Danell Leyva

What to watch at USA Gymnastics National Championships men’s competition

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The men’s gymnastics team that walked into the O2 Arena for the 2012 Olympics was arguably the best team the U.S. had fielded at a Games since 1984, the last time it had won gold. Expectations were high, and for the first time since ’84, a gold medal was a legitimate hope.

The U.S., atop the leaderboard after qualifying, stumbled to fifth in the team final.

There’s no way around it for Danell LeyvaJohn OrozcoJonathan HortonSam Mikulak and Jake Dalton. London was a disappointment. The U.S. men left with one medal overall, Leyva’s all-around bronze.

So it comes as no surprise that they’re all back for another Olympic cycle. Orozco, Leyva, Dalton and Mikulak are competing at the National Championships beginning Friday (8 p.m. Eastern time, NBC Sports Network and online here) and concluding Sunday (1 p.m. ET, NBC and online here).

Horton, 27, the only two-time Olympian from that group, is not ready to return competitively from shoulder surgery but is training for 2014.

Comebacks in gymnastics are not generally met with ease, but the men from 2012 have one major factor on their side: age. All but Horton are younger than 22, in a sport where men tend to peak in early-to-mid 20s.

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The Olympians are at nationals hoping to earn spots on the six-man squad for the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, where there will only be individual events, no team title.

Podium training for the men Wednesday was business as usual: camaraderie, high-flying skills and fresh Olympic rings tattoos. but there were also key takeaways, new gymnasts to watch and a preview of who will star this weekend.

This year has marked a breakout for Dalton, who took the American Cup title over Levya in March. He looked solid in training and ready to take aim at his first national all-around title. Barring major mistakes, it will be the others all chasing Dalton.

Levya and Orozco have been the most visible Americans the last few years, on and off the mats. Leyva, profiled by mainstream magazines such as GQ and Men’s Fitness is the 2011 U.S. champion with a trademark towel and boisterous stepfather. Orozco, the Bronx, N.Y., native who starred in the Gym Class Heroes music video for “The Fighter,” is the defending U.S. champion.

They’ve also got international clout with judges. Leyva is the reigning world champion on parallel bars, and Orozco was fifth in the all-around at the 2011 World Championships. Leyva is already looking ahead to Antwerp.

“I want to keep the p-bars title and win the all-around title and make finals on other events that people haven’t seen me make finals on before,” he said.

So far this year, things haven’t gone Leyva’s way. He wasn’t feeling well at the American Cup and finished sixth. He remains among the most talented, but podium training in Hartford wasn’t his best showing. Not surprising for the Cuban-born Floridian, who tends to bring it in high-pressure situations.

Orozco had his own frustrations since the Olympics and will not compete on all six events (no vault or floor exercise). After climbing back from a devastating Achilles injury to take the national title last year, he tore an ACL during the a post-Games tour. He’s once again on the comeback trail, but he doesn’t seem phased, nor is he worried about not being 100 percent.

“It’s a whole new competition and it’s a whole new year and my circumstances are a little different than usual, so I think that this championships will be really interesting,” he said. “So, I’m gonna take it slow and try to focus on the things that I can control.”

Sporting an American flag patterned knee brace, Orozco made it through training looking calm, unphased and on track to be at full strength soon. He’s not necessarily focused on the World Championships but the next three years leading to the Rio Games.

This could also prove to be a breakout year for Mikulak of the University of Michigan, the surprise member of the 2012 Olympic team. He turned in some seriously aggressive routines during training. When he landed his parallel bars routine with a gigantic stuck cold double pike dismount, you could hear his feet hitting the mat throughout the arena. He’s ready.

Keep an eye on Josh Dixon, 23, who boasts one of the highest start values on high bar, as well as clean lines and good form. He’s now more experienced after placing sixth in the event at Olympic trials.

