Posted on 08 August 2010 by admin
In Part 2 of our preview of the 2010 VISA U.S. Championships, guest blogger Matthew Rusk explores Glen Ishino, Steven Legendre, Danell Leyva, John Orozco, Paul Ruggeri, Alex Naddour, Kevin Tan, Brandon Wynn and Tim McNeill. Matthew leaves no stone unturned as he analyzes each gymnast’s chances for making the 2010 World Team. As is customary for Matthew, he unveils his predictions for medal winners at VISAs and the makeup of the team that will represent the United States at the 2010 World Championships, which will be held October 16-24 in Rotterdam.
Overview: Glen Ishino, the brother of Olympic alternate Allyse Ishino, won the all-around title in the junior division at the 2008 Visa Championships, just prior to joining the NCAA scene that fall. Ishino, who competes for the University of California – Berkeley, placed 2nd all-around at last year’s NCAA Championships while only a freshman. Placements of 6th at last year’s Visa Championships and 5th at this year’s NCAA Championships make Ishino an outside medal threat for the all-around in Hartford; however, his bill to make the World team will be downplayed by his average work on still rings.
Pros: Ishino has several fine qualities to his gymnastics: clean form, good amplitude, and, most of all, immense speed. His speed is particularly noticeable on pommel horse, an event that all too many American men execute as if they were molasses in winter. Ishino, who was 2nd on that apparatus at this year’s NCAA Championships, also excels on parallel bars. However, it’s his abilities across all six events that could turn heads on the selection committee, as more all-arounders on a team means more options for lineups in prelims. Ishino’s relative inexperience allows him to enter these Championships with little pressure or expectation, and the 20-year-old’s youth ensures him of several opportunities down the road, something that so many of his rivals cannot say.
Cons: Ishino has yet to demonstrate prowess as a competitor, and that was none more apparent than in April at the NCAA Championships. Ishino didn’t break the 15 point barrier at all in prelims (with the exception of floor) and struggled in team finals as well, scoring 13.1 on parallel bars and 14.0 on high bar. The native of Santa Ana, California, has extremely limited international experience under his belt: he has yet to compete at a World Championships and has not received any international assignments since 2008. The pommel/rings positions on the World team are the only spots available for Ishino to claim, as the other four events are already covered by other, far more capable, gymnasts. Ishino’s work on rings is only average and not team final caliber at all; his pommel set, although great, is not great enough to warrant him a spot just for that one event.
Outlook: Although few American women have taken part in an international competition this year, a plethora of American men have. USA Gymnastics has taken advantage of numerous international events – American Cup, Pacific Rim Championships, Moscow World Cup, and Japan Cup – to give athletes experience, but Ishino was not granted an assignment to any of those competitions. It is very clear that Ishino is not on USA Gymnastics’s radar yet, and barring numerous injuries and a fantastic performance from Ishino at Nationals, he will not be a part of this year’s World team. Ishino is another athlete who will have to wait his turn until the following quadrennial, but the talent is certainly there to attain success then.
Overview: The native of Port Jefferson, New York, has been making waves for the last three years with his spectacular talents on floor exercise and vault. Legendre, who formerly trained at WOGA, joined the University of Oklahoma’s gymnastics team in the fall of 2007, instantly becoming a leading member of the team. At the 2008 NCAA Championships, he took home the floor and vault individual event titles, and shared another victory with his OU team. A year later, Legendre defended his floor and vault titles and won his first all-around title as well. After winning floor at the 2009 Visa Championships, he was selected to compete at the 2009 World Championships, where he successfully qualified to the floor exercise final. Two gold medals on floor and vault at the 2010 Winter Cup, as well as his third consecutive NCAA floor title, have been added to Legendre’s packed trophy case. Unfortunately, such success on only two apparatus clouds doubt on Legendre’s world team chances, and his all-around abilities have never proven competitive at this level of competition and are not expected to begin doing so.
Pros: Legendre has made it clear to every male gymnast in the country who’s the boss on floor, having dominated the event on both the NCAA and elite scenes for the past two years. Legendre’s quick, dynamic power enables him to do skills never thought to be possible, such as his 2.5 twisting double layout. The 21-year-old is also a powerhouse on vault, where his handspring double front seems far too easy for him. Last year, Legendre was said to be training two 7.0 vaults – a handspring double pike and a Tsukahara double pike – which have yet to surface in competition. A 7.0 vault executed successfully in Hartford would likely be the only vault of such difficulty to be performed at the event. Such a skill would, of course, help Legendre’s world team chances sizably.
