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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.

15 thoughts on “Mikulak, Dalton, Naddour, Brooks, Orozco”

  1. I never thought they would leave Donnell Whittenburg off the team. I agree that he and Jake Dalton have the same strengths. However, Donnell has such huge upsides. His scoring potential on vault, floor and rings is HUGE. I bet he gets an alternate position.

    I am thrilled that John and Chris are on the team!!!! Such great guys who have paid their dues and battled through…stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.

    I suspect this is the last we will see of Steven Legendre and Paul Ruggieri. Reality check…Eddie is never making a US international team.

    Projected Alternates:
    Donnell Whittenburg
    Danell Leyva
    Akash Modi


  2. Grace raises a point about who goes away after this. I only became a men’s gymnastics fan in the past few years, after my youngest son started competing, so I haven’t been around for a lot of retirements. I’ve been waiting with some curiosity to see who might retire after trials and/or Rio.


    1. Ooo! Predicting retirements is always fun, especially since several of them will claim to retire and then try to launch a comeback of some kind.

      Legendre will almost certainly retire. Paul I could go either way. Paul’s 27, like Steve, but he might be able to take another 1/2 of a quad and stick around for Worlds possibilities. But, at that age, without a realistic hope of 2020 in all likelihood, he may move on.

      I have to think Chris Brooks will retire post-Rio. Alex – eh. Maybe? Probably depends on how his Olympics go and whether he’s ready to be done with the strain and exhaustion given he’s married with a baby now. I assume he’ll at least take a break. I feel like Jake will retire, but I don’t have a great reason for that assumption. Jake is hard to read.

      Sam – it probably depends on how his Olympics go and how his fiberglass ankles are holding up. Especially if he has a really great Olympics or a really disappointing one, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried for another quad. He loves the sport, I think, and the community & fans that come with it. John – who knows. Depends on how his Olympics go probably. I think he’s more likely to stay in for a while if they go well. He and Sam are relatively young for the sport.

      Donnell is very young. No reason he shouldn’t be in contention for 2020 and all the Worlds until then. Danell is like Jake’s age, I think. I think he’ll probably come back, at least for some Worlds. Eddie – ??? I don’t think he’s ever making a US team, so maybe retirement? Or back to Bulgaria? CJ Maestas is like, a puzzle? He doesn’t get Hilton funding, but he’s still relatively young, but I don’t think he’s realistically ever making an international team? I’d think retirement, but ???

      Of everyone else, Donothan might try for another year or two. I expect Wynn to retire. Most of the rest are young enough that I can’t see why they would retire unless they had serious injury issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Whittenburg and Dalton could have made the same team, but they couldn’t both make it if Brooks was going to make it too. Because of, oh, you know, POMMEL HORSE. I still think Whittenburg and Leyva deserved to make it, but in a team final setting, Brooks and Orozco is less risky. I do think the US is giving up potentially multiple individual medals by leaving Whittenburg and Leyva off the team, but I guess it doesn’t matter. The selection team wasn’t even watching the two of them on their 5th and 6th events. Brutal.

    Upside is I think Whittenburg and Modi can become major factors starting next season and are still young enough that 2020 is realistic for both. Whittenburg’s high bar tonight proved that he really can be the #1 or #2 all around guy if he can gain consistency. I expect there will be a bunch of retirements following the Olympics. Bummed for Leyva too but my guess is the selection committee decided having a team with Mikulak, Whittenburg, and Leyva was just too risky,


  4. I’ll be honest, I mainly like this team for sentimentality purposes. John Orozco is probably my favorite out of the five, even though I fully expect him to fall at least once during team finals. And Chris Brooks just has had the worst luck with injuries, but kept at it for such a long time and peaked exactly when he needed to, so I’m really happy for him too. And surprisingly, this is apparently the highest scoring team, both considering the average scores and highest possible score. I wasn’t too surprised with leaving Levya off, especially since Brooks was outscoring him both on pbars and high bar. I wasn’t expecting Whittenburg to be left out, but you definitely make a good point with him being beaten out by Dalton.


