Here is the 2015 U.S. Men’s World Championship team, which was just announced this evening after the conclusion of the P&G U.S. Championships:
The biggest shocker for me is not the names listed on the men’s world championship team, but one of the names not listed – Jake Dalton. Dalton didn’t compete here in Indianapolis at the P&G Championships, though it initially sounded like a temporary issue with his shoulder (he mentioned in an interview here at the competition that he had a “cyst drained” and also has received some cortisone shots). What surprises me is that Dalton’s biggest contributions to this team would come on floor and vault – the two events that are the least demanding on the shoulder. He is certainly a great all-around gymnast and capable of putting up strong scores on essentially every event but pommel horse, but I would have expected his huge scores on floor and vault alone would have been enough to land him a spot on this team. He’s been a world medalist on both of these events, not to mention a 2012 Olympian and one of the most experienced gymnasts we have. Perhaps there is more to his shoulder issue than we realized, though, and we will certainly be on the lookout for more updates on this.
There’s always a positive side to team selection, though, and the omission of Dalton opened the door for Paul Ruggeri to make his first ever world championship team. An international player for the U.S. since 2009, Ruggeri has won multiple international medals on his specialties – floor, vault, and high bar – but has never actually competed in a world championship; in fact he’s been chosen as an alternate to the world team three different times. He’s been amazingly consistent over the past six years, doing some of the most difficult tumbling and trickiest high bar routines around, and has always shown great competitive ability on both the national and international stage. I was amazed at today’s competition when, after missing his laid-out Kolman (Cassina) on high bar – one of the most difficult skills being done on this event – Ruggeri dared to get up and go for it again, catching it the second time. That takes a tremendous amount of guts to actually repeat such an incredibly risky skill like that early in the routine, knowing how many other skills you would still have to complete after that. That’s the kind of competitive aggressiveness that defines him, and proving you can repeat a skill like that under pressure can really help alleviate the damage done by the fall. Although I hate to see Dalton left off this team, seeing Ruggeri finally named to his first world team the year before the Olympics is extremely cool to see. He deserves it.
One other question mark I had after watching today’s competition was whether Chris Brooks was going to be named. I think he looks about the best I’ve seen him in years, and aside from a fall off pommel horse (his weakest event), he gave a spectacular showing. His scores on p-bars and high bar were so high I thought surely he’d have to be utilized on these two events (15.4 and 15.75 on p-bars, and 15.6 and 15.75 on high bar), and placing 3rd all-around in this field made a huge statement about his overall shape right now. I honestly started wondering if they might actually make Danell Leyva an alternate and use Chris Brooks instead, because these two bring similar strengths to the table. Leyva fell on high bar today, and although he hit two very strong p-bar routines in this meet, I thought Chris Brooks actually looked slightly cleaner, and he outscored Leyva on both events. Leyva is an awesome gymnast, but we haven’t quite seen him put his very best gymnastics out there since the Olympics in London – at least in terms of cleanliness. I know that’s probably tough for Brooks to be named as the alternate after looking so awesome here and placing 3rd in the all-around. Like Ruggeri, Brooks has been an alternate for the American team multiple times, including for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Sam Mikulak and Donnell Whittenburg were essentially locks for this team, so I don’t think anyone is surprised to see them on the list. And after seeing how many guys fell on pommel horse on Day 2, I felt Alex Naddour essentially solidified his spot when he put up a very strong 15.5 today (also 15.1 on Day 1). This team desperately needs a reliable 15+ score on pommel horse, and thus I’d say he earned his spot. As far as the final spot goes, the committee looked at an event where there appeared to be a bit of a hole – rings. Mikulak and Whittenburg can certainly be used here, but the other gymnasts named to the team – Leyva, Ruggeri, and Naddour – all scored in the 14’s both days at this meet. Rings tends to be a very stable and predictable event, and thus it’s a place where a specialist can rack up a lot of almost-guaranteed points for the team. So I wasn’t surprised at all to see Brandon Wynn get the call to help fill this void, considering he scored a 15.7 and 15.8 in this competition – at least a point higher than what Leyva, Ruggeri, and Naddour put up. This is exactly what has landed Brandon Wynn world team berths in the past, and in this particular scenario, his beastly strength is exactly what the team needs once again.
There’s one other gymnast whom I was a bit disappointed to see left off, and I know I speak for many fans who feel the same way – Jonathan Horton. The two-time Olympian, Olympic high bar medalist, and former world all-around bronze medalist is now the oldest gymnast in the field, yet after not really being a major player since the Olympics in London, I think he shocked a lot of people when he placed 4th overall on Day 1. Knowing he is very strong on rings and could also contribute big scores on p-bars and high bar, I truly thought he was going to be right in the mix to make this team. When he nailed one of the best p-bar routines I’ve seen him do in years in the first rotation, I had high hopes that he was going to pull it off. Falling on his Cassina on high bar in the second rotation is probably what hurt him the most, as that would need to be one of the events where he’d be used at the world championships. Floor was very strong at 15.15, and although he struggled on pommel horse, he would never be used on this event at the world championships so I don’t think that really affected his chances too much. His 15.2 on rings seemed like it would keep him in contention, but I guess when it came down to it the committee decided they would get more points out of Brandon Wynn than Horton, especially since Leyva can help fill those voids on p-bars and high bar already. I would have expected to see Horton listed as the second alternate though, and am a bit surprised to see they chose Marvin Kimble over him. Kimble did score slightly higher on rings than Horton (15.25 and 15.4), but Horton’s two-day totals on p-bars and high bar were higher. And I would have thought Horton’s track record would have helped give him the edge to grab one of those alternate spots.
Here’s a possible world team finals lineup for this team:
It’s a strong team! I definitely think this team can medal in Glasgow. Selecting the team well over two months before the world championships can be a big advantage because it gives these guys the opportunity to truly become a team, train together, and develop the most strategic lineup. A huge congrats to all these guys – I’m excited to see what this team can do on the world stage.