Jonathan Horton is coming back from a “gnarly” two years, hoping to make a statement in his first gymnastics competition since the London Olympics.
“My No. 1 goal is to compete well and regain confidence in my own mind that, hey, I’m doing the right thing by training again, that I’m an important member of this team,” Horton, a two-time 2008 Olympic medalist, said in a phone interview Friday. “I think there are a lot of people who are counting me out. They’re saying, ‘He’s had a good run. He’s washed up. He’s finished.'”
Horton plans to compete in all six events at the U.S. Championships from Aug. 22-24 in Pittsburgh. It would be his first meet since a disappointing London Games, where the U.S. was expected to win a team medal at a third straight Olympics but finished fifth.
That result motivated Horton, now 28, to pursue a third Olympic berth in 2016. No U.S. gymnast has made three Olympic teams since Blaine Wilson in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
Horton was the oldest member of the 2012 U.S. men’s gymnastics team, the only returning Olympian, and in 2016 would be the oldest U.S. men’s gymnast since 1956, according to sports-reference.com.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of gas still in the tank,” Horton said. “I’m still learning. I’m still getting stronger. You can probably ask anybody who is close to me if I was happy with how things went down in London. No. I can’t end my career like that. Whether I make another Olympic team or not, I’m going to do everything I can and hopefully help Team USA redeem itself a little bit.”
Horton took sixth in the London Olympic high bar final with a right shoulder that would require nearly complete reconstructive surgery. He waited until after the Olympics to get an MRI, which revealed tears in two parts of his rotator cuff, his labrum and his bicep.
“We don’t know how you did what you just did [compete in the Olympics], because your shoulder’s torn to shreds,” a doctor told him.
He had the surgery in December 2012, after a painful post-Olympic tour, and needed nine months to recover.
“It was worth every bit of the surgery and pain I went through,” Horton said. “It’s like a brand-new shoulder.”
Horton then tore a pectoral muscle at a National Team camp in December 2013, requiring another surgery and three more months of recovery.
“I lost pretty much all my strength,” said Horton, a married father of an 11-month-old son, David, who is showing early gymnastics promise. “I was skinny and nothing.”
Horton said he feels healthier now than at any point in the last two years. He’s in the gym four to six hours per day and putting routines together. The most difficult apparatus to regain full strength on has been still rings, where he says he’s at about 50 percent after performing his first iron cross skill two weeks ago.
Horton, the U.S. all-around champion in 2009 and 2010, petitioned onto the U.S. National Team for this year.
He’s aiming for a top-three all-around finish at the U.S. Championships in August, where the favorites ought to be the last two U.S. champions, 2012 Olympic teammates Sam Mikulak and John Orozco.
“In the past I would have said, ‘I’ve got to win [the U.S. all-around title],'” Horton said. “I have a very realistic goal for myself. Compete, do a good job and be confident.”
Horton isn’t optimistic about his chances to make the six-man team for the World Championships in October in China, even though a top-three U.S. all-around finish would probably merit a spot.
The U.S. depth has only increased in Horton’s absence. Four different American men won individual apparatus medals at the 2013 World Championships.
“I think there’s a slim chance to make the worlds team,” Horton said. “Unless I’m in tip-top shape on every event, I’m just not sure it will happen.
“I’m kind of keeping my hopes low and trying not to get too crazy. My No. 1 goal is Rio.”