And then there were nine.
So much has already happened after Day 1 at the 2011 Men’s Visa Championships. The two expected to battle for the all-around title do hold the top two spots, with Leyva leading Horton by a slightly larger margin than most anticipated. Some of the most spectacular gymnastics in the world was on display by several of the world team contenders, particularly on floor, vault, and high bar. And quite a few world team contenders likely said goodbye to their chances for Tokyo tonight with some major mistakes on key events, like pommel horse.
Although some drastic events in this Friday’s finals could always change things, here are the nine gymnasts I believe are still in contention for the world team at this point:
Danell Leyva. Leyva absolutely rose to the occasion and cemented himself as the favorite for the national title with possibly the best meet of his career. A stunning 92.5 all-around with a 2.1 lead over Horton, including huge scores on p-bars (16.2) and high bar (16.9), not to mention improved scores on floor (14.95) and pommel horse (14.25 even with a small mistake). He couldn’t have possibly asked for a better Day 1, and this meet is now his to lose.
Jonathan Horton. He did fall on pommel horse (12.7), but he performed far better than he has in his most recent international competitions. Perhaps the biggest victory of the day was landing his Dragulescu (handspring double-front half on vault) for the first time ever in competition. Breaking the 90-mark (90.4) with a missed routine is also a huge statement that he is still a world medal contender in the all-around.
Steven Legendre. What a statement! This was perhaps the best meet of Legendre’s career as well, as he not only put up huge numbers on floor (15.95) and vault (16.7), but he continues to show he is a great all-arounder. He’d be even more valuable if he could put up a 15+ score on a third event, but he’s a strong backup on several events and is looking more confident than ever.
John Orozco. This 18-year-old just made things very interesting. He’ll really need to hit pommel horse tomorrow to really cement his role on the team, but he tied for the highest D-score on the event (6.7) and still scored a 13.95 with a fall. Overall this was a huge success for this young gymnast in his first all-around meet since tearing his Achilles a year ago. He demonstrated the potential to be used by the U.S. team not only on pommel horse, but also on rings, p-bars, and high bar.
Chris Brooks. Probably one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire competition. Most of us didn’t quite know what to expect from this talented trickster, but he showed that being out of competition for nearly a year hasn’t affected his confidence one bit. His p-bars and high bar are still top notch, he threw a Dragulescu on vault (unfortunately fell backwards), and a solid 14.05 on pommel horse won’t hurt his chances at all. Huge success for Brooks, although he may be fighting with John Orozco for a spot on the world team.
Jake Dalton. Very interesting story developing between him and teammate Legendre. Legendre outscored him in the all-around, but Dalton narrowly edged him again on the events where they both would be used – floor and vault. Does Dalton’s 11.0 on pommel horse even matter at all? I honestly don’t think so. The question may be whether there is a way both he and Legendre can be used on the same world team…I think this might end up happening.
Alex Naddour. I think he may have just stamped his ticket to Tokyo with his fantastic 15.4 on pommel horse and the top score on this absolutely critical event. He has now hit this routine in multiple national and international competitions and has established himself as America’s most reliable pommel horse swinger. He doesn’t bring much else to the table at this point, but someone has to fill this role, and I’d say it looks like it’s going to be him.
Brandon Wynn. He certainly didn’t have the all-around competition he had last year, but he still posted the top rings score with a convincing 15.75, which was 0.45 ahead of second place Horton. As we don’t really have a lot of strong backup on this event among our top guys, this creates an interesting dilemma for the selection committee.
Ty Echard. Perhaps more of an outside shot, but he’s got a beautiful body line and pencil-straight swing on pommel horse, and he hit a strong 15.0 (2nd place) amidst a huge fall-fest on the U.S.’s weakest event. Naddour certainly has the advantage over him due to more international experience and a higher score tonight, but Echard will at least have to be considered given the team has virtually no scores to fall back on here.
My predictions for the world team at this point:
(world team finals routines in parentheses)
Danell Leyva (PH, PB, HB)
Jonathan Horton (FX, SR, V, PB, HB)
Alex Naddour (PH)
John Orozco (PH, SR, PB, HB)
Steven Legendre (FX, V)
Jake Dalton (FX, SR, V)
Alternates: Chris Brooks and Brandon Wynn