Sam Mikulak heard the names rattled off. Jake Dalton. Jonathan Horton.
Each announcement followed by 10 seconds of clapping and a brief wave from the latest members of the U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team, chosen this weekend at San Jose's HP Pavilion.
“It seemed like an eternity that’s for sure,” Mikulak said.
More than enough time for the 19-year-old to wonder if he made the wrong decision on Saturday when he rested his sprained left ankle rather than compete in the final day of Olympic trials.
“The whole time I was in the meeting, it was panic,” Mikulak said.
Relax kid, you’re good.
Mikulak was the final name called by U.S. men’s program director Dennis McIntyre on Sunday, though it took a moment for it so sink through his perfectly spiked hairdo.
“It hilarious because they said Sam and Sam was just like ‘What? What?’” Horton said. “Sam was just like so pumped, it was awesome.”
Reaching a goal more than a decade in the making has a tendency to do that to somebody.
Mikulak, Dalton and Horton will join trials winner Danell Leyva and national champion John Orozco in London on a team expected to challenge longtime powers Japan and China for team gold.
Chris Brooks, Steven Legendre and Alex Naddour are the alternates.
Horton gives a veteran presence to the deepest U.S. Olympic team in recent memory. The 26-year-old helped the U.S. win a team bronze in Beijing four years ago, then added a silver medal on high bar. None of the other four members are over 20.
“It shows that the future, we’re going to be tough,” Mikulak said with a laugh. v And, the U.S. hopes, in the present too. U.S. men’s team coordinator Kevin Mazeika is confident Mikulak will be ready when men’s qualifying starts at the O2 Arena on July 28.
Mikulak will undergo intense rehab and likely won’t be able to do full routines on floor or vault for two weeks. He will join the rest of the team at training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., from July 8-11 and coach Kurt Golder believes the first University of Michigan male gymnast to make an Olympic team will be close to 100 percent.
Dalton, the reigning NCAA champion, gives the U.S. someone who can put up eye-popping numbers on floor and vault. The 20-year-old won both events during trials easily, his explosiveness on the floor leaving Brooks to joke he was “disgusted” watching Dalton’s powerful tumbling runs.
The junior at Oklahoma called the moment “bittersweet” because it means the tight-knit group of 15 national team members will be split up. The alternates will stay in Birmingham — about two hours northwest — during the games. Brooks will try to stay focused, pointing out the U.S. used two alternates in Beijing four years ago.
“That’s something you notice,” he said. “At the same time, you know you want the guys in front of you to stay healthy.”
Horton makes the team nine months after ripping up his left foot at the world championships in Tokyo last October. The two-time U.S. champion finished third at trials and his steadying presence should help calm any lingering nerves as the U.S. prepares to take on longtime powers Japan and China in London.
Leyva, Orozco, Dalton and Horton were all members of the bronze-medal winning team at worlds last fall, with Leyva taking gold on parallel bars. The dynamic 20-year-old Cuban-born Leyva said a team Olympic gold and an all-around gold are next on his check list, though there’s little doubt which one matters most to team organizers.
The U.S. hasn’t claimed the top of the podium in the games since Los Angeles in 1984. The Americans head to London with the ability to put up impressive numbers in five of the six rotations. Pommel horse remains an issue, though Orozco and Leyva are much improved, and Mikulak is more than serviceable when completely healthy.
Mazeika insisted he was focused on a team gold and acknowledged the decision to trim Olympic rosters from six to five made the process particularly difficult for a program that’s as good as it has been in a generation. The five-person committee met for three hours on Saturday convened briefly again on Sunday before making the team public.
“This is definitely the toughest one because we have so many great athletes,” he said. “We’re so deep. We knew it was going to be tough coming in and it was.”
The goal is to compose a roster designed to excel in the team finals, where three gymnasts compete on each apparatus, with all three scores counting. It leaves little room for error but Orozco and Leyva have been rock steady over the last year.
The narrowing of the rosters likely cost Brooks a spot. The affable 25-year-old struggled during preliminaries Thursday, at one point flying off the parallel bars then taking out his frustrations in a nearby hallway. He roared back into contention Saturday and ended up tying Dalton for fourth. Considered more of an all-around gymnast than a specialist, Brooks is good insurance if Mikulak’s ankle doesn’t recover in time for London.
“I’m going to prepare like I’m on the team,” he said. “But I fully expect the five guys to rock it.”