By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN JOSE, California, June 28 (Reuters) – World parallel bars champion Danell Leyva and U.S. all-around champion John Orozco stayed on top of the overall standings after the first day of men’s competition at the U.S. Olympic trials on Thursday.
Fifteen gymnasts are vying for five spots on offer at the London Games and Leyva, Orozco, Sam Mikulak, Jonathan Horton and Jake Dalton occupied the top five places by the end of a riveting afternoon of spinning and tumbling at the HP Pavilion.
Cuba-born Leyva, watched closely by his flamboyant stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez, produced flair and power on the high bar to earn 15.850 in his final event of the day and take control with an overall score of 276.500.
“Overall today went really, really well,” the 20-year-old Leyva told reporters. “It was a good first day of competition, and the second day is going to be a lot of fun.”
Orozco, who edged out defending champion Leyva to claim the U.S. all-around crown in St. Louis earlier this month and lead the standings coming into the trials, gained 15.650 for a rock-solid closing display on the high bar to lie second on 275.550.
Mikulak, who led the overall standings after the third event, was the most impressive gymnast of the afternoon, totaling 91.800 from his six routines to close the gap on Leyva and Orozco with 274.650.
“I just wanted to keep calm and hit all my sets,” Mikulak said. “I was pretty nervous coming into this – my first Olympic trials – and I felt like I came out pretty well.”
Horton, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on high bar, lost ground on his strongest discipline after he lost his grip on a first release move to lie fourth (271.350) and with Dalton fifth (269.550).
The top two men, based on combined scores from the U.S. nationals and Olympic trials, will earn automatic Olympic selection after the second day of competition on Saturday if they also finish in the top three in at least three events.
If not, the selection committee will pick two gymnasts on Saturday with the remaining three spots for the London Games to be added on Sunday.
Leyva stepped out of bounds in his first event, the floor exercise, but put that down too much energy and was satisfied with his overall performance.
“I thought I had less power than what I did on the floor, so I got a little hot with an extra step there out of bounds,” he said.
“But it’s good because now I know what to watch for. That and I stepped out a little bit on vault but otherwise it was a pretty good day. It was perfect for today.”
Asked if he felt any added pressure going into the second day of competition, Leyva replied: “No, not more pressure than I already do feel. I feel good that I know that I need to fix some things because it wasn’t a perfect competition today.”
Orozco, who said he was fighting a slight cold, was unhappy with his performances on the pommel horse and the vault, where he failed to gain enough height off the table and ended up crouched as he landed.
“I was disappointed with myself in the vault and the pommel horse,” the muscular 19-year-old said. “I thought I can do better in those two events for sure. Everything else is okay.
“Going up there first day, I was really tight on the pommel horse and trying to be too perfect. So tomorrow I’ve got to remind myself to just let it go and really show it off and be smoother.”
Asked whether he was satisfied to remain in the crucial top two going into the final day of competition, Orozco replied: “It doesn’t matter. The only thing I would like to do is my best.
“I want to show the (selection) committee that I am ready to go and compete and represent the USA. That’s what I want to show, and I didn’t quite show enough of that tonight. Hopefully more on Saturday.” (Editing by Ian Ransom/Peter Rutherford)