Who will make U.S. men’s gymnastics team for worlds?

Leave a comment

Three thoughts after the first of two days of men’s competition at the P&G Championships …

1. Get to know Yul Moldauer

Moldauer, born in Seoul and adopted, leads the all-around decisively at the halfway point. He’s up by 1.95 points over NCAA rival Akash Modi going into Saturday’s final day in Anaheim (TV/streaming info here).

It’s no surprise. Not only did Moldauer win the AT&T American Cup (over Olympic silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev) on March 4, but zero Olympians are competing in the all-around this week.

The rising University of Oklahoma junior can fall on Saturday and still win the national title. He can fall multiple times and still make the six-man world championships team, which is chosen by a committee within 24 hours of the last routine Saturday.

Moldauer, 20, likely wasn’t mentioned once during Rio Olympic coverage. He was fifth in the all-around at the 2016 P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. He didn’t make the five-man Olympic team. He wasn’t even one of the three alternates. Moldauer was young, coming off an NCAA all-around title as a freshman. His Olympics would be Tokyo, not Rio.

You know Moldauer has done well if his hair is wilder than his clean gymnastics. Rather than pure strength, he admires the artistic style of 2008 Olympian Sasha Artemev, one of his coaches before enrolling at OU.

“I’m small,” the 5-foot-3 Moldauer said, “quick and sharp.”

Another six clean routines Saturday, and Moldauer is off to October’s worlds in Montreal as one of a possible two U.S. all-arounders.

P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates

2. Will there be a second all-arounder?

It’s looking like Modi or nobody at this point. The worlds in a post-Olympic year do not include a team competition, so the selection committee must decide how many of its six spots should be used on all arounders and how many on one- or two-event specialists.

In 2009, the U.S. put two men in the all-around at worlds, leaving one spot per apparatus for a specialist. In 2013, the U.S put one man in the world all-around, creating two spots per apparatus for specialists. (A nation can’t enter more than three athletes per apparatus in qualification)

Barring disaster Saturday, Modi should go to worlds in one role or another. The Olympic alternate has beaten Moldauer this year — winning the NCAA all-around title for Stanford — and came into Anaheim as a 1B to Moldauer’s 1A with the potential for more difficult routines. But Modi’s title hopes may have been dashed on his second of 12 events this weekend. He fell off pommel horse Thursday.

3. The rest of the world team?

If Moldauer and Modi are penciled in, four spots are left.

Tack on Alex Naddour, the only man in Anaheim with an Olympic medal. He took pommel horse bronze in Rio and had the highest score on the apparatus on Thursday by nearly half a point.

Two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak is not going for his fifth straight U.S. all-around title this week. He’s still coming back from a February torn Achilles. That means just two events this weekend — high bar and pommel horse. Mikulak is most valuable on the former, where he would have had the highest score Thursday if not for a half-point deduction for putting an extra, eight-inch mat down as a precautionary measure to soften his landing. What’s more, Mikulak wasn’t cleared to perform on high bar until one week ago.

Donnell Whittenburg, who made the last two world teams but not the Olympic one, leads on still rings and is capable of two monster vaults. His struggles on pommel horse and high bar Thursday shouldn’t cost him at all. He’s also tops on parallel bars aside from Moldauer and Modi.

After those five men, the clear hole is left on floor exercise. Whittenburg was once an asset here, but both Colin VanWicklen (14.6) and Eddie Penev (14.55) outscored him Thursday. VanWicklen, 21, just finished his senior year at Oklahoma. Penev, 27, is looking for his fourth worlds appearance and first since 2010, when he represented Bulgaria. The better man on Saturday might just win a trip to Montreal.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. men hit reset at P&G Championships

John-Henry Krueger makes Olympics, four years after swine flu

Leave a comment

Four years ago, John-Henry Krueger spent Friday night and early Saturday morning at the Olympic Trials lying on an apartment bathroom floor, unable to keep food down due to swine flu.

Tonight, Krueger celebrates his first Olympic short track speed skating berth.

“The win today in spite of what happened four years ago just made the victory that much sweeter,” Krueger said on NBCSN.

He topped the 1500m at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, to become the first of five men to qualify for PyeongChang this weekend.

Krueger was second in the first of two 1500m races behind three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski.

Celski went into the second and final 1500m as the favorite but slipped and fell with a lap and a half left.

Krueger won the race and moved ahead of Celski in the overall standings for the one Olympic berth available.

Celski will have more chances Saturday and Sunday to get one of the last four Olympic men’s spots.

Vancouver Olympian Lana Gehring swept her 1500m races to become the first woman to make the PyeongChang team.

Gehring, 27, held off Jessica Kooreman by .113 of a second in the second 1500m final to clinch the spot. Kooreman was later disqualified.

Gehring failed to make the Sochi Olympic team, retired, unretired in late 2015 to try long-track speed skating, then switched back to short track this year.

In 2014, the U.S. won zero individual short track medals at an Olympics for just the second time since the sport debuted at Albertville 1992.

Celski and Kooreman came the closest to the podium, each picking up a fourth-place finish.

Individual medal prospects in the six events in PyeongChang are not great.

The U.S. bagged one individual World Cup medal this season in 24 total races — a bronze from Celski.

Krueger leads the program with five individual World Cup medals since Sochi, one coming in the last three years.

