The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Mikulak, Dalton, Naddour, Brooks, Orozco

Well, we’ve all aged several years.

I actually don’t hate this team, contrary to what Amy Poehler’s face says. It’s been a long night. And Paul Feelings are not easily shaken off by logic or reality.

There will be plenty of time to dissect this in detail in the coming weeks, and then in even more detail after the US finishes fifth in the team final (too soon…?), but the US men’s Olympic team has been named following the harrowing events of the second day of Olympic Trials.

In a tender piece of mercy, Paul Ruggeri obliged us by falling on high bar in the first millisecond of the meet, ensuring that he was not getting selected in this lifetime and sparing our nerves and feelings once the announcement of the team rolled around. Scoring below Naddour on vault also didn’t help.

The big news here was the eviction of Donnell Whittenburg, which is more of a surprise of perception than it is of reality. If you’ve been reading my posts about the men’s team, I kept saying, “I do think Whittenburg will be on the team, BUT…” which is a reflection of his perceived status in the group (making all those worlds teams, being an American Cup choice…) but also the fact that running the team permutations kept spitting back convincing teams that did not include him.

During the broadcast, Tim was talking a lot about “oh…this rings score here, these floor landings there,” but really I think it came down to the fact that he and Jake Dalton cancel each other out. A team with both of them would always have some serious deficiencies on a couple other events. (There was still an argument for a Mikulak, Dalton, Whittenburg, Orozco, Leyva team that didn’t have those deficiencies, but Naddour put an end to that argument with his trials performance. That team wasn’t happening.)

Whittenburg didn’t so much throw his spot away, as we may hear. He just got beat by Jake Dalton. Dalton was better. And the strong performances from Brooks and Orozco at trials suddenly created a Whittenburg-less team option that might actually be able to score…theoretically…OK.

I really did enjoy our narrative switch from night 1 of “WHITTENBURG IS THE #2 LOCK” to night 2 of “WHITTENBURG HAS ONLY VERY LITTLE CHANCE.” Methinks Tim had a little sit down with the selection committee where they explained some things to him in a “Whittenburg is not making this team” kind of way.

Then there’s the issue of Leyva. I don’t think he was ever really able to erase the mess in Hartford, but more importantly, FEAR OF POMMEL HORSE. This team of five was selected with FEAR OF POMMEL HORSE in mind, and while Leyva showed up on PBars and HBar in this meet, Orozco can at least potentially score better than Leyva on horse. It’s a terrifying prospect, to be sure, but it’s one that the selection committee appears to be going with. I also think Leyva would have had to pull a hundred sparkly rabbits out of his pants to get a spot on this team at trials. He was good, but not sparkly-rabbit good.

The team that was selected is horrifying, but it would be no less horrifying with Leyva on it.

Plus, Brooks and Orozco feelings. Selection committee. Those softies…

So, let’s talk team final options.

Vault will be Naddour, Mikulak, and Dalton. Yeah. Things already don’t look great. Whittenburg and Ruggeri would both produce higher scores here, but the team has made the decision to drop a couple tenths on floor in the hope of picking it up elsewhere. I know Naddour scored pretty well on floor and vault at trials (and mostly throughout the process), but I am convinced by that in zero ways.

Pommel horse will be Orozco, Mikulak, and Naddour. Yep, Orozco will have to go on horse, and we’ll all be rooting from him from behind the sofa. It’s scary, but this is one of the very very few team possibilities that actually has three people who have the slightest glimmer of getting to 15 on horse. I think that made the selection committee’s decision more than anything else. So many other team options (ones I favored because of BOO POMMEL HORSE) required throwing up a Whittenburg or Brooks and just hoping against hope for a 14 to stay afloat. We’ll still be hoping against hope for a 14, but some of these people could get 13.8 with a fall, rather than with a pretty good hit. Big difference. But also…Orozco on horse.

Rings should be Mikulak, Naddour, and Dalton. I don’t mind this. I think they could score pretty well. It won’t be a Whittenburg score, but the US had some options here, which hurt Whittenburg since a big rings score wouldn’t necessarily be worth as much as a big pommel horse or high bar compared to the backup options.

Vault will be Naddour, Mikulak, Dalton. Like on floor, they’re losing a little without a Whittenburg or Ruggeri score, but they have determined it’s worth it. The US definitely has better vaulters than this trio, but in a five-member team, there will be compromises. It will come down to Naddour’s ability to hit that double pike.

PBars will be Orozco, Mikulak, Brooks. Theoretically not many complaints there, but Mikulak’s consistency has been a serious worry and he has been WAY held up in the scores for those misses this summer domestically. If things go south, we’ll hear, “WHAT ABOUT LEYVA” or even “WHAT ABOUT WHITTENBURG” since they both can bring in big scores, but this group should go over 15 in all three spots. It just may be low 15s rather than mid or high 15s.

Then on high bar, it will also be Orozco, Mikulak, and Brooks. Orozco and Brooks were among the least terrifying on high bar at trials (means nothing really…), and while Mikulak is a roll of the dice, they were always going to be rolling that particular die no matter how many times he choke-held himself on the high bar. Any team options less scary than this on high bar? Probably not.

This is a team of compromises. That’s becoming clear. They have made this decision from the perspective of minimizing weaknesses as much as possible, rather than maximizing any particular event. All six apparatuses will have “We could have scored higher with [insert person]” moments, but they’re mostly hoping that none of them are meltdowns to even things out. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, hugs and giant liquor bottles to Ruggeri, Whittenburg, and Leyva.

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