U.S. Olympic gymnast Jonathan Horton, 26, is determined to win a gold medal at the upcoming London Games, after taking home a silver in high bar and a bronze in team competition at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. But something else is driving Horton to succeed in London.
He calls men's gymnastics a "dying sport." The Olympian says the sport is losing participants on the college and club levels. But he is confident it will regain popularity if the U.S. team wins a gold medal in London.
"It motivates me every single day to know that we haven't won a gold medal for the United States men's gymnastics team ever," said Horton. "And if I can be a part of that history making and help our men's sport grow, people will see that men's gymnastics is a great sport to be a part of and maybe the collegiate level, which I think is so important, it's so close to my heart, can grow again. I'm a true believer that if people just saw something great at the Olympics, saw us win, then it could really just explode gymnastics into a great sport again."
Winning the gold will not be easy for the U.S. team. Gymnastics powerhouses China and Japan are the favorites to finish first in the team competition.
China won the gold and Japan the silver in the Olympics four years ago. The Chinese return Beijing rings gold medalist Chen Yibing, while the Japanese are led by three-time all-around world champion Kohei Uchimura.
That is fine with the Horton, who says he relishes being the underdog.
"People think that China and Japan are probably going to win, but that's the position we want to be in," said Horton. "We want people to kind of doubt us because when you put our scores and what we're capable of on paper, we're just as good as those two teams. It's going to come down to what team has the better day in the team finals. And I think that just our heart and our passion, everything's going to come out on that day, and we're all going to have great performances."
The U.S. team is counting heavily on Horton, the only American male gymnast to win a medal in an individual event in Beijing.
In addition to his Olympic feats, Horton is a 2010 World all-around bronze medalist, a two-time U.S. National all-around champion, and a 17-time medalist at the U.S. National Championships.
He sees himself better prepared mentally for the London Games than he was in Beijing.
"I'm older; I'm more experienced. And I kind of know what to expect now," said Horton. "For Beijing, it was my first Olympics ever, [I] went into it kind of blind, didn't know what was going on and didn't understand the whole Olympic hype and everything."
Horton began learning gymnastics at age four. He competed at the University of Oklahoma and came to be known as a daredevil.
Lately, he has been focusing on fine-tuning his skills and not just going for the "wow" factor, but that desire to go wild still exists.
"I'm still kind of crazy," he admitted. "I just always enjoyed that adrenalin rush. I used to jump off the roof of our garage. I used to climb the doorframes at my parents' house. Now I'm not much different. I do double back flips over a high bar and catch it and ride motorcycles for fun. I'm an adrenalin junkie. That's just what I am. The sport was just perfect for me."
Jonathan Horton says he will be at full intensity at the London Olympics, where he hopes to take his abilities to a new level.