In 2013, he also won a World Cup medal and was a favorite to get to Sochi. But he came down with swine flu the week of trials.

He fought, even finishing second in a race on the final day, but didn’t have enough strength to make the Olympic team.

“All the lovely side effects that come with swine flu,” Krueger, who now lives and trains in the Netherlands, said earlier this fall. “I had all the classic symptoms of that.”

The best hope in PyeongChang may be the men’s relay, where the U.S. made the podium at the last three Olympics.

A U.S. quartet anchored by Celski and including Krueger broke the world record last month.

The four men who will join Krueger in PyeongChang will be decided the next two days in Utah.

The top finishers in the 500m (Saturday) and 1000m (Sunday) are guaranteed Olympic berths.

The U.S. women did not qualify an Olympic relay, but the 500m and 1000m winners will join Gehring in PyeongChang for individual races. If Gehring wins either distance, then a runner-up in one of the distances will qualify.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

Chloe Kim qualifies for U.S. Olympic snowboard team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — In 2014, Chloe Kim ranked high enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in snowboard halfpipe, but she was too young to compete at the Winter Games.

Four years later, she’ll finally have the opportunity to represent the red, white and blue at the Olympics.

Kim won her second straight Olympic qualifier, which will secure her nomination to the U.S. halfpipe team. The 17-year-old, who is the only woman currently capable of landing back-to-back 1080s, is considered the gold medal favorite for PyeongChang 2018.

“It seems like a dream almost, and I’m trying to wake up,” Kim said of earning her spot on the Olympic team. “I think today when I get home, it’s going to sink in, and I’m probably going to cry.”

With the pressure of Olympic qualifying over with, Kim says that cleaning up her cab 1080s will be a primary focus as she prepares for PyeongChang.

Who will join Kim on the women’s halfpipe team remains up in the air, though Kelly Clark is in good shape after a third at the Copper Grand Prix and a second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, which hosted Friday’s qualifier.

The three-time Olympic medalist crashed on her first two runs in the final and needed to be checked out by the medical staff after hitting the deck on a frontside 1080 attempt on Run 2. With a bandage on her nose, she came back undeterred in Run 3, landed the frontside 1080 and got onto the podium.

“These are Olympic qualifying events, and me ending up in the middle of the pack isn’t really going to benefit me,” Clark said. “I have one shot, so I went for it.”

The men’s halfpipe competition produced a surprise winner in 19-year-old Jake Pates, who outdueled not just his own U.S. teammates but also a stacked field of international riders.

Pates came out firing on his third and final run, putting down a sequence of tricks that ended with a unique variation on the double McTwist 1260 made famous by Shaun White. Instead of doing a standard grab, Pates executed a tail grab on the trick that added extra difficulty and clearly caught the eye of the judges.

“That was a trick I’ve been wanting to do forever,” Pates said of the double McTwist, which he had never landed in a contest before. “Seriously, I saw that happen when I was, like, 8 years old. I saw that happen at X Games and it was crazy.”

According to Pates, it was just the fourth time he had ever landed the trick on snow.

With such a stacked group of riders on the U.S. team, Pates was mostly overlooked when it came to Olympic qualifying favorites. Now he’s suddenly in the discussion as a possible medal contender.

“I never thought in a million years I would have won this event today,” he said. “I just wanted to land that run, actually I’ve never done that before. I’ve been dreaming about that all week.”

Ben Ferguson, who was the top American at the first selection event, took a strong step toward making his first Olympic team as well by finishing third overall and second among Americans in Breckenridge. He and Pates will both be in position to potentially secure their spots on the team at the next qualifier.

“For every other American out there, there is another level of pressure we’ve got to deal with doing these [Olympic qualifiers],” Ferguson said afterward. “And for me, doing well in these last two has kind of pulled some of that pressure off and relieved a little bit of anxiety, and I can just focus on having fun more.”

Aside from helping to shape the U.S. Olympic team, the men’s halfpipe competition in Breckenridge also provided a showcase of international stars who will be in the mix for medals in PyeongChang.

Scotty James of Australia unveiled a new run which included back-to-back double cork 1260s and a switch backside 900. It was a very technical run which earned him a massive score and would have given him the victory were it not for Pates stepping it up at the very end.

Also standing out was Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. The Sochi silver medalist started his run off with a massive indy air before going into a difficult sequence of tricks that included a frontside double cork 1440 and frontside double cork 1260. He finished in fourth.

Absent from the men’s field was White, the two-time Olympic gold medalist. White was unable to put down a clean run amid snowy conditions during Thursday’s qualifying round and therefore failed to advance to the final.

Despite the disappointing result, White is still in good shape when it comes to Olympic qualifying. He was second among U.S. riders at the first selection event and still has two qualifying events left.

Up to three spots on the U.S. team for both men and women will be allocated through automatic qualification. In order to be eligible, riders need a top-three finish at one of the selection events. Each rider’s two best results will be used as a tiebreaker.

There are two selection events remaining for snowboard halfpipe, and they will both take place in January.

Olympic qualifying for snowboard and freeski slopestyle resumes Saturday in Breckenridge.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800*
2. Jake Pates — 1,320*
3. Danny Davis — 1,200
4. Shaun White — 1,120*
5. Gabe Ferguson — 950
5. Chase Josey — 950

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,400*
3. Maddie Mastro — 1,300*
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100*
5. Elena Hight — 850
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.