U.S. men’s gymnastics team sets medal goals after hard talk

Yul Moldauer, Sam Mikulak
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BOSTON — The U.S. men’s gymnastics team gathered in May for what director Brett McClure called “a hard discussion.”

The topic? Goals and accountability through the 2020 Olympics. McClure wants a team medal in Tokyo.

“Absolutely,” McClure said on the eve of the U.S. Championships at TD Garden on Wednesday. “We want to win a team medal at the world championships this year.”

This marks the first year of the Olympic cycle with a team event at the world championships. The U.S. men finished fifth at the last world championships in 2015 and at the Olympics in 2016, their first time off the podium in back-to-back global competitions since 2006 and 2007.

That led to major changes.

McClure, a 2004 Olympic team silver medalist, replaced Kevin Mazeika as the leader of the men’s program six months after Rio. A quartet of two-time Olympians retired — Jake DaltonJonathan HortonDanell Leyva and John Orozco — all of them individual medalists at the Olympics or worlds.

“We had over half of our senior national team retire,” McClure said. “This is a brand-new group.”

With a brand-new mindset at nationals, a two-day meet (Thursday and Saturday for the men; Friday and Sunday for the women). A TV and streaming schedule is here.

In a change, the five-man roster for October’s world championships in Doha will not be named this weekend.

The U.S. men adopted something similar to a longtime U.S. women’s team procedure — a later selection camp — with a two-month break between nationals and worlds.

Up to eight men will be chosen after nationals for the September camp, which will count just as much to the selection committee as nationals.

Expect Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer to be there. The two-time Olympian Mikulak won every U.S. all-around title the last Olympic cycle. He ceded the crown to Moldauer last year, competing in a limited fashion after a torn Achilles, but plans a full slate this week.

Both of them are the front-runners, without question,” NBC Sports analyst Tim Daggett said.

Moldauer, then a University of Oklahoma junior, proved he belonged at the world champs last October. In his first worlds, Moldauer did what Mikulak could not in two Olympics and three prior world championships — earn an individual medal (bronze on floor exercise).

Moldauer made that podium despite having the least-difficult routine of the eight men in the final. Difficulty — or start value — scores were emphasized by McClure.

“The difficulty is not quite up at the top of the world,” he said. “This young U.S. team is trying to find their way. … Our start values are a lot lower than China, Japan, even Russia.”

A team medal at the world championships would not only keep the U.S. from a full-fledged drought, but also qualify a men’s team for the Olympics a year earlier than usual.

Mikulak in particular is motivated by international medals. The only Olympian in this week’s field, he is one of the greatest U.S. gymnasts of all time without a single individual Olympic or world medal.

“Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire,” said Mikulak, a 25-year-old who plans to compete through Tokyo 2020, then maybe take it year by year.

This week, Mikulak can become the first man to win five U.S. all-around titles since Blaine Wilson from 1996-2000.

Wilson was a three-time Olympian, like Mikulak aspires to be. Wilson also earned no individual international medals, but he went out on a high with a team bronze at Athens 2004, a team that included McClure.

“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more,” Mikulak said, “and if this [U.S.] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the men’s selection camp is closed-doors. 

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