Jun 07 Gymnasts come together in St. Louis

By Chros McDougall | June 07, 2012, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
John Orozco
John Orozco is just one among many stars who will meet this weekend in St. Louis

Visa Championships
Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis
June 7-10

Thursday
Junior Men Round 1 – 1 p.m.
Senior Men Round 1 – 6:30 p.m.

Friday
Junior Women Round 1 – 1 p.m.
Senior Women Round 1 – 6:30 p.m. (Universal Sports)

Saturday
Senior Men Round 2 – 11:30 a.m. (NBC Sports)
Junior Men Round 2 – 6:30 p.m.

Sunday
Junior Women Round 2 – 10 a.m.
Senior Women Round 2 – 2:30 p.m. (NBC Sports)

* All times in CDT

The road to London for American gymnasts stops in St. Louis this weekend for the Visa Championships.

The meet, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, is held annually to name the U.S. gymnastics champions. But in this Olympic year, the Visa Championships takes on an expanded role as the top athletes in St. Louis are selected to move on to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which take place June 28-July 1 in San Jose, Calif.

From there, USA Gymnastics will select the five men and five women to bring to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Who’s There?

Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis will have no shortage of stars. And with only five gymnasts making each Olympic team in 2012 — down from six in 2008 — the competition for an Olympic berth should be as tight as ever.

All eyes will be on Nastia Liukin. The 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist is back after nearly three years away from competition and hoping to make the U.S. Olympic Team in the balance beam and uneven bars. Two of her teammates from Beijing, Bridget Sloan (the 2009 world all-around champion) and Alicia Sacramone (the 2010 world vault champion), will join Liukin in St. Louis, as will longtime stalwart Rebecca Bross, a two-time world all-around medalist, who is back after dislocating her knee last summer at the 2011 Visa Championships.

A trip to the Olympic Games is hardly guaranteed for the veterans. A new generation of gymnasts, led by 16-year-old Jordyn Wieber, went into Tokyo last October and came home with the United States’ first world team championship since 2007. Wieber was the star, winning the world all-around title in her first year as a senior. But teammates Aly Raisman (fourth in all-around) and Gabby Douglas could also challenge for the U.S. all-around title. McKayla Maroney, who won the world vault title, and Sabrina Vega figure to be strong contenders for the U.S. Olympic Team as well. (Sacramone was also on the world team but could not compete due to injury.)

Two big names who won’t be competing in St. Louis are 2008 Olympians Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel. Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist in balance beam, called it a career on Sunday after a lingering knee injury failed to improve. Memmel, the 2005 world all-around champion, came back from a February shoulder surgery to compete at the Secret U.S. Classic on May 26, but she fell twice on her balance beam routine and did not score high enough to advance to the Visa Championships.

On the men’s side, the trio of Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva and John Orozco is expected to make the most headlines. Horton, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in high bar, is the bona fide leader for the U.S. men. But Leyva supplanted Horton as the U.S. all-around champion in a breakout 2011, and the 19-year-old Orozco is very much on the rise as well, having won the all-around title at the 2012 Winter Cup and National Qualifier meet.

After Horton and his 2008 teammates earned an Olympic bronze medal in Beijing, the U.S. men are openly gunning for a gold medal in 2012. Among the other names who could help do that are Jake Dalton, Steven Legendre and Alex Naddour, who teamed with the aforementioned trio to win a team bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships. Worlds alternate Chris Brooks, still rings ace Brandon Wynn and 2011 Pan American Games high bar champion Paul Ruggeri are among the other challengers.

What does it all mean?

Getting to St. Louis is just one step in a long process to name the 2012 U.S. Olympic Teams. Next up are the all-important Olympic Trials three weeks down the road in San Jose.

Officially, 43 men and 23 women will compete at the Visa Championships. To move on to San Jose, those gymnasts will need to perform well enough in St. Louis to make their respective national teams. There’s no set number of athletes who will make the national teams — it’s expected to be about 15 men and 20 women — but a selection committee will determine the squads at the Visa Championships and the national teams will be introduced following the weekend’s competitions.

From there, it’s on to San Jose for another intense round of gymnastics. And in a change from 2004 and 2008, USA Gymnastics will name the both 2012 U.S. Olympic Teams during the July 1 broadcast at the Olympic Trials.

How can I see it?

For those who can’t be in St. Louis, most of the action will be available live either on TV or webcast. NBC Sports will broadcast both weekend rounds, starting with the men on Saturday (noon to 2:30 p.m. CDT) and the women on Sunday (3 p.m.-5 p.m. CDT). Universal Sports will also carry the women’s first round on Friday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., both on TV and its website, universalsports.com.

Tickets to the event are still on sale by phone at 314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949, online at www.thechaifetzarena.com, or at the Chaifetz Arena Box Office.

In addition, USA Gymnastics will provide video coverage of the men’s prelims and the junior competitions on its YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, TeamUSA.org will be on site in St. Louis. Check our website, Facebook/USOlympicTeam and Twitter/USOlympic for instant updates. USA Gymnastics encourages any tweets about the Visa Championships to include the hashtag: #VisaChamps.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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