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.
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.
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