Cons: Legendre adds nothing to the team besides floor and vault. If Brooks, Horton, and Ruggeri hit at Nationals, Legendre will have little chance of making the World team because his specialty events are already covered by other athletes. With a ticket to Worlds on the line, it would seem like this would be the perfect event to debut a 7.0 vault, but such an upgrade seems unlikely: Legendre talked on Gymnastike about training a handspring double pike over a year ago and has still yet to compete it. The only athlete who Legendre can really knock off the selection committee’s ideal World team would be Paul Ruggeri. Even if Ruggeri is not to deliver at Nationals, one event will always keep his chances for Worlds alive: high bar. Neither Cameron, McNeill, Naddour, Tan, Wynn or Legendre himself should do that event in team finals, as a full point, or more, would be forfeited from the team total. Even a .4 gain on vault (which is unlikely) and a few tenths gain on floor would not make up for such a deficit, and thus don’t allow Legendre to control his own destiny toward making this team.
Outlook: Similar to Danell Leyva, Legendre’s two events will be difficult to cut it for this year’s World team and will not even allow him to be a threat two years from now. At this competition, Legendre should expect to gain his usual accolades: a gold medal on floor and perhaps a gold on vault as well, but he should also expect to find himself without medals on any of the other apparatus or in the all-around. The time Legendre can start winning medals at major competitions as an all-arounder, and on events other than floor and vault, will be the time when he becomes a viable threat for the 2012 Olympic team. With Legendre not having any downright dreadful events, it seems possible, although by no means probable, that he can make such improvements and fulfill his dream of becoming an Olympian.
Overview: Leyva’s talent, and always impressionable stepfather, have been garnering him attention since he was 15, when he first qualified to the senior men’s competition back in 2007. The 2008 Olympic picture saw no place for Leyva, who later joked in a Gymnastike interview that he would’ve only been named to the team as the mascot. A mascot on the team he was not, in 2009, when Leyva competed at his first World Championships, where he was .025 away from medaling on high bar. However, Leyva, who was 5th all-around at last year’s Visa Championships, has yet to follow up his strong 2009 season with notable performances this year. With other athletes improving and Leyva falling behind, it appears as though he will have to wait at least another year to experience World Championship glory.
Pros: The 18-year-old is arguably the most talented gymnast in the country on both parallel bars and high bar and has numerous accolades on those two apparatus. Leyva’s swing on both events is breathtaking, and he has recently added a Liukin to his already ladened high bar routine. Leyva already has a great amount of international experience for someone so young: he has competed in a World Championships, French International, and a Pacific Rim Championships, all within the last 10 months. Leyva does not have a glaringly weak event and did hit all but one routine at last year’s Visa Championships. The bonus points system, which allows gymnasts to achieve additional points for difficult routines, will play in Leyva’s favor on parallel bars and high bar, as he should gain at least .4 collectively from those two events.
Cons: Aside from Leyva’s two specialty apparatus, there is nothing remarkable about his gymnastics. His form is hardly pristine, and his lack of raw power shows up on vault especially. Leyva’s gymnastics has made few strides this year, and his competitive year as a whole has been very bumpy. He began the year missing a top three all-around finish at the Winter Cup, thus relegating him to alternate status for the Tyson American Cup. Given his first international assignment of the year in April, Leyva won the gold medal with his team, but problems during the competition prevented him from winning an all-around medal in a depleted field. USA Gymnastics would grant the 2009 World team member a spot on the Japan Cup training squad, but Leyva backed out of the meet, only to be beaten a week later by Jesse Silverstein, a gymnast who has no international experience and whom many haven’t even heard of.
Outlook: Things are not looking great this year for Leyva, but being left off a world team could be an enormous blessing in disguise for the 18-year-old, who still has plenty of years ahead of him. Leyva improved drastically from 2008 to 2009, but hasn’t much at all from 2009 to 2010. A missed world team could be what prompts Leyva to get back on track, and he really must improve a great deal on two other events – especially pommel, where he is not terrible – to become a viable threat for major teams in the future. Leyva’s in an unlucky position at the moment, as his two best events are where the U.S. is stacked. If his two best events happened to be pommel and rings, his chances would go up greatly. However, for now, it looks as though Leyva will have to wait until the next quadrennial to become a consistent player on major teams. This World team is looking more and more like it will be divided into two categories: those who can do pommel and those who can do everything else. Leyva falls into neither category, so an alternate position is what is most realistically attainable.
Overview: Junior competitions often fail to display gymnastics that excites a seasoned viewer. Such was not the case last year, however, when John Orozco dominated the junior competition at the 2009 Visa Championships, showcasing immense potential in the process. Orozco won the all-around title and five out of the six individual event titles at that competition, and he would later compete against the senior men on the second day of their competition, finishing 11th overall. Orozco has since competed at the Pacific Rim Championships, winning the junior all-around title, and he was also featured in Sports Illustrated’s August 2nd-9th issue.
