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Four-and-a-half points.

 

That’s how much the USA improved its score in this year’s worlds qualifications compared to last year’s.  It was an absolutely stunning performance – one of the best that Team USA has EVER given in world competition.  All six men were fabulous…on essentially every event.  This year’s team outscored last year’s team on five out of the six events – including on rings, which was expected to be the team’s weakness since it didn’t bring a rings specialist as it typically does.

 

Only on high bar did last year’s team deliver higher scores in the qualifications, and that was in part due to a slightly rough routine from Danell Leyva here in Tokyo, though he didn’t come off the bar.  Even a fall from one of the team’s best vaulters, Steve Legendre, hardly touched the team’s score, as they still posted three huge 16+ numbers and a 15.9 without him.

 

Pommel horse was perhaps the highlight, given this team’s tremendous struggles on this event in recent years.  This year’s pommel horse team outscored last year’s team by over two points, led by two 15+ scores from Alex Naddour and John Orozco.  Leyva’s improved form and confidence notched him one of his best scores ever on the event –  a 14.633.  Naddour may very well end up in the event finals.

 

All in all, I don’t think I’ve ever been this impressed with a USA men’s team, even back when the Hamms helped lead the USA to silver medals in Anaheim and Beijing in 2003 and 2004.  This team has a spark and chemistry that make magic happen, and that’s exactly what they did here in the qualifications.

 

Perhaps most comforting was the fact the USA outscored defending world bronze medalists Germany by a massive 7.5 points!  Expected to battle with the USA, Great Britain, and perhaps Russia for the bronze here in Tokyo, the Germans weren’t even in the same league as the Americans today.  Despite having 2010 national champion Marcel Nguyen back on the team and multiple world medalist Fabian Hambuechen back in the all-around, as a team the Germans showed less spectacular gymnastics than the Americans (on floor and vault in particular) and suffered falls on pommel horse and major form errors on high bar.  The Americans outscored the Germans on every event except for parallel bars, where the Germans’ consistent scores allowed them to eclipse the Americans by less than one tenth.

 

The top five teams currently, after half the qualification rounds, are:

 

1.  Japan            364.291

2.  USA              361.583

3.  Germany          354.132

4.  Romania          350.900

5.  Ukraine          350.434

 

John Orozco perhaps deserves the USA “Team MVP” award, as he not only performed brilliantly on pommel horse, where the team needs him most, but in fact nailed all six routines and was the highest American all-around finisher in 2nd place (stunning 90.532, behind Kohei Uchimura’s 92.256).  At just 18 years old and just over a year out of tearing his Achilles tendon, Orozco showed nerves of steel in his first world competition, not to mention some of the cleanest and most exciting gymnastics in the meet.  He and Danell Leyva will represent USA in the all-around finals, and though half the teams are yet to go, this team will likely hold on to several spots in the event finals as well – Legendre on floor, Naddour on pommel horse, Jonathan Horton on rings, Leyva on p-bars, and Orozco on high bar are all strong possibilities.

 

The USA men have likely established themselves as the front runner for at least a bronze here in Tokyo, and as we’ve heard these guys say for weeks, they don’t consider the gold medal out of reach.  After their performance in qualifications, I must say I can’t disagree.