Jonathan Horton competes in the men's horizontal bar final at the Olympic Games London 2012 at North Greenwich Arena on Aug. 7, 2012 in London.
Days before competing in the high bar final at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, American gymnast Jonathan Horton made an unusual decision.
He made his routine harder.
“My coach said, ‘You’re nuts, you could go out there on live TV and the world could watch you fall on your face if you try this,’” Horton told TeamUSA.org in 2012. “I was like, ‘Yeah, well, go big or go home, right?’”
Horton went big that day, hitting his new routine and winning a silver medal to go along with the team bronze medal he had earned seven nights earlier. And the gutsy 5-foot-1, 120-pound gymnast went big for seven more years as one of the preeminent stars on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team.
On Monday, following extended battles with injuries, the 31-year-old Horton announced his retirement in the Houston Chronicle, a decision made public today on Twitter.
In his decade amongst the U.S. men’s gymnastics elite, Horton won two U.S. all-around titles and competed in two Olympic Games and five world championships for Team USA, winning two Olympic and two world championship medals along the way.
“Thank you to @USAGym and to everyone for all of your support,” he wrote. “Competing for team USA was an honor.”
The Houston native rose to prominence as one of the sport’s all-time dominant college gymnasts, winning three NCAA team titles and six individual titles at Oklahoma from 2005-08.
Upon making his first U.S. Olympic Team in 2008, Horton was thrust into the leading role for Team USA after Paul Hamm, the defending Olympic all-around champion, withdrew due to injury just weeks before the start of competition.
Though he was the team’s youngest member, Horton posted Team USA’s highest all-around score in the qualifying round and then competed in five of six events in the team final as the Americans took the bronze medal, marking only their second team medal since winning Olympic gold in 1984.
The experience, as the confident and outspoken gymnast made clear to anyone who asked, only motivated him to win a gold medal next time.
“Right now, everything I do, training, competitions, international competitions, everything, it’s stepping stones to my real goal at 2012, which is to be an Olympic champion,” Horton told TeamUSA.org in 2009. “I would love to stand on top of that podium not only with my teammates, but as an individual as well.”
Horton went on to win the all-around bronze medal at the 2010 world championships and a team bronze medal at the 2011 world championships, but that was as close as he got. Team USA finished fifth at the London Games, and Horton was sixth in his only individual event final, the high bar.
Although he returned to elite competition following the London Games, Horton was never quite 100 percent after that.
He came back from reconstructive surgeries on both shoulders to compete at the 2014 U.S. championships, where he finished eighth in the all-around. At age 28, he was already several years older than his top competition there, yet Horton talked of not just competing at the 2016 Olympics but also in 2020.
However, another round of injuries soon set in, and Horton missed the 2016 season while recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Although he spoke at that year’s Olympic trials about coming back for a swansong, the father of two decided this week to retire.
“I was hurt every single year for six years after never being hurt once,” he told the Chronicle on Monday. “It was a matter of my body telling me that we need to be done.”
According to the Chronicle, Horton first announced his retirement following a viewing party Monday for his appearance on the NBC series “American Ninja Warrior.”
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.