(L-R) Sam Mikulak, Alex Naddour, Jake Dalton, Chris Brooks and John Orozco celebrate after being named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Men's Gymnastics at Chafitz Arena on June 25, 2016 in St. Louis.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Sam Mikulak wasn’t going to miss this one.
The four-time defending U.S. all-around champion is still recovering from an Achilles tendon tear that will prevent him from competing for a fifth consecutive all-around title at the P&G Gymnastics Championships this weekend.
But Mikulak, who grew up 30 minutes away from the venue, is eager to compete on pommel horse and high bar in front of the hometown crowd at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
“I’ll have the biggest cheering section I’ve ever had for a competition,” he said.
Of the five gymnasts who helped Team USA finish fifth in Rio, while winning three individual medals, only Mikulak and Alex Naddour are back this weekend to compete for national titles and spots at the world championships, which take place Oct. 2-8 in Montreal. The others have either retired or moved on to something else.
Here’s a look at the 2016 Olympic men’s gymnastics team, and what they’re up to now.
After a self-described “career of almosts,” Chris Brooks took fate into his own hands by changing gyms, rededicating to the sport and qualifying for his first Olympic team at age 29. The achievement — which came after multiple injury setbacks, being named an alternate to the 2012 Olympic team, and the 2008 death of his father in a car crash — made for one of the feel good stories of the Games. And it wasn’t supposed to end there. Brooks returned to competition at the Winter Cup in February and won the high bar, but following another injury, and another surgery, he announced his retirement on Wednesday in a USA Gymnastics story. He said he plans to go into coaching.
One of the United States’ strongest floor exercise and vault workers for the past two Olympic quads, Jake Dalton officially called it a career on Aug. 8 at age 25. Dalton, a member of the 2012 and ’16 Olympic teams, plus four world championships teams, made the floor exercise finals in both London and Rio, and he earned four world championships medals over his career. Since Rio, Dalton has returned to his hometown of Reno, Nevada, where he’s helping manage his family’s two gymnastics clubs, working on his YouTube channel and looking for other opportunities within fitness and gymnastics.
Danell Leyva got a late break, and he made the most of it. After initially being named to the Olympic team as an alternate, Leyva got his chance when teammate John Orozco was injured and ended up leaving Rio with silver medals on the high bar and parallel bars. Those came after he won the all-around bronze medal in London, plus five medals over five world championships. The Cuba-born, Miami-raised Leyva had his ups and downs between those Olympics, but his results on the biggest stages were unmatched among his American teammates. He’s since moved to California to pursue a career in entertainment, and has two acting credits listed on IMDb, although he hasn’t officially retired from gymnastics.
Following his second Olympic Games in Rio, Sam Mikulak tore his Achilles tendon in February and only returned to the gym in earnest in June. But the 24-year-old has no plans of leaving the sport before Tokyo, and he’s even optimistic that he could make this year’s world championships team as a specialist. Mikulak, for all of his domestic success, is still searching for his first international medal. He came close in Rio, making three individual event finals and finishing just one spot off the podium in high bar. When he’s not working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, Mikulak continues his work with MatéBros, the beverage company he co-founded in 2014.
Pommel horse was the persistent weak spot for the U.S. men, until it wasn’t. Alex Naddour made his first Olympic team in 2016, and he went on to win the bronze medal in pommel horse. It was the first U.S. medal in that event since 1984. Naddour, who has also competed in four world championships, was rejuvenated by the experience, calling it a “weight off my back.” And thanks to a rule change that emphasizes event specialists at the next Olympics, the 26-year-old is back in a part-time role, competing in just pommel horse and still rings, with the goal of winning a world or Olympic title. With the extra time from cutting out the other four events, the Gilbert, Arizona, native is also working in real estate and coaching at his dad’s gym.
Like Brooks, John Orozco had an emotional journey in making the 2016 Olympic team. Unlike Brooks, Orozco didn’t actually get to compete in Rio. The Bronx-bred gymnast was one of Team USA’s brightest young stars ahead of his 2012 Olympic debut — even getting a shout out from First Lady Michelle Obama — but injuries took their toll on Orozco after that, as did the sudden death of his mother in 2015. Considered a dark horse candidate for the 2016 Olympic team as he came back from yet another injury, Orozco nonetheless showed up with inspired performances at last summer’s national championships and Olympic trials, particularly on the high bar and p-bars, to make his second Olympic team. Before he could get to Rio, however, Orozco suffered a torn ACL and had to withdraw from the team. Orozco, now 24, retired from the sport in March with plans to move to California and pursue a career in music.
In addition to Leyva, the U.S. team selected Akash Modi and Donnell Whittenburg as alternates for the Rio team. Modi and Whittenburg traveled to Rio and, although they didn’t get the call up like Leyva, both say the experience made them stronger. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that both are favorites heading into this week’s competition in Anaheim. Modi just wrapped up his senior year at Stanford by winning the NCAA all-around title and is transitioning into a new role as a coach and graduate student at his alma mater. Whittenburg, who trains at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, is known for his powerful gymnastics and high scores on floor exercise, parallel bars, still rings and vault.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.