What happened to the Olympic “stock” of some of the top Olympic contenders on Day 1 at the Men’s Winter Cup in Las Vegas?
Stock Went Up
John Orozco: Any performance that simply re-demonstrates the gymnastics and composure that he showed at last year’s nationals and world championships will continue to solidify his value to Team USA. Even with a fall on high bar, Orozco led the entire field, and showcased the same exquisite lines and form that made him the first challenger to Kohei Uchimura during the 2011 world prelims in Tokyo. His pommel horse score of 15.3 was perhaps most important, as scores like these continue to show he is clearly one of America’s top 3 on this critical event.
Chris Brooks: Widely considered one of the “bubble” gymnasts as we head into this pre-Olympic season, Chris Brooks did just about everything he could possibly do to increase his Olympic chances – except hit a pommel horse routine. Because he would likely not be used on this event in a team finals situation, though, what’s perhaps even more important is that he showed he could be used on more than just parallel bars and high bar. Aside from posting the top scores on both of these events, he showed an improved score on rings (14.7) and solid scores on floor (14.45) and vault (15.85).
David Sender: In one of the biggest surprises of the meet, 2008 national champion David Sender placed an impressive 6th all-around in his second meet back after a nearly four-year retirement. We can’t quite put him right in the London mix yet, but his significant improvement since even the Windy City meet a couple of weeks ago suggests that he may be headed in that direction. His Yurchenko 2 ½ on vault yielded the highest score of the meet, and his 14.95 on rings was 3rd best on this key event for Team USA. Let’s see what he pulls out on Day 2, but as for now, we’ll simply say he raised some eyebrows.
Glen Ishino: With the highest pommel horse score of the entire meet (huge 15.65), Ishino’s stock for London just skyrocketed. He still has to be considered a dark-horse pick at this point, given he has no world championship experience at all and has only put up this type of number once in a major national meet. His quick style worked very well for him during this intricate routine, and if he can repeat this type of score on Day 2, his stock may rise even further. His main objective on Day 2 will be to prove this grand slam performance was no fluke.
CJ Maestas: He may have only been 10th in the all-around, but posting the highest rings score of the competition was one of the most important things he could have done here in Vegas. His 15.45 beat out Brandon Wynn, one of his closest rivals for a potential spot on this Olympic team. A higher pommel horse score would have done wonders for this gymnast’s Olympic chances, but a 13.85 wasn’t a total disaster either. If he can repeat or improve this rings score and put up a pommel horse score in the upper 14’s, we can take him even more seriously.
Stock Stayed The Same
Danell Leyva: It’s hard to do much to the stock of America’s current national champion, but Leyva certainly had an up-and-down day in Vegas that he’ll be hoping to improve upon on Day 2. A completely botched pommel horse routine and uncharacteristic mistake on high bar kept him in 3rd in the all-around, but likely doesn’t change much regarding his essential role on this team. His pommel horse debacle was unfortunate, though, not just for his own sake but for Team USA’s, as he was one of America’s three pommel horse workers at least year’s worlds and may very well be needed for the team finals in London. Let’s hope he can laugh that one off and show us what he’s really capable of on Day 2.
Brandon Wynn: Currently a “bubble” gymnast as well, Wynn had a fairly solid competition that certainly keeps him in the mix, but he didn’t knock one out of the park either. His 15.35 on rings was the 2nd best rings score of the meet, but not a whole lot higher than some of his closest competitors on this event. His packed p-bars routine was impressive, and he did have a solid 15.6 on vault and 14.4 on p-bars. But he’ll need to score close to a 16 on rings and create a bigger gap from some of the other rings scores to truly prove his worth to this team.
Steve Legendre: Legendre’s floor was one of the best we’ve seen from him – including a stuck 2 ½ twisting double back and very controlled landings on all of his super difficult passes. Had he truly landed his Dragulescu on vault I might have given his stock an upward arrow, but he’s still showing this vault isn’t quite reliable yet. His 13.25 on rings didn’t help his cause either, as this may be an event where a floor/vault specialist may also need to be used in London. As for now, we’ll keep Legendre where he’s at – right on the verge of being on this Olympic team.
