LONDON – Hopes were high for the five U.S. gymnasts competing in the men’s team event when they took the floor on Monday in perhaps the pinkest arena ever to host a sporting contest.
The young squad was considered to be the deepest and most talented in decades. It had claimed the world championship bronze medal in 2011 and had won the qualifying round of the Olympic team event on the bright carpets of North Greenwich Arena on Saturday.
But qualifying scores didn’t count in the final, and “things didn’t go as planned,” said Jake Dalton.
The team unraveled early in its greatest weakness: pommel horse. In the second rotation, Danell Leyva fell off and had to re-mount the apparatus. John Orozco sat down on the horse twice. The U.S. was seventh among eight teams.
Two rotations later, on vault, it didn’t help when Orozco fell backward on landing and Sam Mikulak and Dalton each lost a tenth of a point for stepping out of bounds. At that point, Orozco, 19, wiped away tears.
Jon Horton, team captain and the only Olympic veteran on the team said at that point, “I just reminded them of who we are. Medal or no medal, we’re going to fight till the last guy does his dismount.”
The U.S. had the third-best combined scores on its last two apparatuses (parallel bars and high bar) – as well as floor exercise – but it wasn’t enough and the Olympic medal streak has ended. After earning bronze in 2008 and silver in 2004, the U.S. men’s gymnastics team placed fifth in the team event, matching its result from 2000.
It was a crushing placement for a squad that had realistic aims to become the first U.S. men’s team to take gold since 1984.
“I do think we could have done it today,” Horton said afterwards. “There’s disappointment and there’s no way to get rid of that.”
China won the gold instead – for the second consecutive Games. Japan, initially ranked fourth, was awarded the silver medal after an inquiry from the Japanese coach about the difficulty score on Kohei Uchimura’s pommel horse routine. When the jury decided to increase Uchimura’s score by seven-tenths of a point, Great Britain was bumped to third but the host country was still elated with bronze – its first men’s gymnastics team medal in 100 years.
Ukraine was demoted to fourth, just ahead of the U.S.
The U.S. missed the podium by 1.759 points.
Orozco, who competed on five of the six apparatuses on Monday said in the immediate aftermath that he wasn’t sure what he had learned from his first Olympic final.
“I may have to think about it and go through the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t feel fantastic about it but all I can do is look forward to the future.”
“We didn’t stop fighting,” Dalton said, “and this is going to push us for the next four years.”
It is a young team – no one (except Horton) is older than 20.
When it was over, Leyva cried under his lucky green towel with stars. Horton rubbed Leyva’s shoulders, consolingly. Orozco looked grim with the top half of his leotard pulled down to his waist.
Leyva and Orozco will go on to compete in the individual all-around event on August 1.
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.