By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN JOSE, California, July 1 (Reuters) – Jonathan Horton, Jake Dalton and the injured Sam Mikulak shared joyous relief on Sunday when the trio were awarded the final places on the five-man U.S. gymnastics team for the London Olympics.
World parallel bars champion Danell Leyva and John Orozco had already booked their tickets to the Games by finishing in the top two after the final day of men’s competition at the U.S. trials on Saturday.
Horton, Dalton and Mikulak then had to endure a nervous wait overnight until the USA Gymnastics selection committee announced their picks to round out the team.
It was especially nail-biting for Mikulak who took part in only one of the six events on Saturday, the pommel horse, due to a sprained left ankle and was therefore not eligible to qualify automatically.
“I can’t believe that this is happening right now – so much hard work has gone into it,” the 19-year-old told reporters. “I’ve been dreaming about this moment for so long. For it to finally be here, I’m just super excited.”
Mikulak, the 2012 U.S. parallel bars silver medalist, hurt his left ankle on the vault, his last routine on the opening day of the trials, and his entire foot “puffed up like a balloon” by the following morning.
“I was like, ‘goodness, this isn’t good.’ So I got in the training room and kept doing a bunch of rehab and they brought it down quite a bit,” he said of efforts to get him ready for the final day of competition.
“In one day, they did so much but it just wasn’t enough. We were trying to keep my health and the best interests of the team.”
Horton, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on the high bar, finished the U.S. trials in third place with Dalton and Chris Brooks joint fourth.
GIVEN THE NOD
Dalton was given the nod by the selectors because of his specialist strength on vault and floor exercise, and he headed the standings in both routines after the trials.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the 20-year-old Dalton, U.S. national vault champion in 2009 and 2011 and floor champion in 2011. “We were all stressing about it last night and this morning, but it’s just awesome that the hard work has paid off.”
Horton, the ‘veteran’ and natural leader on the U.S. team at the age of 26, was delighted to qualify for his second Olympic Games.
“In 2008 I didn’t have to sit in the room and wait for them to call my name,” he smiled. “I kind of knew because I was in John’s and Danell’s position.
“But this feels good. It feels just as good as before. I’m just excited to be a part of this team,” added Horton, who won team bronze with the U.S. at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Brooks, Steven Legendre and Alexander Naddour were picked as the three replacements for the U.S. men’s team.
With Leyva and Orozco likely contenders for the all-round title in London and a squad bristling with strength in depth, the U.S. gymnasts have great expectations of winning a first Olympic team gold medal since 1984.
“It’s certainly the best team since 1984,” said Mitch Gaylord, a member of that triumphant U.S. lineup in Los Angeles 28 years ago who now works for NBC as a television analyst.
Leyva has been humbled by such lavish praise.
“It’s kind of unbelievable to hear that team say that about us,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s a huge honor and privilege that they think that way about us. We just have to make sure we live up to that.”