My new current top ten U.S. Men’s Olympic contenders (in order), based on the results of this weekend’s Winter Cup:
1. John Orozco – Currently America’s best male gymnast. Orozco had an even more stunning performance on Day 2 than he had on Day 1, including 15’s on five out of the six events. His next goal should be to win the American Cup, set to take place in New York in 4 weeks. He’s not only capable of winning that meet, but he’ll now likely be the favorite for the title. He’s already generated an incredible amount of momentum early in the Olympic year, an exciting foreshadowing of things to come.
2. Danell Leyva – The dice didn’t quite fall into place here in Vegas for America’s reigning national champion, but we all know what he’s capable of. Although he suffered uncharacteristic major mistakes on his specialties, parallel bars and high bar, he did at least redeem himself from his disastrous prelim pommel horse routine by hitting a solid 14.3 on Day 2. I expect he’ll be sharper at next month’s American Cup, where he’ll likely battle with John Orozco for the title.
3. Jonathan Horton – He didn’t show us much here in Vegas, but he’s still the most experienced and most accomplished American male gymnast right now. A healthy Horton will likely still be one of America’s best three gymnasts on as many as five out of the six events – a convincing sign that this team needs him in London.
4. Jake Dalton – Although he didn’t compete his big events – floor and vault – in Vegas this year, Dalton proved he has improved his strength on rings by putting up a 14.5 and 14.85 on this event. Scores on events like these will become extremely important when the time comes to separate out some of these floor and vault specialists, and right now, Dalton’s clean form, proven consistency under pressure, and usable rings score give him the edge.
5. Glen Ishino – After putting up perhaps the biggest routine of his life with a 15.65 on pommel horse on Day 1 of this competition, Ishino proved it was no fluke by putting up an even higher 15.8 on Day 2. His stunning pommel horse routines here in Vegas did more than put him in serious contention for this Olympic team – they might have currently put him on it. Ishino lacks significant international experience, though, so the best thing the men’s program committee can do for him now is put him in some international events this spring and see how he handles the pressure. If he keeps this up over the next several months, Ishino could find himself on a plane to London this summer.
6. Steve Legendre – Steve had a fantastic six-for-six performance on Day 2 here in Vegas, highlighted by a landed Dragulescu on vault (tremendous 16.55), another hit floor routine (albeit with an out of control landing and out of bounds on the dismount for a 15.1), and a hit pommel horse routine (a decent 14.15). Steve will likely be a gymnast who remains right on the verge of making this team right up until the very final decisions are made. The most important things he can do over the next several months are continue to land Dragulescu’s on vault, continue to show controlled landings on his tumbling passes, and perhaps show he could be used as a reliable backup option on any of the remaining events – especially rings.
7. Alex Naddour – Naddour’s Olympic chances are still quite good, but certainly not nearly as secure as they were before this competition. Not only did he fall on his specialty on Day 1, but he was again outscored by Glen Ishino on Day 2 when both gymnasts hit. Naddour’s routine on Day 2 was a very clean and clutch performance, but Ishino’s was equally clean and had more difficulty. It will be interesting to see whether Naddour attempts any upgrades over the next few months. One thing is for sure, though – that second chance he had here in Vegas might have been his only Mulligan.
8. Brandon Wynn – A strong all-around performance and big rings score were exactly what Brandon Wynn needed to do to put himself back into Olympic contention, and with his third place all-around finish and 15.6 on rings on Day 2, I think he accomplished just that. Although I felt Wynn increased his Olympic stock here in Vegas, I still feel like he has more to prove if he wants to displace one of the team’s floor/vault specialists, which is probably going to have to happen if he wants to go to London. Right now I’d still pick a healthy Jake Dalton or Steve Legendre over Wynn, but Wynn is certainly starting to make that decision a bit trickier.
9. Chris Brooks – After a fantastic performance on Day 1, Brooks’ somewhat rough meet on Day 2 still keeps him out of the very top group of Olympic contenders. We know that his falls on both parallel bars and high bar on Day 2 were quite unusual for him, but his missed floor routine and failure to break a 14 on pommel horse didn’t help him at all. Perhaps the best thing Brooks proved in this meet is that he could potentially be used on rings if needed, as his 14.7 and 14.95 on this event placed him 4th on this event.
10. David Sender – With an even stronger all-around on Day 2, Sender seems to be improving at a rapid-fire pace and has to be considered to at least have an outside shot at this team. His role would likely be very similar to that of Dalton – as a floor, vault, and rings specialist who could be used as a backup option on the other events. He isn’t there yet, but his 2nd place finish on vault (0.05 from first) and 3rd place finish on rings turned quite a few heads this weekend. Dalton and Legendre do have more difficult vaults and certainly bring much more potential on floor at this point, but Sender still has several months to improve. He’ll definitely be one to keep an eye on.
Just outside the top ten:
Each of these five gymnasts is a potential contender, but I feel each has more to prove before being considered in my top ten.
Overall, the U.S. men do have a lot of depth right now and will have a tough selection process this summer. My top five on this list would be my Olympic picks if I had to pick them today, but that can certainly change with upcoming competitions. Several other gymnasts could potentially challenge the spots of both Dalton and Ishino, and that will be an exciting battle to watch play out. The goal for this team should be not only to get back on the Olympic medal podium, but to field a team that can challenge Japan and China for gold. I believe this team has the talent and competitiveness to do it.