LONDON – Danell Leyva wore blue. John Orozco wore red. And it was “game on” in the men’s individual all-around gymnastics competition on Wednesday night at the arena commonly known as the Millennium Dome in London.
Orozco had beaten Leyva at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Leyva had won the 2012 Olympic qualifying round.
Both had hoped to become just the third and fourth American men to claim medals in the all-around event’s 112-year history at the Games.
And both were doubly motivated by a disappointing finish in the men’s team event two nights earlier.
The question was: could they overcome the curse of the pommel horse where the U.S. – and Orozco in particular – had so much trouble on Monday (when the team placed fifth).
The immediate answer was no.
But the longer-term answer – for Leyva – was yes, and he went on to capture the bronze medal by tying with the eventual silver medalist Marcel Nguyen of Germany for the best score on parallel bars (where Leyva is also the world champion) and by earning the highest score on the high bar, his final apparatus.
Orozco staged an impressive comeback, too, and finished eighth.
“I’m very, very, very happy with the bronze,” Leyva said afterwards. “But I’m not satisfied. I’ll come back in 2016 looking for gold; I’ll even come back again in 2020.”
Leyva also urged the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, Kohei Uchimura of Japan to return for Rio – just for motivation.
“If I could speak Japanese, I would tell him he’s the best gymnast who ever lived,” Leyva said of the three-time world champion and now a two-time Olympic medalist in the all-around – “for now.”
But about that horse.
Leyva and Orozco encountered their nemesis in their second rotation. Each was competing cleanly and smoothly until, inexplicably, in the entry into their dismounts, they both struggled with a handstand. The difference was that Orozco quivered on one arm for what seemed to be an eternity, fighting hard to stay on the horse. His score of 12.566 dropped him from fourth place to 24th with four apparatuses remaining. He looked utterly defeated. Leyva recovered quicker and scored 13.500 but he, too, dropped into the bottom third of the standings.
“My arms were a little shaky in the beginning,” Leyva said. “I don’t know why. That press was hard. I just didn’t have the strength.”
Orozco, too, felt sapped. He was essentially competing in his third all-around competition in five days (after contesting the all-around prelims and performing on five of the six apparatuses in the team event).
“Not everybody did that,” Orozco said. “Maybe that was a factor. I couldn’t feel my arms and thought, this is bad. Maybe I was stressing too much. Maybe I should have let it go a little.
“I’m upset now,” Orozco admitted afterwards, “but I’m still more upset about the team finals. Right now I don’t want to do anything else but train like crazy.”
Orozco, the 19-year-old from New York City known as the silent ninja, is done competing in his first Olympics.
Leyva, 20, meanwhile, will go on to compete in the high bar final on August 7, and his excitable stepfather/coach Yin Alvarez can’t wait. One of Alvarez’s goals written in all capital letters back home in Florida is to have an Olympic champion.
“I did not say which Olympics,” Alvarez said, but Tuesday would suit the men just fine.
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.