By Brian Cazeneuve
June 28, 2012

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Danell Leyva reasserted his place on the U.S. gymnastics landscape Thursday, moving ahead of teammate John Orozco after the first day of the U.S. Olympic trials. Leyva, the 2010 national all-around champion, scored 91.700, a point more than Orozco, who stunned Leyva at nationals in St. Louis earlier this month but faltered on pommel horse and vault in San Jose.

Behind them, surprising Sam Mikulak earned the top scores Thursday, a tenth of a point more than Leyva, to solidify his spot in third place when you add in the scores from nationals.

Leyva scored in the 15s on floor exercise and vault then nailed his best events, parallel bars and high bar, for scores of 15.900 and 15.850 to shoot into the lead (276.500-275.550). After finishing second at nationals, Leyva talked about his eagerness to start well in San Jose and stake his claim to the country's No. 1 spot in advance of the Olympics.

Instead, he was the first competitor of the meet and badly over rotated his first tumbling pass on floor.

"Too amped," he said. "I thought I was coming out of it quicker, so I stepped out a bit. I was pretty excited today. I was nervous honestly, but it was a good nervous."

But Leyva steadied himself and remained solid throughout the meet. The world champion on parallel bars began pulling away from the pack on his fifth event with a routine reminiscent of the set that earned world gold in Tokyo last fall. It includes four variations of a peach basket (underbar somersault to handstand) in rapid succession.

"My bread and butter," Leyva said.

Orozco sat down on his vault, a double-twisting front, and received 14.800, including 8.200 for execution. He also scored 14.350 for a pommel horse set that had two significant errors.

"I was really tight on pommels," he said. "I tried to be too perfect. I just need to let it go."

Like Leyva, Orozco saved his best scores for parallel bars (15.550) and high bar (15.650). He hit a high bar set with four release skills but then finished with a fairly simple layout full out (nearly piked) dismount that seems too easy for the rest of the routine. The subpar showing won't jeopardize Orozco's place as a likely all-arounder in London. He and Leyva are the two with fairly secure holds on the team.

Count Mikulak as the one gymnast who raised his game at exactly the right time. The Michigan Wolverine was not really in the Olympic picture before nationals, but he followed a good showing there with a solid performance in San Jose.

On his first event, Mikulak showed off his prowess on parallel bars. He received a 15.700, including a 9.500 for execution. Even his simpler skills such as a back toss and Stutz handstand were textbook crowd pleasers. Mikulak has downgraded his mount on floor this year after smashing his ankles last year on a triple-double. He hit a clean set with a 2-½ pass through to Rudi middle pass.

Mikulak made it through pommel horse and scored 14.600. The routine sets up an interesting dilemma for selectors. If they feel Mikulak's horse routine is strong enough to fill out the roster, they may not need to include a horse specialist on the team. The event is the team's weakest. It would calm a few nerves to put a more solid competitor such as Thursday's top scorer, Alex Naddour (15.400), on the roster, especially since he can also vault. But Mikulak may have quieted that talk. Mikulak also hit a triple twisting Tsukahara vault (quarter turn onto the horse) that is simply a blur. It was one of three vaults in the competition with the highest degree of difficulty (7.0), and it received a total mark of 15.900.

The team's most experienced member, Jonathan Horton, remained a likely London nominee with a typically strong rings routine and some upgrades on parallel bars for 15.650. He fell on a layout full-twisting double back (a Kolman) on high bar but later caught two other release skills and completed the routine for just 14.200.

Jake Dalton stands fifth after hitting a world-class set on floor. Dalton received 16.100, including 9.500 for execution for his version of the triple-twisting Tsukahara. Put Dalton in the mix for a berth when the team is announced Sunday.

The men compute their final scores by combining marks from both trials and nationals. The women are just using scores from trials. The men's team will be named in stages this weekend. Two gymnasts will be finalized after the competition on Saturday. A selection committee will choose the final three members and announce the team the following day. A three-member selection committee will choose the women's team shortly after the women's competition is done Sunday. Only the all-around champ is guaranteed a spot on the team.

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