Reporter's Notebook: Gymnastics Trials Day 1
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After Day 1 at the U.S. Gymnastics Trials, the only movement among the top-five men was Danell Leyva overtaking John Orozco for the lead in the combined standings. Sam Mikulak and Jonathan Horton remained in third and fourth, respectively. Jake Dalton remains fifth.
The results at Trials are added to the results of Visa Championships that took place in St. Louis three weeks ago.
When the competition concludes on Saturday, the two men with the highest cumulative all-around scores would automatically qualify for London, provided they also place among the top-three in at least three apparatuses as well. The rest of the five-man team will be decided by a selection committee.
Team USA spoke to the top five men after Thursday’s competition to find out how they gauged their performances, gain more insight on who they are, how they like to compete, and what -- if any -- battles they may be facing.
2011 World Championships: Gold on parallel bars, team bronze
Leyva was the first competitor of the entire event, and in his first tumbling pass on his first apparatus (floor exercise) he stepped out of bounds.
“I was nervous, a good nervous, but a little more nervous than I expected,” he said.
Leyva went on to post the highest scores in his last two events: parallel bars (15.900) and high bar (15.850) and overtook Orozco by .950 points in the overall standings. Worth noting: Leyva’s high bar routine carried a 7.1 difficulty. Anything 7.0 or higher is considered to be among the hardest tricks in the world.
2011 World Championships: 5th in all-around, team bronze
Orozco was solid but he didn’t earn the highest score on any of the six apparatuses on Thursday.
He lost major points when he fell backwards landing his vault. “I rushed it,” he said afterwards. “I was trying to be too perfect and it went downhill.” He had the 14th best score on vault (14.800) of the 15 men competing at Trials.
Orozco had the fifth-best score on pommel horse, an apparatus that has been one of the US men’s weak spots. Alexander Naddour had the highest score on horse, followed by Mikulak, Leyva, and C. J. Maestas. Orozco said he noticed his wrist strap came loose on pommel, “but that’s not what distracted me. I felt really heavy [at the end].
“On Saturday I’ve got to do better on horse. A good vault would also be nice.” (He had the fifth-best score on vault as well.)
Overall, Orozco said, “It feels like another Visa Championships. Maybe I need more adrenaline to keep it going. I really wasn’t nervous. I don’t know why. Maybe I need to be.”
2012 NCAA high bar champion, 2011 NCAA all-around champion
Mikulak is the breakout star of Trials and he had the highest total score of the day.
He admitted that he was trying to make it difficult for the selection committee to overlook him. (The committee will decide at least three of the five male athletes for London.) “If I keep hitting routines and they see I can be consistent…but one step at a time.”
Mikulak (pronounced “mih-KOOL-ick”) also had a vocal fan club that moved around the arena depending on which apparatus he was on. “They’re all my Corona Del Mar alumni friends,” he said of the men in blue tank tops. “I wanted them to put a goofy face of myself [on the shirt] but they said, ‘No Sam, that’s stupid!” When they said they’d put a flag on it instead, he approved, although they did not give him a shirt. “Maybe I should inquire about that,” he said.
This is Mikulak’s first Olympic Trials and, at 19, it may not be his last.
“I still have 2016 to look forward to,” he said. “But if I can make this team, that would be great.”
In between, he plans to return to the University of Michigan, where he will be a junior majoring in psychology. Mikulak committed fully to gymnastics when he was 8 or 9 after deciding to quit baseball. “It was funny,” he said. “I was the shortstop and the shortest guy.” Mikulak is 5-foot-4.
On Thursday, he said he tweaked his left ankle on his vault, which carried a 7.0 difficulty. If he showed a weakness on Thursday, it was on rings, where he had the 10th best score.
2008 Olympics: Silver on high bar, team bronze
It was just the second competition for Horton, 26, after he broke two bones and tore a ligament in his left foot while landing a vault at the 2011 World Championships. Despite the injury, he competed on high bar and parallel bars afterwards to help the US team secure a bronze medal.
On October 20, 2011, he had surgery to insert two screws and repair his first and second metatarsal bones. The 3 to 4 inch scar on the top of his foot has mostly faded now, but he still tapes the foot to keep everything together. “It stings now and then,” he said, but was happy to be back in time for the Visa Championships (part one of Olympic selection) and compete at his third Trials this week in San Jose.
He struggled, however, on Thursday. The only Olympic veteran competing -- and the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on high bar -- uncharacteristically fell off the high bar on his first release move. He managed to get a hand back on the bar, but fell flat on the mat.
“I just slipped off,” he said. “It’s not gonna happen again,” although he is not sure exactly what went wrong. “I did the skill perfectly, a Cassina,” he said, referring to the move named after Igor Cassina of Italy, the 2004 Olympic high bar champion. “It happened so fast.”
“This isn’t about me anymore,” he pointed out. “This is about team USA. When I missed on high bar, I thought: Okay. Let’s treat it like a team event. There are more events to come. I’ve got to take myself out of it.”
Horton still shined on rings, where he had the second-highest score of the day, behind Brandon Wynn.
“There are high expectations for me, being the veteran,” he said. “I like the pressure and I like the nerves. It’s been good for me. I expect a lot out of myself, too.”
2011 World Championships: Team bronze, 2012 US floor and vault champion
Dalton earned the highest score on floor on Thursday (16.100), and had the third-best vault with a 7.0 difficulty (16.100) behind Steven Legendre and Alex Buscaglia.
So it made sense when he said “probably floor, vault, and rings” are where he felt he could contribute the most to the team. He still had elements that he wanted to clean up before Saturday, adding, “You don’t want to peak here and do everything perfect.”
Then again, in order to make one of the deepest men’s U.S. Olympic teams in decades, he might have to.
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.