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Shoma Uno wins Skate America as Jason Brown clears quad hurdle

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Shoma Uno of Japan competes in the men short program at 2016 Progressive Skate America at Sears Centre Arena on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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Japan’s Shoma Uno became the youngest man to win Skate America since 2002, while Jason Brown landed a quadruple jump en route to second place in Hoffman Estates, Ill., on Sunday.

Uno, the 18-year-old Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, landed three quadruple jumps in his free skate after planting two in his leading short program Saturday.

Uno fell on triple jumps in both programs but still scored 279.34 total points, prevailed by 10.96 over Brown and became the youngest man to win Skate America since France’s Brian Joubert in 2002.

Reigning U.S. champion Adam Rippon was third, flipping places with Brown after the short program. Full results are here.

Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, totaled personal-best scores in the free skate (182.63) and overall (268.38) en route to his third straight Skate America medal. Brown matched his career-best Grand Prix finish.

Brown had never landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition before, and while Sunday’s jump was called under-rotated, it was still a benchmark for the 21-year-old.

“To hit it and be like, ‘Oh my god, keep going, keep going,'” Brown said on NBC. “I just dreamed about landing that quad in the program. I felt like it kept getting closer, but today it finally hit. … Now I know I can do it under pressure. I can do it skating last. I can do it at a Grand Prix, so I can do it anywhere.”

Rippon attempted one quad this weekend, falling in a free skate he said he had only been practicing for a week and a half.

“I’m pleased with what I did today,” Rippon said. “It was a strong program for October. … This is a good start to the season, and I really want to build on this.”

Brown and Rippon positioned themselves well to become the first American men to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since Jeremy Abbott in 2011, should they be in podium contention at their next Grand Prix starts.

Rippon returns for Trophée de France in three weeks. Brown next competes at NHK Trophy in five weeks.

The Grand Prix season continues this week at Skate Canada, highlighted by world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and the Grand Prix return of 2010 Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Gracie Gold details weight issues in figure skating after Skate America struggles


Gracie Gold said she has struggled with weight issues this whole year and in recent seasons in reported comments after she finished fifth at Skate America on Saturday and then clarified them on Instagram Sunday.

“You don’t often see — there aren’t that many — you just don’t see overweight figure skaters for a reason,” Gold said Saturday, according to USA Today. “It’s just something I’ve struggled with this whole year and in previous seasons. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to do the difficult triple jumps. It’s something that I am addressing, but it’s obviously not where it should be for this caliber of competition.

“It’s just not what’s required for this sport. It’s a lean body sport, and it’s just not what I have currently.”

Gold fell once in her Skate America short program and twice in her free skate en route to her lowest Grand Prix finish (excluding Grand Prix Finals) since her debut at 2012 Skate Canada.

Gold also finished sixth out of six skaters in her first competition this season, the free-skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1.

Gold was fourth at the world championships in April, falling from first after the short program. The U.S. champion was still dealing with that “worlds depression” in the summer, even considering skipping the fall Grand Prix season.

Her next scheduled competition is in three weeks at Trophée de France in Paris, which she won last season.

“We just need to adjust my physical shape and mental shape and see if the program can be salvaged for the rest of the year,” Gold said Saturday, according to Icenetwork.com.

Gold’s update on Sunday on Instagram is below.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

To all my fans and friends. Thank you for the concern you have voiced. My comments in the mixed zone were spoken in the heat of emotion. To clarify, I feel that my results this far in the season are a result of my decision to live a more "normal life" this past summer. I traveled and really took time off from being an elite athlete. For a figure skater, there is an ideal body weight for top performance. It's different for each athlete. That doesn't mean scary skinny, but rather a lean, wiry composition. I realize that I am at a healthy weight and I am rapidly regaining the strength and tone I desire. I just started back a little later than I needed to for peak fitness in October. In reading Christine Brennan's story I realize that I came across pretty negatively. In fact, rather than being unhappy with my programs, I think they are the best I've ever had! I remain committed to my sport and quest for World and Olympic success.

A photo posted by Gracie Gold (@graciegold95) on