After a day of podium training, the U.S. men’s squad — among the favorites to make the team medal stand but cast in the considerable shadow of the U.S. women’s team — is counting on team camaraderie to help improve upon a disappointing fifth-place team finish in London in 2012.
“It’s a little different, just from the fact that we have a lot more experience, so everybody here is not really on edge,” returning Olympian Jake Dalton said. “We’re all kind of relaxed, kind of hanging out. We get each other, and we understand we’ve been here before. That’s a big factor for us that allows us to take a breath a little bit, but we also want to be on the podium …”
For Danell Leyva, who was the lone bright spot in 2012, with his bronze medal in all-around, that desire burns especially strongly. Leyva was a late invite to the team after John Orozco injured his knee in mid-July.
“John is a close friend to all of us, not just me,” said Leyva, a fluent Spanish speaker who learned Portuguese in anticipation of going to Rio. “When that happened, it was unbelievable in the worst way. It was devastating, shocking, and I was sad for him because of everything he’s been through [the death of his mother and two serious injuries the past year-and-a-half]. …
“The fact I was named an alternate was a huge honor, and it was an even bigger honor, obviously, when they considered me for the team. I’m here now, and I’m extremely excited. I’m anxious in a good way. I want to compete already.”
That eagerness was evident Wednesday, with the team members nearly bouncing out of their seats.
“Coming off of London and having a very talented team and not quite getting the result we wanted as a national and Olympic team and just grinding it out the next four years [has created the attitude] ‘Whatever we have to do, let’s do it,'” Brooks said.
They also want to show off a little in the process.
“The sport of gymnastics is to make these difficult tricks and skills look elegant,” Mikulak said. “If you’re not owning it, you’re not putting your personality into it, and you want your gymnastics to speak out to everyone: ‘Wow, that looks great. That looks easy.’ And when it looks easy, your personality is showing, you’re confident, and you’re owning it.”