U.S. men’s gymnasts shake off “disaster” to qualify for Olympics

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It wasn’t pretty, but the U.S. men earned enough points Monday in Stuttgart, Germany, to qualify for the men’s team final at the world championships and clinch a berth in the 2020 Olympics.

Last year’s silver medalist, Russia, sent a message with a massive performance on the first day of qualifiers Sunday, with 2018 all-around bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy and defending all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan posting scores that held up as the best and second-best by comfortable margins. Russia unsurprisingly finished atop the team qualifications, followed by defending champion China and last year’s third-place team, Japan.

The U.S. men finished seventh, just good enough to qualify for the eight-team final.

GYM WORLDS: Men’s qualifiers into team, individual finals

Monday’s qualification was also imperative for Olympic qualifying. The top nine teams who have not yet already qualified — in other words, the top nine after China, Japan and Russia — booked tickets to Tokyo next year.

But while the U.S. men completed their most important task, their mistakes will keep most of them out of individual events later in the week. Yul Moldauer finished 11th in qualifying to clinch a spot in the all-around. Sam Mikulak barely joined him, finishing 27th in qualifying and only making it to the 24-gymnast final because each country is limited to two participants, the same rule that kept Gabby Douglas out of the 2016 Olympic final.

And the U.S. men only advanced one man to the event finals — Mikulak on the horizontal bar, where he won a bronze medal last year. Moldauer is the second reserve in the floor exercise after finishing 10th.

Mikulak, who also won a team bronze medal at the 2014 world championships, was far from pleased, calling the qualification round “a disaster” for himself and the team.

“I never woke up,” Mikulak said. “That’s the best way I can put it, I don’t know if I just haven’t found my diet right? I thought I was doing everything right, but I just felt so heavy and sluggish today. All these trainings leading up to today, I felt fresh, light and strong; today my feng shui was not where I wanted it to be. It took a couple of events for me to feel right.”

READ: Biles, U.S. women dominate qualifying

The U.S. men started on the floor exercise, where Moldauer earned a score of 14.466 but Mikulak fell twice. Moldauer and Mikulak both fell on the pommel horse, putting the team in a hole.

Trevor Howard‘s solid performance helped to stabilize the team on rings. Mikulak and Moldauer both landed their vaults and broke the 14.5 mark.

Mikulak fell for a fourth time on the parallel bars but still posted a score of 14.333, while Akash Modki hit his routine for a 14.533.

On the horizontal bar, Mikulak finally found his peak form and posted a score of 14.866, which held up as the second-best score of the qualifiers. Shane Wiskus also helped the U.S. team finish strong with a 14.166 on the same apparatus.

Defending team champion China had some surprising struggles in individual events. Xiao Ruoteng fell on the pommel horse, on which he won gold last year, but still finished third in the all-around to earn a chance to improve on his all-around silver medal in 2018. Defending parallel bars champion Zou Jingyuan also will miss out on a chance to defend his title.

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