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Many of us thought we wouldn’t see Tim McNeill on a competition floor again.  Much like Bridget Sloan on the women’s side, McNeill had a major breakout year in 2009 and we haven’t seen a whole lot from him since.  After placing 2nd all-around at the 2009 Visa U.S. Championships, McNeill went on to his first world championships in London where he was the highest American all-around finisher in 7th place and also placed 5th on pommel horse in the event finals.  The competition jitters that had kept him out of contention for the 2008 Olympic team were now gone, and his newfound competitive confidence and international reputation were sure to make him a major player for the U.S. team throughout the new quadrennial.  The fact that he was very strong on both pommel horse and rings – two key events for the U.S. – also made him one of Team USA’s most valuable assets.  Tim McNeill’s time had officially arrived.

 

And then he was gone.  We caught a quick glimpse of McNeill at the 2010 Moscow World Cup where he won the bronze on parallel bars and placed 4th on pommel horse, but problems with his back forced him to drop out of numerous competitions throughout last year.  When summer 2010 arrived, it was announced that Barry Weiner, longtime head coach of the Cal-Berkeley men’s team, was resigning and that Tim McNeill had been offered the tremendous opportunity to take over the program at his own alma mater.  Rumors circulated that he would still try for the 2010 world team, but when the Visa U.S. Championships arrived, Tim had traded his competition jersey for coaching attire, helping guide younger Golden Bears Glen Ishino and Bryan del Castillo to spots on the national team.  When it was announced that the men’s program at Cal would then be dropped due to Title IX regulations, it seemed logical that Tim would reembark on the Olympic journey that had already passed him by once.  But when enough money was raised to reverse the decision to drop the program, McNeill again kept his grips at home and helped guide the Golden Bears to a 4th place finish at this year’s NCAA Championships.

 

It appears the Olympic bug has bitten the humble McNeill once again, as his name is officially on the roster for next week’s Visa U.S. Championships.  With just a year remaining before the 2012 Olympics in London, the world pommel horse finalist may have returned just in time to keep his Olympic dream alive.  We haven’t seen Tim on a competition floor in well over a year, so it’s difficult to predict what kind of shape he is in.  If he is ready to compete a pommel horse routine similar to the one he did in 2009 and early 2010, he’ll be a major contender for this year’s world team.

 

Although Jonathan Horton and Danell Leyva have both improved significantly on pommel horse, this is still by far the weakest event for the U.S. team and the biggest reason why they were left off the medal podium at the 2010 worlds.  At last year’s worlds Chris Cameron filled the role of pommel horse and rings specialist for the U.S. men, but unfortunately faltered in the team finals.  With Paul Hamm’s status still quite uncertain and all of the U.S.’s top all-arounders still relatively weak on this event, the U.S. men desperately need a big pommel horse score to remain a legitimate medal contender.  Is Tim McNeill the answer?

 

Tim McNeill Pommel Horse 2009 World Championships

Tim McNeill Rings 2010 World Championships

Tim McNeill P-Bars 2010 Moscow World Cup