Pros: Orozco is a true all-arounder with no glaringly weak event, something very difficult to do in today’s code that does not cater to all-arounders. Only 17, Orozco already has a vast array of original skills, chief among them his tucked full-out off parallel bars. USA Gymnastics is certainly recognizing Orozco’s potential, having named him to both the Pacific Rim Championship team and the Japan Cup training squad. Orozco contributed greatly to the American men’s team gold at the Pacific Rim, and won four individual event medals (gold on HB and silvers on PH, SR, and PB) to go along with his team and all-around golds. Orozco has plenty of attention entering in this competition, but not necessarily pressure: he has many years ahead to achieve all he wants to in the sport.
Cons: Besides vault, Orozco cannot break 15 on any event, thus practically negating his chances to make the World team. The 17-year-old was the odd man out on the Japan Cup’s training squad, despite having performed close to the best of his best abilities in Australia at the Pacific Rim. Orozco’s overall gymnastics lacks difficulty, as his D-scores are only in the 5.5 range on every event besides vault. Vault is an event where Orozco has actually downgraded since last year’s Visa Championships, presumably because of consistency issues with his old vault (he fell on his handspring double full at last year’s Visa Championships). Although many of Orozco’s weaknesses as a gymnast can be chalked up to youth and inexperience, it is interesting to compare him to another youngster, Danell Leyva, who should have the last laugh if both perform to their potential. Leyva, only a year older, handily defeated Orozco at both last year’s Visa Championships (by six placements) and at this year’s Winter Cup (by four placements).
Outlook: Unlike female gymnasts, male gymnasts do not peak until their early 20’s, so there is no doubt that Orozco’s best days are ahead of him. It is a bit unreasonable to expect Orozco to be able to contend in two years for the Olympic team, but the 2013-2016 quadrennial should be his time to shine. Blessed with commendable gymnastics on six events and a razor-sharp focus in competition, Orozco has a bright career ahead. World teams won’t be forthcoming yet, but this is perhaps to his benefit. He doesn’t want too much success too soon, and waiting his turn for success will ensure that, when Orozco is sent on a plane to a World Championships or Olympic Games, he will be fully prepared. Featured last year in an article for the NY Daily News, Orozco made it very clear just how far he wants to get in the sport: “I want to be the best in the world, that’s what I’m training for. I want to win the all-around gold in the Olympics.” With his rapid improvement, even such an arduous task doesn’t seem out of the question for Orozco.
Overview: Ruggeri may be tall for a gymnast at 5’8’’, but that hasn’t stopped him from displaying impressive gymnastics on four events and from becoming a top all-around medal threat for this competition. A rising senior at University of Illinois, Ruggeri had his career breakthrough at last year’s NCAA Championships, winning parallel bars and high bar and placing 3rd in the all-around. Despite a disappointing 2009 Visa Championships, Ruggeri was granted two international assignments this year. He took advantage of both of them, qualifying to three event finals at the Moscow World Cup and winning bronze with his team at the Japan Cup. However, a disappointing NCAA Championships in April leads gymnastics observers to question whether he can display consistency for these Visa Championships, perhaps the most important competition of his career to date.
Pros: Ruggeri is an athlete who the selection committee really wants to do well in Hartford, as a good performance there will simplify the World selection process so much more. Ruggeri’s strengths on floor, vault, parallel bars, and high bar make him a lock for the team if he hits all of his routines on those events in Hartford. USA Gymnastics gave Ruggeri two international assignments this year after he only placed 17th AA at last year’s Visa Championships, and he performed well at both of them despite being a rookie to international competition. In terms of his gymnastics, Ruggeri is a very clean, stylish gymnast who is well-suited for good execution scores in international competition. In addition to his prowess with execution, Ruggeri has his share of difficult skills, including an Arabian double layout on floor and a tkatchev ½ on high bar.
Cons: Ruggeri’s major weaknesses on pommel horse and still rings hurt his chances for winning an all-around medal here significantly. A great showing from Ruggeri at the 2009 NCAA Gymnastics Championships was reversed this year, as he was partly responsible for Illinois’s disappointing 4th place finish with scores of 10.75 on pommel horse and 11.5 on high bar. At that same event, Ruggeri only qualified to one event final, parallel bars, where he would struggle once again by finishing 9th. A repeat of that competition, or of last year’s Visa Championships, would give the selection committee little rationale to put him on the World team, even if the team would have to forfeit scoring potential in favor of another athlete. Pressure is sure to be mounting for Ruggeri at this event, as he has never before competed at this event with so much at stake.
