U.S. Men's Olympic Team Up for Grabs
(7 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

June promises to hold plenty of drama for the U.S. men's program. With the P&G Championships in Hartford, Conn., June 3-5, and the Olympic Trials in St. Louis, June 23-26, several subplots will play out, one way or another.

The most compelling storyline involves three-time defending U.S. champion Sam Mikulak. The slightly torn Achilles' tendon that kept him out of the Glasgow worlds last fall seems to have set him back further than expected. He looked understandably rusty at the American Cup in March, where he fell three times, and he showed little improvement at the Pacific Rim Championships in April. His high bar, which seemed to have improved before his injury, was particularly frightful, and he vaulted a Kasamatsu-2.5 instead of the Lopez he used to do. The U.S. can't afford a 5.6 vault in a team final. If his inconsistency continues in June, the selection committee will be faced with a conundrum. All of Mikulak's acrobatic brilliance is meaningless if he can't hit.

At this point, the only assured berth would go to Donnell Whittenburg (pictured), whose form issues are more than compensated by his amplitude and difficulty. That may sound like a contradiction to traditional gymnastics, but that's how the current rules work. Plus, he tends to hit more often than not. And if he can fix that one pass on floor that cost him the Pacific Rim all-around (not to mention his vault fall), he has a chance to medal in Rio.

Beyond Whittenburg, Mikulak will be in a tussle with fellow 2012 Olympians Jake Dalton, John Orozco (both coming off injuries) and Danell Leyva. Add Alex Naddour, Paul Ruggeri, Eddie Penev and perhaps Marvin Kimble, and things get interesting. Naddour has a good shot because he's the best pommel horse worker of all the contenders. And give him props for learning a piked double Tsukahara on vault, an event where the U.S. has lagged behind internationally. He'll need to land three out of four in June. Ruggeri and Penev are strong and consistent on floor and vault. Penev's improvement on pommel horse could help his cause, as he is unlikely to compete on rings, parallel bars or high bar. Ruggeri, however, can contribute on p-bars and high bar. Kimble is strong on pommels, but he might be a better candidate for 2020. Realistically, 2015 world team member Brandon Wynn can only help on rings on a five-man team. In Glasgow, on a six-man team, he worked rings and p-bars and high bar in prelims, and rings in the team final.

It's probably a stretch to include NCAA all-around champion Yul Muldauer, but the kid knows how to hit. And wasn't that the word on Mikulak in 2012, when he performed so well they had to put him on the team?

The selection committee certainly has several options, but all of them will leave a talented gymnast off the five-member Olympic team. And for the sake of winning a team medal in Rio, the committee better hope the best gymnasts are also the most consistent.

Read "The X Factor" a cover story on John Orozco in the April 2016 issue. To subscribe or order a back issue, click here.

Comments (1)add comment

Fonso said:

The Most Assured Berth Should definitely be Danell Leyva Who Has Medaled At Every World Championships Since 2011 (that he has competed in) and nothing less than silver.. OH and Only Medalist on the 2012 US Olympic Men Gymnastics team through injury and all he ends up on top ...... Not taking anything from the rest of the team they are all amazing gymnasts but it sound like your short-ending Danell alil bit
May 10, 2016
Votes: +5

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