I have somewhat cowardly avoided posting my picks for a men’s team since watching yesterday’s finals and also learning of Mikulak’s sprained ankle. Perhaps I unintentionally jinxed Mikulak with my post yesterday regarding the incredible health of all fifteen Trials participants…or at the very least, I spoke too soon.
Regardless, there’s no question we’ve had a few wrenches thrown into this men’s selection process that have placed the men’s selection committee in one of its most difficult predicaments of all time. With an injury to Mikulak which places his valuable contributions on floor and vault into question, some mistakes from Horton on key events, another hit pommel horse set (but not a slam dunk) from Alex Naddour, and some huge 16’s from Legendre and Brooks, this Olympic selection – which appeared to be quite straightforward before this competition began – has turned into one huge mess!
I honestly can’t say for sure what the selection committee is going to do, and I honestly can’t say for sure what I would do if I were in their shoes. It’s a really tough call at this point, given the various contributions of several contenders, all of whom have delivered at least SOME Olympic worthy routines on their key events during this pressure-packed process. What makes things even tougher as that this committee isn’t just choosing a team to send to the Olympic Games, and it isn’t just choosing a team that might stand on the medal podium. Considering the depth of this team and the type of performances we’re seeing on all six events, this committee is choosing a team that has a very real shot at challenging for the Olympic team gold.
Here are the things I can say for sure:
Danell Leyva and John Orozco have secured spots, and both could realistically be used on all six events if needed. It wouldn’t be ideal to do this, as we would also want them to remain as fresh as possible for the all-around finals and event finals.
Jake Dalton HAS to have earned his spot. He has done absolutely everything he is capable of throughout this entire selection process, hitting every single routine on his key events – floor, vault, and rings. He’s done nothing but get better and better this year and has continued to show incredible competitive composure. His floor and vault looked better than ever at these Trials, and he even put up a 15 on rings on Day 1. In my mind, he has the third spot.
As long as it appears that Sam Mikulak’s ankles are going to heal over the next couple of weeks, I feel he has earned a spot on this Olympic team. He has absolutely looked like an Olympian throughout this entire process and has shown a level of competitive composure that is up there with the very best athletes in the world. Competing pommel horse on Day 2 – AND HITTING IT – after sitting around for four rotations and practically looking like he ENJOYED doing it simply blew my mind. It was a smart move for them to do this, as this is truly the event that matters most for his Olympic chances. I would give the fourth spot to him, with the stipulation that Alex Naddour would step in if Mikulak doesn’t return to full strength on floor and vault over the next few weeks. We have to remember that without Mikulak’s floor and vault, it doesn’t make sense to choose him over Naddour.
That leaves the fifth spot open. Before this competition, we all said Jonathan Horton was a lock. He is the most experienced American gymnast, has Olympic medals, a world all-around medal, multiple world-class routines that could contribute in team finals if needed, and the best rings score of the entire field. And he has looked GOOD during this entire selection process – putting up 90+ all-around totals in three out of the four meets (and an 89.65 in the other one). Given how stable rings is, it would seem that this event alone should land him a spot, regardless of a couple of errors he had on high bar and floor.
But I have to say that when we look at the numbers, it gets really, really interesting between Horton and Steve Legendre. If we took out Horton’s 15.4-15.5 on rings and replaced it with a 14.6-14.7 from a gymnast like Leyva or Mikulak, this team would lose an immediate 0.8. But if we substituted Legendre’s 16.0-16.2 on floor for Horton’s 15.2-15.4 (or Orozco’s, for that matter), this team would likely gain those same 0.8 back. Legendre would ALSO add a third 7.0 on vault to this team – a 0.4 advantage over the other 6.6 vaults from Horton, Orozco, and Leyva. As for Horton’s other events, Sam Mikulak has shown essentially identical scoring potential on p-bars and perhaps just a tenth or two lower scoring potential on high bar – although they both have the same D-score of 6.7. But Mikulak’s high bar has been more consistent, as evidenced by Horton making errors on this event both days at Trials. So I would call p-bars and high bar basically a wash between Horton and Mikulak, and thus the biggest considerations between Horton vs. Legendre involve Horton’s rings vs. Legendre’s floor and vault.
This is such a toss-up!
Horton hit all four rings routines, and this is the most stable event in gymnastics. He also brings incredible leadership and experience to this team, and he has the heart and soul of an Olympic champion. Perhaps no American gymnast has ever been quite the team player and team leader that Jonathan Horton has been over the last six years or so. Isn’t that worth more than a few tenths?
Legendre hit three out of four floor routines (scored 16+ on all three hit routines) and could easily win an Olympic medal here. But he really just hit two out of four vaults – landing short on one and over-rotating another. This vault is clearly more of a gamble than something stable like Horton’s rings. As for experience and leadership, Legendre is no slouch either. He’s been in three world championships, three world floor finals, and was a key member of the USA’s bronze medal effort in Tokyo last year and a great leader for his University of Oklahoma team for four years.
So what’s going to happen?
I honestly have no idea, but my guess would be that the committee chooses Horton over Legendre, simply given Mikulak’s uncertain status (as Horton would possibly be needed on p-bars and high bar after all), Horton’s stable rings score, and his incredible history at the world and Olympic level. This would make the team, once again:
Alternates: Alex Naddour, Steve Legendre, Chris Brooks
But…I can’t help but think how amazing the team below would be:
Alternates: Alex Naddour, Jonathan Horton, Chris Brooks
Think about the floor and vault lineups for this team: Dalton, Legendre, and Mikulak…WOW! Those three could compete with any team in the world on those two events. P-bars and high bar would essentially be the best we have (Leyva, Orozco, and Mikulak on each). Rings would obviously be slightly weak, and pommel horse would lack a few potential tenths from Alex Naddour.
I’m not going to choose one of these two teams over the other because it is so close to call – I’m going to leave that to the selection committee. Of course, Alex Naddour is certainly still a worthwhile consideration, as is Chris Brooks, so it’s possible the committee could surprise us and choose one of these athletes. But as for now, I think these two are alternates.
We supposedly will have an announcement in a couple of hours! I wish all these guys the very best as they await their fates. All fifteen of these guys have given us the best U.S. men’s Olympic selection we’ve ever seen, and we thank you sincerely for it!