The official roster for the upcoming Winter Cup, to be held February 2-4 in Las Vegas, has just been released. Many fans will be extremely excited to see that both 2004 Olympic champion Paul Hamm and 2008 national all-around champion David Sender are currently slated to compete.
Below are a total of 13 gymnasts – including Hamm and Sender – to watch in this year’s event:
Paul Hamm: The 2004 Olympic all-around champion and greatest male gymnast in U.S. history is essentially launching his third major comeback to the sport. His previous two comebacks in 2008 and 2011 were both halted by injuries, and this one comes on the heels of a highly publicized run-in with police this past September. Hamm will be looking to redirect his focus – as well as the focus of his fans – onto his gymnastics in what will be his first competition since the 2008 national championships. It is unclear how many events Paul plans to compete at this point, but one thing is for sure – his pommel horse will be the most critical with regards to his quest for a third Olympic Games.
David Sender: The 2008 national all-around champion suffered horrible luck when he sprained his ankle while simply jumping down from the high bar during training at the 2008 Olympic Trials. The rest of his Olympic story unfortunately went even further downhill, as he wasn’t even selected as an alternate for the Olympic team that year. Three years into veterinary school, Sender was again bit by the Olympic bug and went back into serious training this past fall. He made an ambitious return to competition by competing all six events at the recent Windy City Invitational, looking as powerful as he did four years ago, though quite rough around the edges. He may have a ways to go to challenge for a spot on this team, but he’ll be an exciting and sentimental addition to the competition in Las Vegas.
Danell Leyva: The reigning U.S. national all-around champion and newly crowned world parallel bars champion is right on track to help lead the United States to an Olympic team medal in London. Although he didn’t have the all-around competition he was capable of in Tokyo this past fall, he’s fully capable of winning an Olympic all-around medal and will likely be using this competition to fine-tune his routines and gain confidence early in the Olympic year. Look for spectacular performances from Leyva on parallel bars and high bar, where he never delivers anything less than world class gymnastics. And if he chooses to compete the all-around, he’ll likely be the one to beat.
Jonathan Horton: The two-time national all-around champion and 2010 world all-around bronze medalist had recent foot surgery following the world championships in Tokyo, and he’ll be expected to compete on just pommel horse and rings in Vegas. Pommel horse is one of the key events for Horton’s all-around and will be an essential area for him to continue to improve if he hopes to earn one of the USA’s two available all-around spots in London. And rings is particularly critical for the team, as Horton is one of only a couple of American gymnasts who can hang with the best in the world on this event.
John Orozco: The biggest surprise of Team USA in 2011, Orozco likely has a whole lot to look forward to in 2012. Orozco will not only be using the Winter Cup to firmly establish himself in this Olympic year, but as currently the fifth ranked gymnast in the world, Orozco is also the lone American man on the roster for the upcoming American Cup in New York. The competition in Vegas will serve as a perfect tune-up for this major international event, and he’ll likely be near top form in Vegas. If he competes the all-around, he’ll be one of the front runners to win the title.
Jake Dalton: The defending Winter Cup all-around champion who had the year of his life in 2011, Dalton will likely be one of the gymnasts on the bubble of making the Olympic team this summer. With incredible tumbling and vaulting abilities and an ever improving all-around, Dalton could do himself a lot of favors with another strong all-around performance in Vegas. Watch for clean and spectacular routines on floor and vault from this 2011 world floor finalist. Some strong scores on events like rings and p-bars wouldn’t hurt him one bit either. Could he even repeat as Winter Cup champion?
Steve Legendre: The three-time world team member and three-time world floor finalist who also just won silver on vault as a last-minute replacement at the Olympic Test Event in London, Legendre is essentially in the same Olympic boat as his friend and teammate, Jake Dalton. Legendre’s Olympic quest essentially starts in Vegas, where he’ll need to begin an entire season of consistency to earn a spot on this summer’s Olympic team. His tumbling on floor is undeniable, but cleanly landing his Dragulescu on vault will be a key factor in his Olympic fate, as will showing he could be used on some other events like rings.
Alex Naddour: The 2011 national pommel horse champion, two-time NCAA pommel horse champion, and 2011 world team member became a big reason why the USA got back onto the world medal podium with his strong and consistent pommel horse work under big time pressure. Until another gymnast proves to be better than Naddour on this key event, a spot on this year’s Olympic team seems likely for this 20-year-old University of Oklahoma gymnast, who has recently been training back at his home in Arizona. Watch for Naddour’s smooth and difficult pommel horse routine to once again challenge for the top spot on this event, and note whether any other new challengers like Paul Hamm can keep up with him.
Chris Brooks: The 2010 Winter Cup champion and 2010 world team member has struggled with injuries over the last couple of years and will need to remain healthy this year to have a shot at London. After recently dropping out of the Olympic Test Event due to injury, this year’s Winter Cup will be a key competition for this well-rounded gymnast. Like Dalton and Legendre, Brooks’ Olympic Trials will essentially last all year long, and the whole process starts in Vegas.
Brandon Wynn: The 2010 national all-around bronze medalist and 2010 world team member was left off the 2011 world team, essentially in favor of floor and vault powerhouses Dalton and Legendre. Wynn will need to once again prove he’s America’s best on rings, and also demonstrate that the amount of points he brings on this event exceeds that of the other specialists in the mix. Like Dalton, Legendre, and Brooks, though, one event isn’t quite enough to guarantee a spot on a five-man team. Wynn will need to show more consistency on other events than he did at least year’s national championships to jump back into the Olympic mix.
Sam Mikulak: The 2011 NCAA all-around champion who is now a sophomore at the University of Michigan could be a dark horse contender for this year’s Olympic team. Like Chris Brooks, Mikulak surprisingly turned down an opportunity to compete at the recent Olympic Test Event, despite showing full routines on training videos. The young floor and vault phenom has improved markedly since last year, and could potentially be considered one of America’s better pommel horse swingers. This is the event where he can distance himself from contenders like Dalton, Legendre, Brooks, and even Wynn, and he’ll need to do just that in Vegas.
CJ Maestas: The University of Illinois gymnast and 2011 Winter Cup rings champion may be one of the very few gymnasts in the country capable of strong scores on both rings and pommel horse. He could also be a dark-horse contender for the Olympic team if he can demonstrate he’s one of America’s top three on both of these key events over the next several months. As he’s in the midst of his college season and is likely in fantastic shape, Vegas would be a perfect place for him to begin to make that case.
Paul Ruggeri: The 2010 world team alternate is a teammate of CJ Maestas at the University of Illinois, though his strengths as a gymnast are quite different. Like Dalton, Legendre, and Mikulak, Ruggeri is excellent on floor and vault, but also boasts one of the best high bar routines in the country. As he’s also in the midst of his NCAA season, Vegas is a perfect opportunity for him to make a major splash at the beginning of this Olympic year. Ruggeri has proven himself to be an excellent competitor both nationally and internationally, and if he remains healthy, could definitely be one to watch.