In Olympic team finals, each country fields three athletes in six mandatory events: the floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. Because all three gymnasts’ scores count, a country is best served by having three technically and mentally sound performers on each apparatus rather than a few high-strung stars. That should have served the U.S. men well, based on their solid showing in qualifying. But Monday, only Horton and Jake Dalton, who competed in the fewest events, avoided costly errors.
In the interviews that followed, none of the U.S. gymnasts said they had been nervous or felt paralyzed by the pressure and the stage. With only slight variation, they chalked up their poor performance to an “off day,” as if the outcome could have been different on another day.
“I don’t think we were all super-nervous or anything like that,” said Leyva, 20, of Miami. “I honestly think we all had somewhat of an off day. It wasn’t our day today. It’s all right. We’re going to use this as fuel for the next time.”
The pity is, Olympic finals come but once every four years — a fact that seemed to elude this young U.S. team. And there’s no certainty that any one of them will qualify for Brazil in 2016.
No Olympic athlete wants to leave the Games without a medal, but it’s a disappointment most manage to bear as long as they know they performed their best. What’s unbearable, veteran athletes say, is to leave an Olympics knowing that you failed to do your best. And that’s the burden some of these American gymnasts will bear for another four years, assuming they’re fortunate enough to return in 2016, or longer, if this is their finale.
“Right now, it’s over,” Orozco said. “I don’t feel fantastic about it. All I can do is look forward to the future.”