Men's gymnastics: Trio of Sooners make Team USA for Rio Olympics
ST. LOUIS – The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials came to a close on June 25 and when the dust had settled three former Sooner gymnasts had earned a place on Team USA to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Chris Brooks, Jake Dalton and Alex Naddour were all selected to the five-man squad by the U.S. Olympic Committee after their performances at the trials in the P&G Championships two weeks ago. Including the 2012 Games in London, five of the last 10 Olympics positions for Team USA have been filled by Sooners.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” head coach Mark Williams said. “I am excited about the journey ahead and with three Sooners in the Games, that’s an amazing thing. These guys work hard, do the right things and this is just really exciting.”
Dalton, who still trains at the Sam Viersen Center in Norman under Williams, is making his second Olympic appearance, having also competed in London in 2012. Dalton finished the Trials third in the all-around competition with a four-day total of 356.075. He placed first on floor and vault and third on rings at the Trials. Dalton’s ability to hit extremely difficult floor and vault sets with great consistency will be a huge asset for Team USA.
“This feels great,” Dalton said. “We have an amazing squad and that’s one of the first things we said, ‘time to get to work’. I was just trusting everything I’ve done in the gym. I put training first, competing first and everything was focused on this. I just wanted to go out and be consistent and I’m happy with how it went.”
Brooks and Naddour are both making their Olympic debuts. Both gymnasts were alternates for the 2012 Games and having gotten so close to the Olympic dream four years ago, Saturday’s result was extra sweet.
“Everything was for my family,” an emotional Naddour said after the meet. “It was a team effort with a lot of help from my family. My wife sleeping on the other side of the house with the baby so I could get my rest and train. I’m just happy. This has been my goal since I was a kid. I had to sit on the sidelines in 2012. It hasn’t been four years, it’s been my whole life of training. This is everything I have wanted and more.”
Brooks, who has had to overcome a myriad of injuries over the last four years, finished second in the all-around with a total of 358.075 after four days of gymnastics. He also placed first on parallel bars and high bar and fifth on vault at the Trials. Brooks is the oldest U.S. Olympian at 29 years old. He went 24-for-24 over the four-days of scoring and his competitive nature and mental toughness will surely make him a team leader.
“It’s an overwhelming sensation,” Brooks said. “I am so thankful for everyone that has helped me along the way. This is for them, this is for my coaches, friends, family, my dad, everything.”
Naddour did not compete in the all-around but he was brilliant on his five events. He placed third on pommel horse, fourth on vault and sixth on floor at the Trials. Naddour’s ability on pommel horse will be key for Team USA as the event is likely to be the team’s weakest.
“I’m just really excited for those guys, especially for Chris to finally get his opportunity,” Williams said. “Alex earned it this time. For those guys to get it after being alternates—they worked their butts off and now they are representing the U.S.A. in the Olympic Games”
The Sooners’ trio will now try to snap Team USA’s 32-year gold medal drought. The U.S. last won team gold in 1984 when Sooner legend Bart Conner led the team to the top of the podium and also took the gold as an individual on the parallel bars.
Gymnastics is one of the first sports in competition in Rio. The men’s competition will begin with qualifying on Friday, Aug. 5 and conclude with the all-around finals on Wednesday, Aug. 10 with all events being aired on NBC.