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2010 World Gymnastics ChampionshipsAny idea how long it’s been since the U.S. men won a world team medal WITHOUT Olympic champion Paul Hamm?  Not since 1979, when the U.S. men took the bronze at the worlds in Fort Worth, Texas – behind the Soviet Union and Japan, and just a tenth and a half ahead of Germany.

Not to take away from the accomplishments of the U.S. team that DID include Paul Hamm – such as world team silvers in both 2001 and 2003 and Olympic silver in 2004 – but Paul’s presence was such a unique benefit to the team that being able to do it without him is a feat worth mentioning.  The team did accomplish this feat at the Olympics in Beijing, but at the world championships, it hasn’t happened in over thirty years.

It’s no secret that the U.S. men are weak on pommel horse, and that’s essentially been the case since we lost both Paul and Morgan Hamm after 2004.  The U.S. men placed 8th, 6th, and 8th on the event at the 2006 and 2007 worlds and 2008 Olympics, respectively – the three major team events that have occurred since that time.  In Beijing, pommel horse was nearly the team’s undoing, as two major breaks on the event in the last rotation put their bronze medal in serious jeopardy – fortunately to be salvaged by anchor Alexander Artemev.

Today the U.S. men will begin their quest for a world team medal on their nemesis, and have appointed Danell Leyva, Chris Brooks, and Chris Cameron to take on the unforgiving beast.  One of the biggest accomplishments for this team in preliminaries was hitting all five pommel horse sets, albeit with lower start values than all of the other top teams.  The three designees had the highest scores of the team during prelims, with Chris Cameron posting a 6.0, 14.333, Chris Brooks a 5.7, 14.033, and Danell Leyva a 5.7, 13.9 – all rather mediocre scores that they would like to improve upon in today’s final.  Leyva, who competed solidly on all six events during preliminaries, will lead off the charge, much like fellow countrywoman Mackenzie Caquatto did on the uneven bars in the women’s team final.

If they all three hit, getting their biggest hurdle out of the way could be a tremendous advantage for Team USA.  Although they’ll likely start out at the very bottom of the pack, they can breath a huge sigh of relief and aim to climb up the standings one event at a time.  In rotation 5, Team USA will put up three dazzling routines on high bar, where they outscored the entire field in the preliminaries.  They’ll finish their quest for a medal on floor, where Steven Legendre will throw one of the wildest routines of the competition as the final American competitor.

China and Japan both begin on floor, an event where both teams struggled in preliminaries, ranking a surprising 10th and 11th , respectively.  As with the Americans, if they channel those first-event nerves in the right direction, it can be a huge confidence booster to get that challenge out of the way.  However, if those nerves get the best of them, the rankings that we’ve all anticipated could be very quickly thrown out of whack…and with this unpredictable team format, we could be in for one crazy night.