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The Men’s Winter Cup begins tomorrow!  Here are five stories to keep your eyes on:

Olympic Fever

Gambling in Vegas won’t be limited to the casinos this year.  The Winter Cup has traditionally been a competition where former stars considering comebacks like to test the waters a bit to see what possibilities might lie ahead later in the year.  Although 2004 Olympic champion Paul Hamm has withdrawn from the competition, several other past Olympians and world team members are slated to compete.  2008 Olympic bronze medalists Alexander Artemev, Kevin Tan, and Joey Hagerty, as well as former world team member Sean Golden, will all be looking to regain spots on the U.S. national team this week, undoubtedly with London 2012 in the backs of their minds.

All-Around Race

With world all-around bronze medalist Jonathan Horton only planning to compete rings in Vegas due to a recently broken thumb, the Winter Cup all-around title will be completely up for grabs.  The front runners for the crown will likely include defending champion Chris Brooks and the 2010 U.S. national all-around silver and bronze medalists, Danell Leyva and Brandon Wynn.  Any other challengers would provide a pleasant surprise, which wouldn’t be unheard of given the history of this competition.

Redemption

For several world team members from 2009 and 2010, this meet will set the table for 2011 and provide some early clues about who may be on track for a world team spot in Tokyo this year.  Wes Haagensen and Jake Dalton will be looking to reestablish themselves as international contenders after missing out on 2010 world team spots, while Chris Cameron will need to prove he’s truly better than the mistakes he showed in Rotterdam.  Steve Legendre now has two world championships and two world floor finals attached to his name, but no world medals to truly cement his status as a necessity for Team USA.  If Legendre and recent world alternate Paul Ruggeri plays their cards right in Vegas this week, they may be doing a whole lot more traveling in the months ahead.

Pommel Horse, Anyone?

For several years pommel horse has prevented Team USA from challenging China and Japan, and it kept them off the medal podium at the recent worlds in Rotterdam.  The truth is our country has developed a very strong base of pommel horse workers over the last two years, although most have never landed world team spots.  With just a year and a half until the Games in London, the selection committee will be watching intently this year for an Olympic savior to emerge on this American nemesis.  Watch for standouts like Daniel Ribeiro, Luke Stannard, Alex Naddour, Donothan Bailey, and Glen Ishino to battle former world pommel horse medalist Alex Artemev and 2010 world pommel horse competitor Chris Cameron for the top spot on this critical event for Team USA.

National Team Berths At Stake

The Winter Cup has gradually become more and more of a national team selection competition, and this year a hefty EIGHT spots will be up for grabs, with the seven members of the 2010 world team automatically retaining their spots.  The top all-arounder at this meet (excluding the 2010 world team members) will be awarded a spot, and the top four finishers under the national team “points” system will earn spots.  Two spots will then be selected by the Men’s Program Committee, and one spot will be selected by the national team coordinator.  Though the “points” system is not perfect, the return of objectivity in the determination of at least some of these spots has been a very refreshing trend.  Will any of our former Olympians earn national team berths, or will the newer generation of athletes prevail?