Posted June 06, 2012 on AP on Fox
PLAYERS: Jonathan Horton
His passion for gymnastics waning last fall, Jonathan Horton knew he needed a break. Fate gave the two-time Olympic medalist one by, well, giving him a break. The 26-year-old ripped up his left foot while landing a vault at worlds last October, an injury that eventually required surgery and a four-month sabbatical. People kept phoning in their condolences when Horton first went down. His response? No big deal. ''I was like, `Actually I'm pretty happy right now, I get to take some time off,''' Horton said. Break's over. Horton will compete in all six events for the first time since worlds when the U.S. championships begin on Thursday. It's led to an unlikely bout of jitters. Good ones. ''I'm ready,'' Horton said. ''My foot feels great. My body feels great. Mentally I feel that passion for the sport again. It was a blessing for me to get hurt, as bad as that sounds.'' The fire Horton feared had gone out resurfaced quickly once the sport was taken away. Less than a month removed from surgery, he was violating doctor's orders by throwing himself on the high bar, much to the dismay of good friend and U.S. teammate Chris Brooks. When Brooks told Horton that messing around nine feet off the ground probably wasn't the best idea for a guy with one good foot, Horton responded by doing a tricky release that requires him to somersault over the bar and snatch it on his way back down to earth. Horton executed it flawlessly, but only after sufficiently scaring himself and having his best friend call him an ''idiot.'' The longtime backbone of the U.S. team has taken a more pragmatic approach to the rest of his comeback. He worked almost exclusively on pommel horse - a notorious weak spot - while letting his foot heal. He returned with a rough outing at Winter Cup in Las Vegas in early February, falling off the horse twice, but reminded himself it was just a start. This weekend, things start to get serious as the cloudy Olympic picture starts to clear up. Scores from nationals and the Olympic trials later this month in San Jose, Calif., will be combined, and the top gymnast will get the one guaranteed spot on the London team. The other four members will be selected by a committee and announced July 1. Horton won the national championship in 2010 and finished second behind Danell Leyva last year. He'd love to add another title to his already packed trophy case, but it's an Olympic year. The time to peak isn't now, it's at the O2 Arena in London in six weeks. ''What really matters right now is the Olympic Games,'' Horton said. ''If I get fourth (at this meet) or I get last, if they still put me on the team because they need me, I'm going to be happy because that's my goal. I think we could be a gold medal team.'' One that could benefit from Horton's experience and tenacity. He helped the U.S. win a team bronze in Beijing four years ago and grabbed silver in high bar. ''The last two days of practice, he's done more than he's ever done before USA championships in these two days of training,'' Meadows said. ''You hear the phrase don't win warm-ups? He looks fantastic. OK, go do it tomorrow.'' --- REMEMBER ME?: Bridget Sloan insists the form she showcased while winning the all-around title at the 2009 worlds is still in there somewhere. Ankle and pectoral injuries in 2010 and a painful torn biceps last year threatened to derail her career. She's back in St. Louis - her first meet since participating in the 2011 Pan Am Games - hoping to prove her comeback isn't some sort of stunt. ''I'm excited to get out in front of the crowd and let them see the true competitor come back,'' Sloan said. ''I think they thought she was gone after 2010 after worlds and 2011 at Pan Ams I had 11 stitches in my foot competing so I was a little shaky. I'm excited to bring that (true) Bridget back.'' Sloan will have to be much better than ''shaky'' to earn an invite to the Olympic Trials in San Jose later this month. U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi hasn't seen much of Sloan during the last year but thinks Sloan looks ''fit'' and knows, if healthy, Sloan could give the U.S. a much-needed boost on uneven bars. ''She's scored very well internationally before,'' Karolyi said. ''But that was before. So what I would like to see (is) that she is well prepared that thinking in two weeks at the trials she'll be back performing at the highest level.'' Being part of the conversation is enough at the moment for Sloan, who was nowhere to be found when the U.S. won team gold in Tokyo last fall. Under normal circumstances, being a world champion trying to make a second Olympic team would make her one of the favorites. Not this year. That's hardly a bad thing. ''I think it's kind of good to be on the backburner,'' Sloan said. ''I've really been under the radar these last couple months.'' Not for much longer, she hopes. --- VIDEO STAR: John Orozco envisions himself an entertainer whenever his gymnastics career is over. Singing. Dancing. Acting. The whole deal. The pop group Gym Class Heroes gave the U.S. men's national team member a head start. Orozco is the star of the video for the group's song ''Fighter,'' which features Orozco hanging out in the Bronx neighborhood he grew up in and footage of the 19-year-old working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. It was a unique opportunity for Orozco to give his sport a little pop culture street cred. The shoot, however, provided some anxious moments. Not for Orozco, but his father Willie. During a portion of the video Orozco works out in a barren playground just down the street from his parents' house. ''Dad was like, `don't get hurt, don't do anything crazy,''' Orozco said with a laugh. ''I was like, `Dad, the stuff I'm doing I've done a billion times.''' --- PROMOTING SAFETY: USA Gymnastics has taken another step in strengthening its safety standards, updating its participation policy to preclude non-members and non-sanctioned businesses from entering an athlete in an event. Beginning in August only member clubs and registered businesses may apply for membership on behalf of the athlete. Those clubs and businesses must abide by USA Gymnastics policies, which include not hiring convicted sex offenders. If an athlete from a non-sanctioned club wants to compete in an event, they will be registered as an ''unaffiliated athlete'' and will not be permitted to win team awards or to wear any apparel referencing a gym, coach, team, or other group which is not recognized as a member of USA Gymnastics. Under the old policy, athletes from unsanctioned gyms could compete at events under the name of their gym and wear corresponding apparel. --- Follow AP Sports Writer Will Graves on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP
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