Jonathan Horton

Jonathan Horton boosted by 2008 teammate to successful return

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PITTSBURGH — They delivered the diagnosis to Jonathan Horton while he was on a table in December. A torn pec.

If Horton had ended his career then and there, he would go down as one of the greatest U.S. men’s gymnasts ever.

He led the program in 2008, when an Olympic team bronze meant surprising success, and contributed through 2012, when not making the Olympic team podium meant unexpected failure.

Horton competed in London with a right shoulder “torn to shreds,” a doctor told him right after the Games. Reconstructive surgery. Rehab. Return. Then the torn pec at a national team camp.

So Horton, on that table, heard the news. He gazed at a group around him, including his coach.

“I’ll be at Championships,” he said. Horton meant the P&G Championships, to be held eight months later.

“I was like, uh … OK, he’s being a little aggressive,” said Tom Meadows, Horton’s coach. “We all know the reality of a torn pec.”

The reality was Horton was at P&G Championships, his first competition since the London Olympics. He finished eighth in the all-around and made the U.S. national team.

Horton was not selected for the six-man World Championships squad, but he did accept a spot on the team for the Pan American Championships in Toronto this week.

“What a testament,” Meadows said Sunday.

Truth is, Meadows doubted Horton even on the final day of competition at Consol Energy Center.

“I was concerned coming into [Sunday] if he was going to be able to make all six events, just to make it through, because he was tired,” he said.

Horton’s status was complicated in the hotel shower Sunday morning.

He inadvertently slammed his elbow into a soap tray.

“Like full force,” Horton said. “My elbow split open.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but it was a burst bursa sac. Horton walked out of the shower and turned to his wife, Haley, a former gymnast and medical student.

“Is this normal?” Horton asked.

Haley “freaked out” (Horton’s words) and helped compress the elbow with tape.

“It didn’t affect me at all [Sunday],” Horton said. “It stiffened up a little bit, but not a big deal.”

Horton performed better Sunday than he did the first day of competition Friday, despite his coach’s fear and his shower slip up. He was 12th in the all-around after Friday. He was fifth best Sunday to move up to eighth overall.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Horton said. “I would say, in terms of where I want to be in two years [in Rio de Janeiro as the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s gymnast since 1956], I’m about 50 percent. I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to these guys, but I’m up to the challenge.”

He expects to be able to hang with Sam Mikulak, who on Sunday became the first man since Horton to win back-to-back U.S. all-around titles. Mikulak is seven years younger than Horton, a 2012 Olympic teammate.

One of Horton’s 2008 Olympic teammates was in his ear Sunday — Raj Bhavsar. Bhavsar didn’t make his one and only Olympic team until he was nearly 28 years old, as an injury replacement, and after being an alternate in 2004.

He approached Horton before competition and offered some help.

“[Bhavsar] was like hey man, if you’re OK with it, I know what you’re going through,” Horton said. “You’re the older guy out here. You’ve gone through surgeries. You’re trying to push through and stay up to this level. He’s like, if you want man, I can help you out. I can give you some advice.

“I said, absolutely. Stay in my ear, because I’m dead. I’m exhausted. I needed it.”

“I kind of walked in here afraid to compete because of how tired I felt. It shows that the mental side of gymnastics is so important because mentally I stayed in my own little world and just relaxed instead of being so uptight [Sunday].”

Coincidentally, Horton also rotated Sunday with the man Bhavsar filled in for on the 2008 Olympic team, the 2004 Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm.

Hamm was coaching another gymnast in Horton’s group. Hand and shoulder injuries eventually forced Hamm off the Beijing Olympic team, and he eventually retired for good in 2012.

Horton hopes he’s not yet in the twilight of his career. He insists he could compete in 2020.

“I’m extremely happy with the path that I’m on,” Horton said.

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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