Leyva v. Orozco, other storylines to watch at Olympic Gymnastics Trials
The U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams will be determined this weekend at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif. While there is ample wiggle room for selectors to reward past performance and not base their decisions purely on trials results, gymnasts eyeing spots on the U.S. men's team that is expected to challenge for a medal or the U.S. women's team that is favored to win gold in London will want to ace their exams before coaches and selectors this weekend to increase their odds of making the very competitive five-person Olympic squads. The men compete on Thursday and Saturday. The women are on for Friday and Sunday. The teams will be announced shortly after the women's competition ends. Here are some things to look for at the trials:
Right now Danell Leyva and John Orozco seem to have separated themselves from the pack of U.S. male gymnasts. Both are likely to be all-arounders in London, but it wouldn't hurt the fortunes of either to enter the Games as U.S. trials champion. Leyva, a Miami native coached by his showman dad, Yin Alvarez, emerged from 2011 as the squad's best gymnast, but Orozco, who hails from the Bronx, bested him at nationals this year. Their emergence gives the U.S. hope for a team medal in London. But will one of the two clearly set himself apart as the team leader in San Jose?
While Leyva and Orozco have emerged as the top U.S. male gymnasts this year, Jonathan Horton is the team's most experienced competitor, with two Olympic medals and seven national titles dating back to 2002. Hopes for a team medal in London would rise if Horton, 26, is fully recovered from the injuries -- a torn ligament and two broken bones in his left foot -- he competed on at the world championships last fall. Will he be back at full strength?
Compiling a roster for a five-person team -- down from six and seven at past Olympics -- requires adding gymnasts who excel on weak events. For the U.S. this means pommel horse, a strong event in past years. Without Paul Hamm, the U.S. may be looking at Sam Mikulak, the University of Michigan product who has shown he can hit the event reasonably well. He's strong on vault, parallel bars and high bar. But is the team strong enough to get by with Leyva, Orozco and Mikulak on horse, or will they need a specialist who may not be able to offer much on other events? While Alex Naddour wouldn't be a candidate for the all-around, will selectors feel his strength on the vexing event is enough to get him to London? How about Glen Ishino? We'll know soon.
Barring something crazy, the world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber will be an all-arounder in London. But the team does have other strong all-around prospects, including Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. At 16, Douglas is sort of a wild card. She competed at worlds in Tokyo as the team's youngest member, but wasn't yet ready for the full spotlight. Douglas is super on uneven bars and was at least a presumed bars specialist until she started raising her recent profile. In March, Douglas participated at the American Cup in New York as an exhibition gymnast who did not receive scores. Though Wieber won the competition, many felt that Douglas' performances were stronger. Douglas was also possibly one mistake from beating Wieber at nationals in St. Louis earlier this month. Still, she hasn't had to hit with a world or Olympic title on the line yet. Wieber is proven; Douglas is hopeful. Will anything change at trials?
Will anyone from the old guard make the U.S. women's team? Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone, Rebecca Bross and Bridget Sloan have won multiple medals at major competitions, but with previous world all-around champions Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel already out and a deep stable of newbies on the scene, the three-person selection panel (Marta Karolyi, Steve Rybacki and Terin Humphrey) have some tough decisions to make.
If Wieber, Douglas and Raisman have places secured for London, the committee may be looking at adding a floor/vault specialist and a bars/beam specialist to fill the last two places. At her best, Liukin is one of the best uneven-bar workers in the world, but her only recent impression was a poor one at nationals. Bross could also fill that role, if she's full recovered from her injuries. Sacramone has been one of the world's top tumblers (read: vault/floor workers) over the years. Of course Anna Li has proven she can also nail bars and Kyla Ross has also picked up her game lately, so the team may decide to go with five first-time Olympians despite all the great résumés on the side. Liukin or Sacramone, both good veteran team players, could be added as stabilizing alternates as well.
We previously left out the defending world vault champion, McKayla Maroney, who recently suffered a nasal fracture and minor concussion in training that kept her out of nationals in St. Louis and cast some doubt on her status for San Jose. The group of vaulters is so strong that the 16-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., may not be needed for the team competition in London. But will she be able to show her stuff at trials and would the committee actually consider leaving a reigning world champ off the team? Time will tell.