  5. True, Danell and Donnell could be big on EF, what are the potential EF medal of this team realistically?
    I understand the selection was thinking TF but they also sacrificed a chance of sending three 6.0 vaults


    1. I think the following are the medal chances, ordered from most to least likely:
      1) Dalton – Floor (clean, good difficulty, but lots of competition even without accounting for Shirai from people like Abliazyn, Hypolito, Zapata, etc).
      2) Brooks – HB (contrary to Nationals, he’s not going to get a 16.1, but definitely has a chance to be in the final based on last year’s experience, has improved consistency so at least there’s a good chance for a hit routinsame).
      3) Orozco – PB (typically a good event for him, should make finals with a hit, but competition has been brutal this quad since medals can come down to a single tenth due to everyone being great in EF).
      4) Mikulak – AA (good all-around difficulty, hitting is difficult)
      5) Team Medal – Requires Mikulak to pretty much do AA and hitting (see #4) plus everyone else hitting, so the chances are less than most individual medals. Relies on multiple mistakes from GB/Russia.
      6) Naddour – PH (great by American standards, should be able to get into the final with a good hit, but with two GB guys, Armenian specialist, Tomassone(?), maybe 1 from Japan, and others like the Croatian specialists means relying on a very messy final from top specialists (3 falls or more), and hitting a career-best routine before he can touch a medal).

      Personally, I think if Dalton and Brooks don’t perform to their top capacity, chances for any medals are very slim since the others are less likely. Orozco has the talent, but it’s hard to predict PB medals for anyone, even China.


  6. Congrats to the team! But Im sorry the fact the that winner of the AA and the leader of this team Mikulak makes mistakes in every competition before this and during, like them is some scary facts! Lets discuss that! Program issues.


  7. I don’t think this team has a great chance to medal in the team event unless there is a meltdown from one or two of the favorites AND the USA over-performs. It does feel a bit like the selection committee decided to go all in on a potential team medal instead of overall medal haul. I think Leyva and Whittenburg had the potential for individual medals. It’s hard to see anyone on this team getting an individual medal. Mikulak for an AA medal maybe, but he NEVER hits 6-for-6. Personally I would have gone for overall medal haul. I predict this team comes home with ZERO medals.


    1. Agreed with most of this, especially without Leyva and Whittenburg. Leyva is clutch in international competition and one of only two who can claim to win a medal at all the Worlds/Olympics he attended, though you never know exactly which medal he will earn.

      Whittenburg is the other one with that claim (but only 2 years), and he showed very good potential for Olympic medals on vault after last year’s bronze. Vault is typically a messy final on the men’s side and with a little luck, he could have gone even higher. Getting an opportunity on rings and PB finals, though less likely to place in the top three, couldn’t hurt his chances for at least one medal.


  8. Best analysis I’ve read. On the packing list if men are to medal at TF in Rio: at least 500 Swarovski-encrusted rabbits.


  9. Any word on alternates yet? I know it doesn’t really matter but I do feel bad for Leyva and Whittenburg since I feel they are better regarded internationally than a lot of the guys who made the team. I mean, Whittenburg beat Mikulak twice at American Cup and was 1st AA at Day 1 of Nationals and 2nd AA Day 2 of Trials. I felt the judges at trials were a bit harsh on Whittenburg on rings and Leyva on pbars.

    I hope they both stick around for at least a little while. They were both amazing last night.


  10. So who is the 2nd AA guy on this team? Based on Nationals results it would be Brooks, but I’m not convinced he’ll score higher than Dalton internationally. Would the US ever be willing to risk two 13-range pommel scores and a mid-14 highbar score in qualifying and let both Brooks and Dalton do the all-around there? I guess the other factor would be the possibility that one of them could knock out Mikulak if Sam pulls his usual major-mistake on 2 out of 6 apparatuses and the other two hit everything. Sam would be the only one with a shot at an AA medal, but bear in mind he placed behind Whittenburg in AA at 2 separate American Cups and both Brooks and Dalton beat Whittenburg at Nationals/Trials.

    So basically. WHO GETS TO DO AA IN QUALS?


  11. This team will be so awesome to watch! I can’t wait! It’s going to be EXACTLY like watching the American women at the Sydney Olympics! YAAAAAAY!!!!


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