WOW.  It was another exciting day in U.S. men’s gymnastics, with some of the very best in this nation’s history fighting to earn their places on this year’s national team and Olympic team.  And all with only about 36 hours of rest since the conclusion of Day 1.


The finale between Leyva and Orozco was stunning.  I think hardly any of us realized – the commentators and gymnasts themselves included – that Orozco could realistically catch up to Leyva on the final event.  Even if I had known it was possible, I wouldn’t have expected a 15.5 from Orozco on floor.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him score that high here…but he’s also never competed a floor routine that impeccable before.  Orozco achieving the exact score he needed to surpass Leyva on the final event was a perfect way to end what I still consider the best U.S. men’s nationals in history, and sets up a very healthy rivalry that will boost the performance of both of these stars in the coming weeks.  And like Al Trautwig mentioned, the U.S. will now bring three different national all-around champions in London this summer.


But even this thrilling duel wasn’t the big story in St. Louis today.  The big story involved a gymnast whom we all considered a possible dark horse contender for London before this competition began, and then elevated to a more legitimate threat for the Olympic team after he delivered the most shocking performance of these championships on Day 1.  I’m talking about Sam Mikulak, who, after turning in an EVEN MORE SPECTACULAR six-for-six all-around effort in today’s competition, will finally move into my top five contenders for the Olympic squad.  I was absolutely blown away by this gymnast, who appeared unstoppable on practically every event in St. Louis this week.


There are several reasons why I feel Sam Mikulak has at least temporarily moved himself onto this Olympic team:


First, and most importantly, he nailed six for six events, proving that his performance on Day 1 was no fluke, and that he can truly handle the enormous pressure of competing on the Olympic team bubble.


Second, he hit another 14.65 on pommel horse, suggesting that he could, in fact, potentially be used on this event in the Olympic team finals.  I do believe he needs to hit both sets at Trials as well to truly establish this, since the notion of putting up Mikulak on pommel horse in the Olympic team finals is still a new one for all of us.  We’ll need to see four in a row to feel totally comfortable with this, but hitting two in a row at nationals says an awful lot.


Third, he outscored Glen Ishino on pommel horse, who had a little trouble today and put up a rather mediocre 14.4.


Fourth, both Orozco and Leyva hit good pommel horse routines again, suggesting that the need for a pommel horse “specialist” may be diminishing, at least a little bit.


Fiftth, Mikulak can offer a great deal of help on both floor and vault.  These are areas in which the U.S. will be giving up a few tenths if they do in fact choose a pommel horse specialist like Ishino or Naddour.  We have to remember that neither Leyva, Orozco, or Horton currently has a 7.0 vault, and thus Dalton will likely have the only 7.0 vault on the team if they go with a pommel horse specialist.  Mikulak would add another solid Kasamatsu double full to the lineup, which he consistently lands and scores in the 16-range.  He also proved today he can score big on floor – his 15.65 would definitely give the team a few tenths here as well.


Sixth, Mikulak is potentially an option for p-bars and a backup option for high bar.  He scored in the 15.6-range on p-bars both days, and mid-15’s on high bar both days.


That’s a whole lot of reasons to put Mikulak on the team, but best of all is the fact that Mikulak truly LOOKED like an Olympian both days in St. Louis this week.  He is competing extremely confidently and appears to be peaking at precisely the right time for London, and that is very exciting for this team.  Things can certainly change at Trials, but my men’s team has currently now changed to Danell Leyva, John Orozco, Jonathan Horton, Jake Dalton, and Sam Mikulak.


And what about the alternate spots?  That’s a tough one now, especially considering some of the mistakes we saw today from several of the “bubble” gymnasts, like Chris Brooks, Steve Legendre, and Glen Ishino.  And Alex Naddour scoring a 15.35 on pommel horse today doesn’t simplify things, either!


I’ll put up an updated London StockWatch next, in which I’ll give some more details about where these guys now stand.