By John Powers
The U.S. men’s gymnastics squad shook off a few wobbly routines and got most of what they came for at Friday night’s Pacific Rim Championships presented by Hershey’s in Everett, Wash., winning the team title for the fifth straight time by more than eight points over China and putting Donnell Whittenburg and Sam Mikulak on the podium behind all-around victor Cai Weifeng.
"The goal was to come out and win the team so thankfully we accomplished that," said Mikulak after the Americans had posted a score of 355.950 to China’s 347.400 with Canada taking the bronze with 333.200. "We would have liked to do it with a little more pizazz. But the biggest takeaway that you can get from this competition is even though we had a lot of mistakes, we never looked back. We never defeated ourselves. We just looked to the next event, kept a very upbeat vibe."
The U.S. won five of the six rotations (all but pommel horse) and placed four men in the top five with former champion John Orozco and Alex Naddour finishing behind Mikulak. Had Whittenburg, who posted the highest scores on rings and parallel bars, not slid out of bounds on floor, he would have taken the gold. "I got a little gassed out during the routine," he said. "But that means I need to get in the gym and do more numbers."
There’ll be ample time for that before the P&G Gymnastics Championships in Hartford and the Olympic Trials in St. Louis in June. "We were definitely rough," said national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika. "The positives were that we got some guys back out there and we got through healthy."
Jake Dalton, who missed last year’s nationals with a shoulder injury, tied for first in floor with teammate Eddie Penev and for second on high bar with Whittenburg and was third on rings. And Orozco, on the comeback trail after re-tearing his Achilles last June, won on high bar and was second on rings.
With no other international team competitions before the Games, the U.S. athletes wanted to make the most of an opportunity to stand together on the award stand. "We definitely wanted to get that team unity," said Whittenburg. "We wanted to go out and have fun as a team and get the USA bond before we send a team down there."
Rarely have the Americans had as many seasoned candidates for the five spots on the Olympic squad. "It’s going to be a dogfight for sure," observed Mazeika. "The depth is incredible right now. It’s going to come down to consistency. This is a good competition to use as a stepping stone and the guys will be just that more prepared."