The USA Men have won just six team medals at the world championships or Olympic Games:
1979 Worlds in Fort Worth, Texas: Bronze
1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, California: Gold
2001 Worlds in Ghent, Belgium: Silver
2003 Worlds in Anaheim, California: Silver
2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece: Silver
2008 Olympics in Beijing, China: Bronze
Can the 2011 world team become the 7th team in USA men’s gymnastics history to stand on a world or Olympic team podium? They absolutely can.
Many of us commented on the tremendous depth of the U.S. men’s team at the recent Visa U.S. Championships. The competition was highlighted by an all-around battle between two world all-around medal contenders, Danell Leyva and Jonathan Horton. Boasting two legitimate international all-around threats on the same team is a rare luxury, indeed, but the U.S. men’s team has a whole lot more to be excited about than that. The U.S. men may have just found its best pommel horse lineup they’ve had since Athens 2004. After struggling tremendously on this event as a team at essentially every world championships since then as well as at the 2008 Olympic Games, the U.S. men pulled out a shocking first place finish on pommel horse at this summer’s Japan Cup, ahead of strong teams from both Japan and China. Pommel horse standout Alex Naddour of Oklahoma has been an absolute rock on the event in international competition over the past two years, and 18-year-old sensation John Orozco has used the past year to improve dramatically on pommel horse while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. In addition to these two 15+ scoring routines, new national champion Danell Leyva has improved his swing and confidence a great deal on this event in the past year and finally appears ready to hit a solid mid-14 in world competition. Suddenly, the U.S. team’s former nemesis could potentially be a place it could gain some ground on some of its toughest opponents.
But that’s not all. Also for the first time since 2004, the U.S. men have two world class tumblers and vaulters on the same world team – and in fact they hail from the same college team as well. Oklahoma Sooners Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre both have some of the biggest, craziest, and most difficult tumbling passes and vaults in the entire world, and both have shown remarkable consistency on both events in the last year. Add these two vaults to Jonathan Horton’s newly debuted Dragulescu (handspring double front half-out), which he landed both days at the recent Visa Championships, and the U.S. team suddenly has a vaulting team that can compete with the Chinese for perhaps the first time in history. The U.S. team also put out the best high bar team in the entire world at last year’s world championships – outscoring the entire field in both prelims and team finals – and this year’s high bar team could perhaps score even a little higher. Danell Leyva’s improvement in form on both p-bars and high bar will add valuable points to the team’s final tally, and the world championship debut of youngster John Orozco will be one of the most exciting aspects of the entire American performance.
With a pair of high scoring pommel horse swingers finally on the same team, a pair of the most impressive tumblers and vaulters in the entire world, and a pair of confident and motivated world all-around medal contenders, this six-man squad is one of the most well-rounded American teams we’ve ever seen. These men have the difficulty and execution to not only knock Germany off the medal podium, but to perhaps even give Japan and China a serious scare. Will “Tokyo” soon be added to the list of America’s greatest men’s gymnastics performances, right next to Los Angeles, Anaheim, Athens, and Beijing? With twelve hit routines in the finals, I predict that it will indeed.