Sunday, July 1, 2012

Choosing Team USA: The Logic Behind the Decision

Jonathan Horton, Sam Mikulak, and Jake Dalton will join John Orozco and Danell Leyva in London. It could not have been an easy decision for the committee members, but it was a logical one.
Photo: John Cheng / USA Gymnastics

After Saturday's competition, Horton seemed like a shoo-in. Amidst a team of youngsters--Mikulak (19), Orozco (19), Leyva (20), Dalton (20)--Horton would add a seasoned perspective, as Will Graves has pointed out. More importantly, he proved himself to be the team's best rings worker. When USAG named Orozco and Leyva to the team, they selected two all-arounders who could potentially place in finals, but they also selected the 3rd and 7th best rings workers. To put the USA on the podium, the team needed someone who was excellent at rings. Horton was just the right man.

When USAG named Leyva and Orozco to the team, they also named the 2nd and 3rd best pommel workers. Considering America's weakness on the event, that's not too shabby, and it would seem as if Naddour would be a likely candidate. It is the role that he played in the 2011 World Championships, and with him on the Olympic team, the U.S. would have a stronger pommel rotation. The problem, though, is that 2012 requires a 5-man team rather than the 6-man team at the World Championships. So, if a gymnast wants to play the specialist role, he better be able to contribute on the other events in a pinch, and well, Naddour scores significantly lower on the other events. If someone were to get injured during the opening day of competition, he might have to compete, perhaps ruining America's chances of qualifying to the finals. This is why he is an alternate.

Pommel horse is why Mikulak is on the team. His ankle is iffy, yes. But even with a bum ankle, he has performed consistently on pommel horse, and he is spectacular all-arounder. On the first day of Olympic Trials, he outscored both Orozco and Leyva. So, if his ankle heals enough, he could contribute on vault and floor, but even if he cannot take the pounding of floor and vault but can land dismounts, he could add a few tenths to the team score on parallel bars and high bar. If he reinjures his ankle, in steps Chris Brooks.

Without a doubt, Mikulak's role on the team is contingent on his ankle. Dalton, on the other hand, seems healthy--knock on wood--and Team USA could use his floor and vault scores, which could land him in event finals, as well. But his role in team finals will not just be limited to those two events. It is easy to forget that Dalton consistently out-scored Leyva on rings, which would make him the third man up on rings in finals. If, for whatever reason, Team USA needs to replace Dalton on floor and vault, Legendre will be the man to do so.

With this in mind, here is my lineup for team finals, assuming that Mikulak is healthy:

Floor: Dalton, Orozco, Mikulak (Possibly Leyva)
Pommel Horse: Leyva, Orozco, Mikulak
Rings: Horton, Orozco, Dalton
Vault: Dalton, Mikulak, Orozco
Parallel Bars: Leyva, Horton, Mikulak
High Bar: Leyva, Orozco, Mikulak (Possibly Horton, who struggled at Trials)

This is the strongest team that the US has put together in decades, and I am excited to see how they do in London. Good luck, men!


  1. I went to the trials this year for the first time and loved it. I'm so happy I was able to get a front row seat and feel close to the action. One thing I noticed about the men is that they seem more relaxed than the women. I assume it's because they are older- and several competed in college and are used to the competing every weekend. Anyway, it was fun to watch them joke with each other and smile at the audience between warm ups. I'm excited to see what happens in London!

  2. Horton over Orozco on floor and vault any day!

  3. Liked their jerseys. They look good. Nice post