Horton won't compete for all-around

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 27, 2012
U.S. men's Olympic captain Jonathan Horton has stressed repeatedly a gymnastics team medal - and not individual glory - is what matters most. The lineup sent out by his coaches on Friday left no doubt. The two-time Olympic medalist will only compete in four of six events when team qualification begins on Saturday. National champion John Orozco and trials winner Danell Leyva will do all six disciplines, leaving them as the only two eligible to compete for the all-around title. It's a move based exclusively on the pursuit of a medal, hopefully one a little bit shinier than the bronze the U.S. won in Beijing four years ago. Horton took third at the 2010 world championships, but has seen his spot as the best gymnast in the U.S. eclipsed by the 19-year-old Orozco and 20-year-old Leyva. The duo have been the most consistent performers for the U.S. over the last six months, trading spots atop the all-around podium all winter and spring. They'll be the bedrock the U.S. builds around as it tries to crack the vice grip Japan and China have had on the upper reaches of the medal stand. Countries send four gymnasts out for each event during qualifications, with the top three scores counting toward the team total. The top eight finishers on Saturday will advance to the finals on Monday. Barring catastrophe, the U.S. is almost a lock to move on. And while Horton will still get a chance to make a run at a second medal in high bar, where he earned silver in Beijing, he'll have to cede hopes of making a bid in the all-around. The math being what it is, making the final would have been difficult anyway. The top 24 individual finishers advance, but countries are limited to sending two gymnasts each and Horton hasn't beaten Orozco or Leyva in a major competition in two years. At last year's world championships, he finished fifth in preliminaries but was shut out because Orozco was second and Leyva third. The 26-year-old two-time national champion will also lead the team onto the floor at the O2 Arena and be first up when the U.S. begins the day on pommel horse, his weakest event. Horton will also compete on still rings and parallel bars. He'll skip the floor exercise and vault, the event in which he shredded his left foot at worlds last fall. Sam Mikulak, the 2011 NCAA champion, will do five events. The 19-year-old has been strong during training barely four weeks after aggravating an ankle injury during the first night of trials. Jake Dalton, who won NCAAs earlier this year, will work on still rings, floor exercise and vault. He's easily the best among the five Americans in the last two events, his explosiveness an asset few gymnasts in the world can match. Teams that move on to Monday can reshuffle the lineup, though the rules change, too. In the finals, teams can only enter three competitors in each event, with all three counting. The U.S. believes it has the deepest team since it won gold in Los Angeles in 1984, though they face an uphill fight to knock off Japan, reigning Olympic champion China appears vulnerable. The longtime powerhouse was forced to dip into its alternate pool when Teng Haibin, the 2004 Olympic champion on pommel horse, was dropped out of the games with a torn muscle in his left forearm. If the Americans were feeling the pressure on Friday during their final training session, it didn't show. Though Leyva lingered over the parallel bars - where he won a world title last fall - they were loose as they walked out of the gym following a brief pep talk from coordinator Kevin Mazeika. Horton leading the way. As usual.
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