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London Olympics: U.S. men are first in gymnastics team qualifying

Americans Danell Leyva and John Orozco qualify first and fourth in all-around scoring. Russia is second in team qualifying, Britain is third and defending Olympic gold medalist China is sixth.

July 28, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Danell Leyva performs his high bar routine during qualifying on Saturday in London.
Danell Leyva performs his high bar routine during qualifying on Saturday… (Ben Stansall / AFP / Getty…)

LONDON -- Sometimes starting over is a disadvantage.

The U.S. men's gymnastics team finished first Saturday in the qualifying competition that selected eight team finalists.

And Americans Danell Leyva and John Orozco qualified first and fourth in the all-around scoring, both ahead of three-time defending world all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan. He fell twice Saturday.

But all those scores are erased and everything begins when the medal rounds start Monday.

"We're going to do everything we can to make it finish like that," said Jonathan Horton, who is the only American left from the men's team that won bronze in Beijing in 2008. "I'm kind of joking but I just said, 'Can we just get the medals now?' But, one more day to go and that's something to be pumped about."

The Americans scored 275.342 points, well ahead of second-place Russia, which had 272.595. Feeding off the hometown energy at the North Greenwich Arena, Britain qualified third with 272.420. Favored Japan was fifth and defending Olympic gold medalist China was sixth.

The U.S. men had to climb from behind after a rather miserable start on the pommel horse.

As the first American man up in the competition, Horton came off the apparatus. "What can I say?" Horton said later. "I'm just not good on pommel horse."

It isn't the U.S. team's favorite apparatus either. "But maybe it was good to just get it out of the way," said Sam Mikulak of Newport Coast. He had to perform right after Horton with the pressure of knowing his team already had the score it would want to drop.

Even though the dominant lead the U.S. had Saturday disappeared before the chalk dust in the arena settled, the confidence the team gained remains.

"We can definitely carry on with that," said the 19-year-old Mikulak, who also earned a spot in the vault event final.

Besides qualifications for the team final, Saturday's scores also earned Leyva and Orozco places in the all-around final; Jake Dalton a chance to compete for floor exercise gold, and Leyva and defending Olympic silver medalist Horton a spot in the high bar final for the U.S.

Russia's David Belyavskiy was a surprise second in the all-around scoring, andGermany'sFabian Hambuechen was third. Uchimura straggled to the finish in ninth place, safely into the all-around final but probably happier than most of the U.S. competitors that Saturday's scores don't carry over.

As surprising as Uchimura's struggles were, seeing the Chinese men stumble was more surprising. China had won seven of the eight available gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The U.S. men, who competed in the same rotation with Japan, after the Chinese were done, said they kept their focus on one thing: themselves.

"Honestly," Mikulak said, "it was all about keeping our minds on us."

The 20-year-old Leyva steadied his nerves even as his father and coach Yin Alvarez ran circles in the stands. Since the expressive Alvarez isn't an official team coach, he's not allowed on the floor during the Olympics, but Alvarez made sure Leyva heard his voice. After Leyva finished his bars with a fist pump, Alvarez shouted, "I knew it baby, I knew it. Oh my God."

Horton redeemed himself on that breathtaking apparatus as well. After his slow start, and after some uncharacteristic falls off the bar in warmups and at the Olympic trials, Horton was fearless.

"I just had to tell myself to go out there and have some fun," he said. "By the time I got to the high bar, I really felt like I was having fun."

And the feeling of fun can't be erased with the scores.

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