LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. gymnast John Orozco endured successive disasters as the United States slumped to finish fifth in Monday's team final, two days after raising hopes of gold by qualifying in first place.
Orozco, the fourth best all-round gymnast in Saturday's qualifying, faltered twice on the pommel horse, briefly sitting down, and then fell on his vault.
He was taken aside by his coach for a pep talk after the pommel, and looked tearful following the vault, but recovered to complete strong routines in the parallel bars and horizontal bar.
It was a disappointing day for the Americans, who found themselves languishing in eighth and last place at the halfway stage of the competition. Though they clawed back three places on the last three rotations, they never looked like capturing the medals, which went to China, Japan and Britain.
"After the vault, for me it was like: 'That's two routines I already destroyed.' I wasn't feeling great personally," Orozco told reporters, admitting he "wasn't exactly confident" as he approached the board.
The 19-year-old from the Bronx scored 12.733 for the horse and 14.600 for the vault, in a sport where an outstanding mark is around 16 or over. With his team mates, he now has two days to pick himself up before the individual finals.
"Right now it's over, I don't feel fantastic about it, but all I can do is look forward to the future," he said.
Reflecting on the worst U.S. men's team result at the Olympics since coming fifth at Sydney in 2000, trainer Kevin Mazeika told reporters: "It was just one of those days. It's sport, and that stuff happens."
With strength across all disciplines, the Americans had been hoping for their first team gold since Los Angeles in 1984, but as on previous occasions, the pommel horse proved their nemesis.
Danell Leyva, the top all-around individual qualifier, promised the team would draw motivation from Monday's setback.
"We're going to use this as fuel," he said.
"Of course it's real easy to just sit back and mope and be depressed about what happened. But what we're about - not only me, I know the rest of these guys and the rest of the U.S. in any sport - we're about getting back up and fighting even harder and showing that's not all we can do."
Head of USA Gymnastics Steve Penny said the team had paid the price for a poor start. "Little mistakes become big mistakes at the Olympic Games, and they're hard to overcome when you've got all these great teams."
He predicted the team would rally in time for Wednesday.
"When you have an event like this today, you're motivated to come back and prove you're better than what you showed today. Our guys know that they're better than fifth place."
Editing by Alison Wildey