U.S. men should play it safe in Stuttgart

The U.S. men have a very simple mission in Stuttgart: Stand up.

To be more specific, stand up and place in the top 12.

We’re not talking podium. We’re not talking medals. Sure, those would be nice too, but better than that would be the knowledge that the reigning Olympic silver medalists will be sending a full team to Beijing next summer.

Which brings us back to the standing up part.

Simply put, the U.S. men have to do better than they did at the National Championships two weeks ago, to say nothing of the debacle that led to its 13th-place finish at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark. A lot has been said about off nights, the fact that rings specialist Kevin Tan got food poisoning and scored a full two points lower than he’s shown himself to be capable of and how the team was less than a point away from making the top eight. Fewer excuses have been made for San Jose.

Jonathan Horton and the U.S. men have high hopes for the 2007 World Championships, which begin Sept. 1.

There’s no question the U.S. men throw big skills. Too big, perhaps. Just ask Justin Spring, who tore his ACL and took himself off the World team after attempting a double-twisting Kasamatsu vault at the U.S. Championships. Or Sasha Artemev, who tried to become the first man in history to land a triple-twisting Yurchenko. If they want to qualify for the Olympics, they had best use the route that David Durante took to winning his first national championship: clean, consistent gymnastics.

If that means Artemev downgrades to a 2.5 Yurchenko (or even a double), so be it. If it means Jonathan Horton doesn’t go all out on high bar, fine.

Because these guys deserve the opportunity to wow the Olympic crowd on the big stage in Beijing. They deserve a shot at the podium there too.

Let’s hope they don’t forget that they have to walk before they can run.

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