Last weekend the USA men competed for a place on the Olympic Team in St. Louis where MAG Olympic Trials took place alongside WAG National Championships. Adding the results from both days of MAG National Championships earlier this month, the top 2 AA gymnasts automatically qualified, with the remaining three being chosen by the Olympic Committee. In a midst of tears of joy for some and heartbreak for others, the USA men’s gymnastics Olympic Team was announced as Sam Mikulak, Chris Brooks, Jake Dalton, Alex Naddour and John Orozco.
After his fourth consecutive national title, Sam Mikulak went on to win the all-around competition at Olympic Trials with 90+ scores on both days, despite some issues here and there because he’s Sam and he must keep the tradition of never hitting 6 for 6 routines. Starting off day one on parallel bars, Mikulak had a quite solid routine but unfortunately sat his double front dismount, scoring just below 15 thanks to his high difficulty. Moving on to high bar things didn’t look much better with a pirouette gone the wrong way and forcing him to muscle up a handstand for just 14.300. His performance started to improve on his next event, floor, to score in the mid-15s, followed by equally strong routines on pommels, rings and vault, all above 15. Day two was very similar, starting on high bar for a score just 0.050 higher than day one, with the remaining events scoring a little lower than day one, except for vault and parallel bars where he managed to improve on his previous results. After combining all scores from Trials and Nationals, Sam Mikulak finished in first place All-Around, as well as on pommel horse, and third on vault, missing out on the top 3 of any of the others, proving that although he’s a strong all-arounder and shouldn’t have any trouble qualifying into the AA Final in Rio, event finals might be a more distant reality for him.
Coming up strong this year after being alternate for a billion times was Chris Brooks, who managed to claim that second AA spot into the team, finally making it to the Olympics at age 29. With scores on each event ranging less than 0.7 among all four routines considered, Brooks was probably the most consistent athlete and was able to score in the 89-90 range on all four days. Starting Trials on rings, he was able to score in the high-14s, followed by a 15 on vault, 15.5 on parallel bars and another low-15 on high bar, after a routine that included two (!) one armed giants. Floor and pommels didn’t bring such high scores, with the latter in the high-13s for his lowest score of the night. Day two started on high bar with “the best routine of his life”, as Chris put it, capped off with a stuck dismount for a score in the mid-15s that got him the highest total on the event, while the remaining events scored about the same as day one, allowing him to finish first place on parallel bars, as well. Despite the fact that no one ever considered Chris Brooks as an all-around gymnast, he’s proven he’s capable of great scores on all four events, with just pommels holding him back a little. If he managed to get high-14s to low-15s on that event, he could have actually challenged Sam Mikulak for first place AA.
Finishing in third place and also selected for the Olympic Team was 2012 Olympian Jake Dalton with scores of 88-89. Starting on his pet event, floor, Dalton hit his routine cleanly to score in the mid-15s, going next to pommel horse, his weakest event, where he scored in the mid-13s. Rings and vault were also pretty good, with scores in the low-15s, whereas parallel bars was a bit disappointing with a low-14 and high bar had his usual high-14 score, to finish day one in the low-88 range, the lowest in the four competition days considered. Day two saw an improvement on his total score of nearly a point, after a stronger performance on floor, high bar and mostly parallel bars, even though pommels, rings and vault had slightly lower scores than day one. Besides his third place all-around, Jake Dalton also managed to finish in first place on floor and vault, setting himself as a possible Olympic finalist on the events.
In the case of Alex Naddour, it wasn’t his all-around potential that got him a ticket to Rio but rather his prowess on pommels, which has been USA’s nemesis for years. Finishing in first place on this event, tied with Sam Mikulak, Naddour also managed a third place on rings with mid to low-15s, showcasing is worth to the team on yet another event. After being alternate in 2012, Alex was one of the most emotional gymnasts during interviews, mentioning the enormous support of his family, specially his wife, two-time World Champion Hollie Vise, who has taken on herself the full responsibility of caring for their baby daughter during the night, even sleeping in a different part of the house, so Alex could get the best possible rest and be prepared for competition.
The last spot on the team went to another 2012 Olympian, John Orozco, who’s been through hell and back in the past few years, battling serious injuries and dealing with the recent death of his mother. Despite not competing AA at Olympic Trials (didn’t do floor and vault), Orozco was second on high bar with scores in the mid-15s, posting similar results on parallel bars. Just like Alex, John was very emotional following the announcement, dedicating this achievement to his mother and sending her a loving message. After some disappointing performances during the London Olympics, John hopes to get some redemption this time around and help team USA to a good finish.
Notably absent from this Olympic Team were the only two US male medalist from 2015 World Championships, Danell Leyva (HB) and Donnel Whittenburg (VT). Despite placing second on parallel bars and third on high bar, Leyva didn’t manage to convince the selection committee, partially due to low scoring potential on rings and floor. On the other hand, Whittenburg got second on rings and vault with scores in the mid to low-15s, as well as third on parallel bars. Unfortunately, these results weren’t enough to take them to Rio, being named just alternates alongside 2015 NCAA AA Champion Akash Modi. In a worst position was 2015 Worlds Team member Paul Ruggeri, another forever alternate who didn’t even get that position this time around. Ruggeri had subpar performances on high bar, in the mid-14s, after getting a huge 16 at Nationals a few weeks ago, finishing fourth on the event, while also finishing third on floor and fourth on vault. On the opposite side of things, low scoring potential on pommel horse, rings and parallel bars brought down his value to the team and kept him out of the selected squad.
After many competitions, hard work and heartbreak, the USA men’s gymnastics Olympic Team is finally selected and all members will continue their preparation and training to best represent the country in Rio. For those who didn’t make it, let’s hope they will keep working towards the next quad to follow their dreams of Olympic glory in the sometimes cruel but incredible sport of gymnastics.
Full results here.