The Olympic trials will truly be that for U.S. gymnasts.
For the first time since 2000, both the men's and women's teams will be named at the Olympic trials, which will be held June 28-July 1 in San Jose. For the Athens and Beijing Games, most of the women's team was picked at a selection camp a few weeks after trials.
"Basically it comes down to timing," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said Wednesday. "The bottom line is the timing is conducive to selecting a full team because there are only a few weeks between the dates of our trials and the Olympic Games. We're very excited about the fact we'll leave San Jose with full teams."
Using scores from both the national championships, held June 7-10 in St. Louis, and the Olympic trials, the top two men automatically make the London team -- provided they also are in the top three on three of the six events. The winner of the women's all-around competition at trials automatically qualifies for the team. The men's and women's selection committees then will choose the remaining members of the five-person teams, as well as three alternates for each team. Penny said both squads will be announced July 1 during the NBC broadcast.
The women will not allow direct petitions to the Olympic team. The men will allow injury petitions but only for 2008 Olympians or those who were members of the 2009, 2010 or 2011 world championship squads.
"We're very, very confident we're going to have the strongest possible team with this selection process," Penny said.
Because there were big gaps between the end of trials and the start of both the Athens and Beijing Olympics, women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi preferred to have a selection camp closer to the start of the games so she could pick the healthiest and most competitive team. And it's hard to argue with her methods.
The U.S. has produced the last two all-around champions, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin, and was the silver medalist in both Athens and Beijing. The eight medals won by the U.S. women in Beijing was their most ever at a non-boycotted games.
But the quick turnaround this summer leaves no time for a selection camp. The opening ceremony is July 27, and the gymnastics competition begins the next day. Men's qualification is July 28, with the women on July 29.
"Martha's been agreeable because she understands that there's just not a lot of options when you're this close to the Olympic Games," Penny said. "By the time you turn around, you're heading to London anyway."
Picking either team won't be easy. The size of teams has been reduced from six gymnasts to five, and the U.S. is deeper than it has ever been. The U.S. women won three gold medals at last fall's world championships, including the team title and Jordyn Wieber's all-around crown. Reigning Olympic champion Liukin is making a comeback, as are former world champions Shawn Johnson, Bridget Sloan and Chellsie Memmel. Rebecca Bross, who has two world all-around medals, also is expected back from a knee injury.
The men, meanwhile, won the bronze medal at worlds, their first since 2003, and Danell Leyva won the title on parallel bars. They also expect to get Athens Olympic champion Paul Hamm back.
Hamm came out of retirement for a second time in the summer of 2010 but missed last year's national championships with a shoulder injury. He also is dealing with an assault case in Ohio after being arrested in June on charges he kicked a cab driver, damaged a taxi window and refused to pay a $23 fare. Hamm has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Hamm is still training, and Penny said there is nothing that would prohibit him from competing at nationals and Olympic trials.
"I think Paul is most concerned about trying to resolve the legal matters that he has right now," Penny said. "In our most recent conversations, I felt Paul was approaching this in a very responsible and mature manner. He and his team are working closely to try to resolve the matter, and he's very eager to get it behind him."