The men's final at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials takes place Saturday in San Jose, with the Olympic team named Sunday. NBC will broadcast the final LIVE and below is our guide of WHO to watch and WHY.
1. Sam Mikulak: This Year's Raj Bhavsar?
Sam Mikulak put up the highest score on night one, but due to the selection procedures (which add scores from Visa Championships into the equation), he currently sits in third. While it's easy to get excited about this young 19 year-old's prospects, I've found myself wondering: will he be this year's Raj Bhavsar?
Raj was the No. 3 all-arounder in 2008, and was less than .1 away from securing a locked position on the Beijing team. At the end of process, though, he was named an alternate.
Mikulak's poise and consistency make him appealing, and he is a true all-around gymnast who can go up in team finals on 4-5 events, easily. His biggest downfall, however, is that he is not THE BEST on any one event, or even in the all-around. Because of this, his scores are more easily replaced than someone like Orozco or Horton. With a team that has clear strengths and weaknesses, Mikulak's scores may not be the most valuable in the end.
Interestingly enough, if Mikulak continues to excel, he could possibly earn a locked position to London. To do that, a gymnast must finish in first or second all-around and top three on at least three individual events. After night one, Mikulak is third all-around (.9 behind Orozco) and in the top three on vault and parallel bars. He is .1 out of third place on pommels.
While you can't call him a shoo-in, Mikulak is making a strong case for himself and is definitely one to watch on Saturday.
2. Who Will Lock It Up?
While the full men's team will not be announced until Sunday, two gymnasts will be named to the Olympic squad immediately following the competition on Saturday. It's hard to imagine Danell Leyva and John Orozco not being the frontrunners for those spots.
In order to 100% lock up a spot in London, Leyva and Orozco must remain in the top two all-around and finish top three on three events. Night one at Trials, Leyva leads the field and is a top-three scorer on pommels, parallel bars and high bar.
Orozco is .95 shy of Leyva, with Mikulak not far behind. Currently, he is top three on pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar. Mikulak could also emerge as a surprise lock.
3. Does the U.S. Need a Pommel Horse Specialist?
Pommel horse has long been the U.S. men's weakest apparatus, and it may behoove the selection committee to bring a specialist to London to try and plug the leak. The top contender at the moment is Alex Naddour, the national champion on pommels and the only gymnast to score above a 15.0 on night one. In fact, Naddour's 15.4 was .8 (nearly a full point) higher than the second-place scorers.
Huge numbers gaps like this are a threat to all-around contenders like Mikulak, Chris Brooks and Paul Ruggeri. Although Naddour can't contribute on multiple events, the margin he adds on pommels may earn him a trip to London.
On night two, Naddour will have one more chance to prove his worth on the event.
4. The Dalton/Legendre Dilemma
Many believe that there is no way the U.S. will bring both Jake Dalton and Steve Legendre, two gymnasts with almost identical strengths, to London. Both gymnasts bring in big scores on vault and floor exercise. Legendre has the edge in difficulty, while Dalton executes skills with less deductions.
What sets Dalton apart, along with execution (9.5 E score of FX night one), is the fact that he's useful on other events. On Thursday, he broke 15.0 on rings, and is clean and consistent on parallel bars and high bar. Jake struggles on pommels, but that's par for the course in this field.
While not as versatile as his teammate, Legendre at his best can post outrageous numbers on floor and vault. At Visa Championships, he scored a massive 16.15 on floor exercise. Like Naddour, his strengths may prove too valuable to leave at home. Consistency will be key to Legendre's efforts on Saturday.
5. Will They Rebound?
Jonathan Horton, John Orozco and Chris Brooks have one thing in common after night one. Each botched one of their key events.
For Horton, it was high bar, where he missed his Cassina release, counting a rare fall (Horton said it was a slippery substance on the bar that caused him to slip). Coming back from an injury makes Horton's chances less stable. Undoubtedly, he has to hit his best events to ward off the young challengers.
Orozco made an error on his pommel horse dismount, incurring heavy deductions and placing the skill in danger of being devalued. Still, he managed a 14.35, just .25 shy of the second-best scores of the night from Mikulak and Leyva (14.6). Orozco is almost certainly headed to London, but his ability to score well on pommel horse may impact which additional gymnasts are chosen.
For Chris Brooks, Saturday will be his last chance to make his case, after making errors both night one and at Visa Championships on his key event: vault. Brooks is competing a new 7.0 vault, a piked double front, which he is yet to land consistently.
It will be interesting to watch how Brooks attacks night two, knowing it's past the point where consistency could get him to London. He will have to be brilliant to have a shot.
The men's final will be broadcast LIVE on NBC Saturday at 4 p.m. EST. For more information on the schedule click HERE.
For interviews and videos of the men's and women's competitors, click HERE.
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