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Pressure is on at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials

Pressure is on at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials
Sam Mikulak competes on the rings during day one of the 2016 men's gymnastics U.S. Olympic Trials. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

Coping mechanisms at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials might as well be featured in a menu filled with abundant, even lavish, choices.

The section could fill a few pages. The men stepped up first — starting with Thursday's first day of competition here — and their ways of handling the pressure were understandably diverse.

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Reigning national champion Sam Mikulak had to make a midcourse coping correction when he started slowly with issues in his first two events, landing on his rear on his parallel bars dismount and making two errors on his high bar routine.

Even an experienced champion can let his mind race.

"I think I let this whole trials thing get to me a little too much," he said. "Instead of just doing the gymnastics I trust and believe, I started thinking ahead a little bit too much.

"It's something I've learned before. I guess I got another reminder. I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen the second day."

Still, it wasn't costly.

He turned it around on the third event — the floor exercise — and put up the top score of the night for that discipline.

Thursday was the first day of two days of trials for the men, and the selection committee will be using the combined results from St. Louis and the national event in Hartford, Conn., from earlier in the month to pick the five-man team and alternates.

Roster spots could not be clinched Thursday because of the wildly complex nature of the qualifying, but a subpar result could mean a serious uphill climb.

The top three gymnasts on the first night of the trials were Mikulak (90.650 points), Chris Brooks (89.175) and Danell Leyva (88.725). The final day of Olympic qualifying for the men is Saturday. Leyva, the bronze medalist in the all-around at the 2012 Olympics, had a nice bounce-back effort after having been in 16th place after Hartford.

But everyone is chasing the Orange County native, Mikulak, who properly channeled his emotions just in time in St. Louis.

"I was definitely mad," Mikulak said. "It was time to put on a show because that's the gymnastics I've been wanting to put on for quite some time. I finally felt my groove, felt my rhythm and started really putting on the performance I wanted. It just took a tweak in the mind a little bit."

The gymnast in second place is the 29-year-old Brooks, who is the nearly man of the Olympics. He was an alternate in 2012 and gutted it out here, in particular, on his pommel horse routine.

Brooks said his forearms were cramping up on the horse.

"This is my last shot at an Olympic team," Brooks said. "Leaving no stone unturned. Just going out there and laying it out there on the floor.

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"You can feel it in the air. It's a little more intense, people are stepping up their game. It's the Olympic trials."

Said Mikulak: "I can definitely see him being there. That kid is loaded with talent. He's a competitor before anything else. That kid knows how to step up."

The selection process is so complex and so tight that even someone like John Orozco, who is in 17th place, is not out of the running for a spot. Orozco had opted not to speak to the media here this week and spoke only to an official from USA Gymnastics about his performance Thursday.

Orozco, who suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in June 2015, did speak with reporters at the nationals in Hartford, where he was 10th in the all-around standings. The Olympic team member from 2012 lost his mother, Damaris, last year, and he spoke movingly about her during the Olympic summit in Los Angeles in March.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter: @reallisa

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