Men's Gymnastics: The Waiting Game
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Danell Leyva and John Orozco can go back to their hotels and relax.
The two gymnasts earned automatic berths to the U.S. Olympic Team on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif. A marathon meeting began almost immediately after to determine the final three Olympic spots and three alternates.
USA Gymnastics will announce the full team Sunday at 10 a.m. PT via its Twitter account: @USAGym. All Olympic team berths are subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Now we’ll take all the information and, I’ll say it again, go look at what makes up the highest possible team score at the end of the day,” said U.S. national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika, who addressed the media for six minutes before rushing off to begin the selection meeting.
“Everything comes into play,” added Mazeika, who did little to tip his hand as to where he might be leaning.
The committee allotted time Saturday night as well as Sunday morning, if necessary,to make its final decision. Mazeika said the committee has a computer program that helps determine the best possible line-up for the Olympic team competition, in which three athletes will compete in each event for the team finals. The committee also goes over more subjective criteria, such as injuries and big-time experience.
While the coffee flows and the possible combinations are vetted into the night at a meeting room at HP Pavilion, where the Trials are taking place, the gymnasts are on their own to sit back and wait.
Most were anxious just to get out of the arena and get something to eat, including Jonathan Horton. The two-time Olympic medalist from 2008 finished third in the combined all-around standings, behind Leyva and Orozco (qualifying scores included two days of competition from the Visa Championships earlier this month and two days of competition at the Trials). But Horton left the competition sour after closing out Saturday with mistakes in his high bar and floor exercise routines.
“I’ve got to do something to get my mind off those last two routines because I’m a little frustrated with them right now,” Horton said. “I’m just going to hang out with family and not worry about it. If anybody talks about gymnastics at dinner I’ll probably be, ‘Hey, cut it.’ ”
C.J. Maestas said he was just going to grab something to eat and hang out with his Illinois teammate Paul Ruggeri. Both Illini gymnasts are considered to be on the bubble for the Olympic team, with Ruggeri finishing sixth and Maestas seventh in the combined all-around standings.
“I’m not one of those guys — I mean this is my dream — but I’m not sitting by the phone like ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’” Maestas said. “If it happens, it happens. I’m just blessed to be here and I’m blessed to be a part of this.”
One big question for the selection committee will center around Sam Mikulak, a University of Michigan star who has been hampered by ankle injuries.
Mikulak, who placed third in the all-around at the Visa Championships, had the best all-around score on the first night of U.S. Olympic Trials but injuries limited him to pommel horse Saturday.
Mikulak knows a little something about ailing ankles: The 2011 NCAA champion broke both of his in the summer of 2011 when he landed short on a floor exercise tumbling pass.
“It’s been a recurring injury,” Mikulak said. “I’ve sprained my ankles about four times in six months, but I can always come back strong from it.”
After sitting through four rotations Saturday, often looking like a kid anxious for math class to be over, Mikulak finally had his chance to compete. Although his 14.400 score was his lowest on the event in qualifying, he looked consistent throughout and ended up fifth. Afterward, he let out a big smile and blew a kiss to the crowd.
“I showed everything I could and I put everything out on the table,” he said. “I’m happy with what I did. All I can do it wait. It’s going to be the longest night ever.”
Meanwhile, Chris Brooks and Jake Dalton turned in strong performances throughout the competition and tied for fourth in the all-around. Then there is the question of specialists: Will the selection committee look to a pommel horse ace to help shore up the United States’ weakest event? If so, Alexander Naddour (first) and Glen Ishino (fourth) will be in the mix.
“We’re as deep as we’ve ever been, and then they reduced the number of spots,” Mazeika said, referring to the International Gymnastics Federation’s decision to limit Olympic teams to five athletes from the previous six. “So it makes our job very tough. At the same time it’s a very good problem to have because we have so many good athletes in the U.S. program right now.”
Looking to London
The United States last won an Olympic gold medal in men’s team gymnastics back in 1984 in Los Angeles. Since the days of Bart Conner and Peter Vidmar, the United States has garnered just two men’s team gymnastics medals, a silver in Athens in 2004 and a bronze in Beijing four years ago. Paul Hamm is the last American man to win the all-around Olympic gold medal in Athens.
Yin Alvarez, the coach and stepfather of Leyva, said his stepson and Orozco won’t be just content to make it this far along placing 1-2 at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“These two guys don't want to be Olympians," Alvarez told the Associated Press, "they want to be Olympic champions."