- Associated Press - Saturday, July 28, 2012

LONDON — The Americans have insisted for months they can contend for the Olympic title in men’s gymnastics.

Another night like this, and they won’t need to say a word. The color of their medals will do all the talking for them.

While perennial gymnastics powerhouses China and Japan bobbled and wobbled their way through qualifying Saturday, the Americans proved they’ve got the big skills to back up their big hopes. They didn’t count a single fall, and their final score of 275.342 is almost three points ahead of surprising Britain.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make it finish like that,” team captain Jonathan Horton said. “I was actually joking … earlier, ‘Can we just get the medals now?’ But we’ve got one more day to go, and we’re pumped about it.”

The team final is Monday. Since 2000, when scoring began starting anew in the final, only one first-day winner has failed to finish atop the podium.

Japan, the heavy favorite coming into the meet, is third (270.503) after several uncharacteristic errors by three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura. Defending Olympic champion China, which also has won the last five world titles, is fourth (269.985) after its splat-filled day.

“We studied a lot about the American team already,” said Japanese coach Yasunori Tachibana, who sent a scouting party to last month’s Olympic trials. “So we knew it was going to be pretty tough.”

Germany and Russia compete later Saturday.

Unlike qualifying, when teams get to drop their lowest score, there will be no margin of error in Monday’s final. Teams compete three gymnasts on each event, and all three scores count. Botch one routine, and it could be the difference between going home with a gold medal or just a souvenir T-shirt.

But the Americans believe they’re actually better built for that high-risk, high-reward formula, and this performance will only fuel their confidence that they can join Bart Conner and his Golden Gang of ‘84 as the only U.S. teams to win the Olympic title.

Danell Leyva and John Orozco posted the highest individual scores, and the team had the highest total on floor exercise and high bar. They had only three falls the entire day, and counted only four scores below 15. Every American — Leyva, Orozco, Horton, Jake Dalton and Sam Mikulak — is in the running to make at least one individual final.

“Now is when everyone is finally, completely realizing how much we believe in it and today was definite huge proof of that,” Leyva said.

The day didn’t look so promising at the start, when Horton went spinning off pommel horse, his — and the team’s — worst event. But the Americans have an unshakable belief in themselves, and they barely blinked at the miscue. Mikulak, Leyva and Orozco followed with stylish sets more typical of the Japanese or Chinese, and wound up finishing their toughest event in decent shape.

After slowly closing the gap on each event, the Americans finally took the lead with one high bar routine more dazzling than the next.

Orozco set the tone, getting such great air on his release moves he could almost make eye contact with the folks hanging out on the first concourse. Horton was up next. He’s been struggling on high bar the last few months, but there was no cover-your-eyes-and-hide-the-children scariness this time. Once, twice, three times he tossed himself up and over the bar, flipping and twisting before coming down and easily grabbing it.

Story Continues →