John's Take: Dreams Broken, Dreams Made; Who Will Make The Men's Team?
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By John Roethlisberger
Three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger, known as the “heart and soul of Team USA,” writes a column in each issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine and hosts the Inside Gymnastics Radio Show. He’ll be blogging for InsideGymnastics.com throughout the Olympic Trials.
By Monday we will know who will be representing the United States in London later this summer. I’ve been through this same week three times in my life and it is one of the most exciting and agonizing experiences an athlete can go through. Dreams will be realized and dreams will be broken. With only five competing positions on both the men’s and women’s teams, the fight for those coveted spots gets even more intense.
As cloudy as the Olympic Team picture can be, especially with the committee selection process that is used now, there seems to be at least a little clarity to some of the men’s and women’s teams. At least based on the Visa Championships. That being said (this is my disclaimer), we all know anything can happen, and it’s not over ’til Martha, and a few others, say its over. I also want to state, I am not involved with the actual selection of the team, nor am I involved in any of the discussions of those who are. The observations below are ones that any gymnastics fan could easily conclude, and most of you may already have, but they’re interesting points to ponder nonetheless.
First the men. With the teams being reduced to five athletes, the value of a good all-arounder has been increased. When this process began I didn’t think I would say this but, the top four all-arounders have made strong arguments, based on Visa’s, to be Olympians. Orozco, Leyva, Horton and Mikulak have performed incredibly well through two days (Visa Championships) of the selection process. Many fans considered Orozco, Leyva and Horton virtual locks before the process even began, and even though there is no such thing as a lock, it’s hard to argue with that now. The wildcard has been Mikulak. Many knew his ability, but what he did at the VISA championships, hitting an outstanding 11 of 12 routines, put the field on notice that he could help the team in London.
If those four are on the team, they have strong floor, vault, parallel bars and high bar line-up, with one more athlete to add. With those four, pommel horse, although improved, would be a bit weak, along with rings. In a perfect world there is an athlete who’s outstanding on rings and pommel horse. The problem is there are a few who are great on rings or horse, but not both.
Pretend for a moment you are on the selection committee. The first thing you have to remember is you’re really trying to build this team for the team finals and three-up, three-count. Both the men and women will make the team finals, that’s not the biggest concern. That being said, if you feel horse, with the four previously mentioned athletes, is where the U.S. needs the most help, the obvious athletes to look at are Ishino and Naddour, both of which had one rough and one outstanding routine on horse at VISA Championships. But most likely horse is really the only event they would help Team USA in team finals, if things remain as they are. If you think rings are in need of the most help, the obvious choices would be Wynn, Maestas and maybe Sender. Again these athletes would likely only help on rings in the team finals, except maybe with the exception of Sender on vault.
You could also take a different approach. The field has two athletes that have shown to be outstanding on floor and vault. Steven Legendre and Jake Dalton. You may argue that adding their floor routine and vault to the team line-up may actually add more to the team score than adding one horse routine or one ring routine, even though the team seems to be relatively weak on horse and rings and relatively strong on floor and vault.
I saw my buddy Andy Thornton’s current top five. They are Orozco, Leyva, Horton, Dalton and Mikulak. Usually I like to argue with Andy, but I think if one had to pick the team after one competition, that would be it. I think there are quite a few fans out there that may think the same way. However it’s not over. Here’s a few things to watch for during the two days of men’s competition at the Olympic Trials.
- If Orozco, Leyva and Mikulak continue to hit strong pommel horse, it could lessen the chance of a horse “specialist” being selected. For example, someone like Naddour or Ishino (they are all-arounders, but horse is their strength).
- If Dalton and/or Legendre nail their floor and vault over the two days and any of the top four all-arounders start to show vulnerability on those two events, the value of these two athletes could increase and there’s a good chance one will get selected.
- One wildcard is Paul Ruggeri. He potentially could help the U.S. on floor, vault and high bar, but is relatively weak on pommel horse and rings. If he continues to hit his strengths, and moves into a likely team spot in place of Mikulak for example, that would likely mean they would have to add a horse specialist as well. Ruggeri could also potentially fill a spot similar to Dalton or Legendre (see above) and he’s good on high bar.
- Another wildcard is Chris Brooks. He potentially helps on floor, vault, p-bars and high bar, unfortunately the same four events at which the top four all-arounders we mentioned also excel. But where he could make a difference is pommel horse. He has the ability to do very good horse, but likely has to hit both days and hit really well to make an impression, in my opinion.
- David Sender probably needs to show he’s capable of helping on at least two events in team finals at the Olympics. His best chances seem to be rings and vault. If he’s in the top three on both of those, he could shake things up a bit.
- Watch for, and expect, something you don’t expect. After all, it’s the Olympic Trials and it’s gymnastics. There’s 15 guys and everyone has a chance. Anything can, and usually does happen.
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