Outlook: Ruggeri has had less than stellar performances at big competitions, but the selection committee can still choose him if he does not bring his A-game to these Visa Championships; he just cannot afford a disastrous performance. Ruggeri is strong on floor and parallel bars, but those events can be performed by others in team finals. Also, with Legendre being so far behind Ruggeri on high bar, and the same being true for Leyva on vault, Ruggeri has a bit of breathing room at this competition to make the squad. It also must be said that both the Moscow World Cup and Japan Cup came after Ruggeri’s poor NCAA Championships showing, and coming into this competition with those experiences right behind him should give Ruggeri confidence and a good reputation entering this event. For Ruggeri, it is up to him and him alone to make the World team.
Alex Naddour on pommel horse – Among all the specialists, the 19-year-old rising sophomore at University of Oklahoma stands the best chance of making the World team. Although Wes Haagensen and Kevin Tan are battling for one spot, Naddour can knock both men off the team if he wins pommel horse in Hartford. Naddour can break 15 on the event internationally, but it’s his consistency that has been turning heads since the year began. Despite not having been on the elite scene much, USA Gymnastics gave him two international assignments – Moscow World Cup and Japan Cup – this year, proving that he is on the radar for the World team. Naddour is a relatively adequate all-arounder but cannot contribute anything to the team besides pommel horse. Nevertheless, if Naddour hits two pommel sets in Hartford, the selection committee has room to give him the last ticket for that one event alone.
Kevin Tan on rings – With the exception of Paul Hamm, Kevin Tan was the only lock for the 2008 Olympic team, but he ended up contributing far less than expected to the team’s outcome. Now in the process of a comeback, the Olympic bronze medalist returned to competition back in February at the Winter Cup, where he struggled on his specialty apparatus, still rings. Tan’s prospects for qualifying to the World Championships appeared decent at the beginning of the year, even after his unremarkable showing at that event. However, months have gone by and Chris Cameron has made a name for himself, Alex Naddour is proving himself on pommel horse, and other men are getting assignments right and left. Tan will give up at least a point to Naddour on pommel, and it is doubtful he can make that up on rings over other athletes. Tan’s showing here should be one of the most interesting storylines of the Championships, but it is doubtful to go as successfully as he might like.
Brandon Wynn on rings – Wynn has become the latest lord of the rings in the United States, winning the NCAA title there by a staggering 0.75. He was also chosen to compete at the Moscow World Cup and made finals on the event, but a lackluster effort kept him down in 8th place. Unlike Haagensen and Tan, Wynn has shown in recent competition to be a top gymnast on this event. However, like Haagensen and Tan, his contribution to the team on rings can be outdone by a standout pommel worker, likely Naddour. What is unfortunate for Wynn is that, even though David Sender has retired, Jonathan Horton is still around and was in great form on rings at the Japan Cup. Horton’s status means that two holes need to be filled on rings, but both of those athletes must perform pommel horse in team finals as well, an event where Wynn is dreadful. Wynn isn’t a bad all-arounder, and he can certainly contribute several tenths on rings, but those attributes become useless when the committee takes into account the cons of naming him to the team. The selection committee would prefer not to embarrass themselves, or the team, by naming Wynn, which would then require Horton to do pommel in team finals.
Tim McNeill’s Situation – Tim McNeill’s father tragically passed away last week, which means that last year’s silver medalist in the all-around will withdraw from these Championships. McNeill had a breakthrough year last year, making his first World team and finishing 7th in the all-around (where he was 3rd in prelims). McNeill also qualified to the pommel horse finals at that event, finishing 5th. He has only competed once this year, at the Moscow World Cup, but qualified to two event finals – pommel horse and parallel bars – and medaled on the latter. In addition to those two events, rings is another apparatus where McNeill has a creditable routine, one that is superior to the majority of ring routines that will be performed in Hartford. McNeill’s all-around prowess, contributions on three events, and good consistency and experience make him too great a candidate to be passed over. If McNeill happens to not want to go to Worlds, there are several athletes who can feasibly replace him.
All-Around Medal Predictions
Gold: Chris Brooks
Silver: Jonathan Horton
Bronze: Chris Cameron
World Team Predictions
World Team Lineups
Prelims (Bolded athletes will compete in team finals also)
FX: (Brooks, Cameron, Ruggeri, Horton, McNeill)
PH: (Cameron, McNeill, Naddour, Brooks, Horton)
SR: (Cameron, Horton, McNeill, Brooks, Naddour)
VT: (Brooks, Horton, Ruggeri, McNeill, Naddour)
PB: (Brooks, Horton, McNeill, Cameron, Ruggeri)
HB: (Brooks, Horton, Ruggeri, McNeill, Naddour)
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