Jake Dalton: Although he didn’t compete on his real strengths, floor and vault, Dalton showed very solid scores on rings (14.5) and p-bars (14.9). We’re already very familiar with his world class floor and vault abilities, so Dalton’s focus in the coming months will likely be to establish his potential to be used on these other important events. He was used on rings in the 2011 world team finals, and here in Vegas he appeared to be even a little bit stronger. He’ll want to continue to improve his score on this event, not only for himself, but for Team USA.
Paul Ruggeri: Ruggeri’s a great gymnast who showed a solid all-around here, with particular strengths on his usual specialties – floor, vault, and high bar. He wasn’t totally sharp, though, and like some of the other bubble gymnasts, didn’t have any slam dunks…but didn’t have any disasters either. He might be able to post some slightly higher numbers on Day 2, but for now we’ll keep Ruggeri’s stock stable.
Sam Mikulak: Had he put up a strong pommel horse score I might have said his stock increased, but as for now I’d say he remains a bit of a mystery in this whole process. Mikulak, who surprisingly passed up a recent opportunity to compete in the Olympic Test Event in London due to wrist problems, nailed his unique parallel bars routine for a 15.25, hit a clean high bar set for 1 4.8, and hit a clean (though relatively easy) rings routine for a 14.5. But pommel horse is the event where he could potentially separate himself from the other floor and vault specialists like Jake Dalton and Steve Legendre. He didn’t do that on Day 1.
Stock Went Down
Alex Naddour: Falling on pommel horse in Vegas was certainly not in the plans for this gymnast whose entire Olympic dream essentially depends on this one routine. He’s hit pommel horse under pressure enough times to give him a break this time, but it is the Olympic year, and this is his specialty. There’s no doubt that his performances later in the year (nationals and Olympic Trials) will count much more heavily than his routines here in Vegas, but rest assured that the selection committee is watching closely, particularly when there are gymnasts like Glen Ishino scoring 15.65’s. Fortunately for Naddour, he did squeak out enough points to qualify for the finals, so he’ll have an opportunity to try to redeem himself and erase that fall from the memories of the committee members.
Jonathan Horton: I’m not suggesting that Jon Horton is off this Olympic team by any means, as this team truly needs him for his experience, his heart, and his leadership abilities…not to mention his strength on rings. But he didn’t compete rings here, and his current status for floor and vault is slightly questionable given his recent foot surgery. Stepping up and missing his pommel horse routine wasn’t what he was hoping for during his first meet of 2012, as it has been his primary mission throughout this quadrennium to improve on this apparatus. I fully expect we’ll still see Jonathan Horton on this summer’s Olympic team, but as for now his status is slightly less certain than it has been over the past three years.
Paul Hamm: Well it was so great to finally see the greatest American gymnast of all time back on a competition floor, but it sure felt an awful lot like watching fellow Olympic champion Shawn Johnson during her very similar comeback performance last summer. Like Shawn, Paul Hamm appeared to be in good physical shape and showed shades of his former self, but overall lacked the confidence and the sharpness we’ve been so accustomed to in the past. What’s most important as far as his Olympic chances go is his pommel horse, and although he did fall, he showed an excellent swing and the potential to score well with some time and hard work. Time is running short, though, and the opportunities to prove himself will be few and far between between now and London. Paul may seem like a long shot for the Olympics to some, but I have a feeling this competition is going to motivate him quite a bit. A lot can still happen between now and July, and Hamm has the experience, the work ethic, and the talent to make major strides over the next few months. We saw incredible progress from Shawn Johnson in a very short amount of time last year, and Paul is capable of the same. It’s also not difficult to imagine a scenario this summer when the true heat of the Olympic selection is on at the nationals and the Trials, and no one can step up and hit a pommel horse routine except Paul Hamm. While I hope for Team USA’s sake that isn’t necessarily the case, the truth is this team continues to show significant vulnerabilities on this event amongst even its top Olympic contenders, and any gymnast who can score consistent 15’s on pommel horse has to be considered a serious threat for an Olympic berth. It’s unfortunate that Paul didn’t earn a spot in the Winter Cup finals, as I’m sure he would have loved nothing more than to have a second chance at this routine. He’ll now have to wait until later in the year, when I expect we’ll see a different gymnast than we saw here in Vegas. He has to be considered in the Olympic mix, but perhaps no one has more work ahead of him in the next five months than Paul Hamm.
Look for a final competition analysis after the conclusion of Day 2 tomorrow night!