Yul Moldauer out to early lead at P&G Championships

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Yul Moldauer always believed the time would come when he would be part of the group at the forefront of the U.S. men’s gymnastics program.

The irony is now that the time has finally arrived, Moldauer spends copious amounts of energy focusing on not thinking about the stage or the stakes. Standing on the podium Thursday night during the opening round of the P&G Championships, Moldauer did his best to clear his mind.

So he did what a lot of 20-year-old guys do. He took deep breaths. And he thought about cars.

“Just to get my mind off (the meet) real quick,” Moldauer said. “Then, when my hand raises, I trust my training.”

It’s working. Moldauer put together six steady routines to open up a sizable gap over reigning NCAA all-around champion Akash Modi and give him some serious momentum in his attempt to lock down a spot on the world championships team this fall.

Moldauer, who won the 2016 NCAA all-around title at Oklahoma and the AT&T American Cup earlier this year, posted a score of 86.650, nearly two points clear of Modi at 84.7.

“I’m ready to be one of the bigger guys that the young guys look up to,” Moldauer said. “Knowing that worlds is on the line, it’s a big deal. But you don’t want to let that get to your nerves.”

Moldauer hardly looked nervous while tying for the highest score on parallel bars (14.7) and finishing in the top five on each of the other five events to create some breathing room between himself and the rest of a wide-open field heading into Saturday night’s final round.

“I know I can clean up some things,” Moldauer said. “It’s good knowing I didn’t get my perfect routines tonight so I can focus on what I need to fix going into Day 2.”

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Modi, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team, was every bit Moldauer’s equal save for a skittish performance on pommel horse. Racing through his routine, Modi hopped off in the middle. He regrouped on rings, showing the kind of mental toughness that can be a valuable commodity in high-pressure situations.

“When I’m doing gymnastics, everything stops,” Modi said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just doing what I’m doing. When I was doing my routine on rings, I wasn’t thinking about my horse routine.”

Allan Bower, a teammate of Moldauer’s at Oklahoma, is third. Donnell Whittenburg, an Olympic alternate last summer searching to regain the form that made him an all-around finalist at the 2015 World Championships, struggled on pommel horse but finished with a flourish. His 15 on still rings, his final event, was the best of the night and moved him into fourth.

The men’s program is in the midst of a generational shift as most of the group that served as the core of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams has moved on into retirement. Moldauer, Modi and Bower are in the group leading the next wave, though the veterans still hanging around are hardly done.

Alex Naddour, the Rio Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist, scored 15.3 on his signature event, the best score of the night on any apparatus. Even more impressive? His 14.75 on still rings, a number he put up despite skipping the event for four months to let a strained muscle near his right elbow heal.

Four-time national champion Sam Mikulak, limited to competing on pommel horse and high bar as he works his way back from a torn Achilles, pumped his fist after putting together a solid set on pommels, fueling his hope that he’ll be able to contribute at worlds in Montreal in October.

There is no team competition at worlds, only individual events, giving recently named high performance director Brett McClure and the rest of the selection committee plenty of options as it tries to put together the six-man group that will be announced by the end of the weekend.

Naddour said he’s already putting the puzzle pieces together for how a world championship team might shake out. He certainly looks like he fits. Modi and Moldauer almost certainly do too. McClure’s directness also helps eliminate any sort of gray areas.

“Brett has made it about the numbers,” Modi said. “It doesn’t matter what you do anywhere else, you have to get the numbers.”

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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