I don’t think the USA men’s team could have asked for a better place to start than floor. It’s a perfect place to get some adrenaline out, particularly with some of the hugely powerful sets this team has. It also means they’ll get pommel horse done early in the competition (second event), but it won’t be the first event, when nerves are most likely to take over. And it means they will finish the day on high bar, which is the event where they led the entire world last year in Rotterdam. A great performance there will help boost the team’s confidence as they rest and prepare for the team finals to take place a few days later.
Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre, two of the most explosive gymnasts in the world, will likely anchor this team on both floor and vault. These two events are a big reason why this USA men’s team is one of the strongest they’ve ever fielded. Not since Paul and Morgan Hamm competed for the USA back in 2000, 2003, and 2004 have the USA men boasted two of the best tumblers and vaulters in the world on the same team. Add in Jonathan Horton, who’s also very strong on these two events and even has a brand new spectacular vault of his own, and the USA stacks up quite well against China and Japan on both of these key events.
Pommel horse has been the team’s nemesis since essentially 2004, after Olympic pommel horse finalist Paul Hamm retired. Despite a few heroic moments here and there on this event from gymnasts like Alex Artemev and Tim McNeill, the USA has struggled tremendously to find consistency and leadership on this event. Pommel horse has singlehandedly cost the USA team a world medal more than once. That could all change this year, as this is the best pommel horse lineup this team has had in years. Eighteen-year-old John Orozco and Oklahoma Sooner Alex Naddour will salute their first ever routines in a world championship competition today, and carry the huge responsibility of leading the USA’s recently revamped lineup on this event. With Danell Leyva’s improvement in form and extension this year as well, the USA could potentially hang tight with China and Japan on pommel horse in team finals – if they hit.
Rings will follow next, and this is the event where the USA could potentially give up some points to some of the other top teams. Jonathan Horton is very strong and has competed rings for the USA for years, but the team will rely on newcomer John Orozco and a relatively weaker rings performer, like Jake Dalton, Steven Legendre, or Danell Leyva, to round out its team finals lineup. The objective on Day 1 will be to hit clean positions, eliminate any possible minor deductions on handstands, and focus on stuck landings. China is unstoppable on this event, and Japan is quite good as well.
Parallel bars and high bar could bring some spectacular moments for Team USA. Danell Leyva, a two-time world high bar finalist, could easily make the finals and even medal on BOTH of these events. He’s got some of the coolest combinations and highest difficulty scores in the world on both, and has improved his form to world class levels. Jonathan Horton excels on both these events as well, and his multiple high flying release moves on high bar in particular could easily catapult him into the finals. John Orozco is also world class on both of these events and will likely be Team USA’s third performer when they reach the team finals. His innovative skills and exquisite form and lines could challenge for event finals spots too, but most of all provide tremendous momentum for this team.
The sky’s the limit for this dazzling and well-balanced American squad. They’ll be competing with Japan in this first qualification session, which is a perfect team by which to gauge the USA’s performance. Japan’s home crowd will likely drive the energy level in the arena very high, and the USA can perhaps feed off this positive atmosphere.
Let the 2011 men’s world championships begin!