port Jefferson, New York, moved to Dallas when he was 16, and finished high school in Texas. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in May 2012 with a major in interdisciplinary studies.
* Alternate Alex Naddour is from Gilbert, Arizona, 15 minutes southeast of Phoenix. His father was a gymnast at Arizona State. His mother competed for Ohio State and eventually transferred to ASU, where she met Naddour’s father. Alex grew up in the gym, but he also wrestled in junior high and high school. He said gymnastics helped his wrestling more than the other way around.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.