By Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News –
Forget the new stars of American gymnastics.
Jonathan Horton, 26, isn’t surrendering anything to John Orozco and Danell Leyva heading to the U.S. Olympic trials that start Thursday in San Jose.
Horton says that he is ready to challenge America’s top gymnasts at the final selection meet that runs through next Sunday at HP Pavilion.
“I’m not just going to concede the title, let those guys just take it away from me,” said Horton, who competed two weeks ago in his first meet since a severe foot injury last year. “I feel like I am one of the top all-arounders in the country.”
He proved that by winning the all-around national title in 2009 and ‘10. But now Horton is considered the comeback story of the U.S. men’s team.
The Houston gymnast is the only returner from the Beijing Games, where he won a silver medal on horizontal bar and helped the United States earn a bronze in team competition.
Horton finished fourth at the Visa national championships recently to earn one of 15 spots in the trials. It was the first time he attempted all six routines in competition since tearing a ligament and breaking two bones in his foot during the 2011 World Championships in Japan.
“I am ready for any all-around competition,” Horton said. “I made some mistakes” at the national meet “literally from a lack of competing. If I hadn’t made those mistakes I would have been right there with John and Danell.”
While Horton wants to be considered one of the country’s top all-around competitors heading into the London Games his primary focus is on winning a team gold medal.
After all, he’s not guaranteed a trip to London just yet. Horton understands he needs to perform 12 more solid routines in San Jose to earn that right.
And he’s not the only gymnast who feels that way.
“I’ve spoken with every guy on national team and we are keeping that word ‘lock’ out of our minds,” Horton said. “It is important to keep your guard up. Every single one of us has to continue to compete like there is no tomorrow.”
Not even Orozco and Leyva, who finished as the top two in the national championships, are assured of making the team.
“They’re walking into the Olympic trials like they have to prove themselves,” Horton said.
In the past America’s best competitors pretty much knew where they stood. But the U.S. men and women are so strong this Olympic cycle the trials are expected to be dripping with drama. USA Gymnastics officials will name five-man teams, plus alternates, in San Jose.
Whatever happens, Horton is glad to have returned despite the long odds of being healthy in time to make a serious challenge.
He suffered the injury while doing a vault last October in Tokyo. Horton limped off thinking he had jammed his foot. Instead, he needed a complicated surgery that put his chances of going to London in doubt.
Horton told his physician he’d recover in a half year when she said it would take at minimum nine months. The gymnast kept to his schedule without risking further injury.
His foot will ache for as long as he competes.
“I have pain but I don’t have any worries,” Horton said. “It’s strong, it’s healed. It’s completely functional.”
The Texan also has regained his love of tumbling after being away for so long. It’s something he doesn’t want to lose while performing in San Jose.
“I don’t really want to control all of that,” Horton said. “When I am nervous and having a great time I do my best.”