The U.S. Olympic Trials for men’s gymnastics, which begin Thursday, mark the end of one generation and, perhaps, the beginning of another.
Sam Mikulak, a record six-time U.S. all-around champion, competes at his final Olympic Trials and likely the last domestic meet of his career. Mikulak, who plans to retire later this year, is the only man in the field with Olympic experience.
The Opening Ceremony is in exactly one month.
Since Rio, two other men emerged to challenge Mikulak. First in 2017, Yul Moldauer, who won that U.S. all-around title when Mikulak was injured and then a world championships bronze medal on floor exercise later that year.
Then, three weeks ago, rising Stanford senior Brody Malone won the all-around in his first senior national championships. He was the first male gymnast to accomplish that feat in more than 35 years.
The U.S. Olympic team of four men, plus a fifth for individual events only, will be named after the second day of competition on Saturday. The all-around champion clinches a spot. The second-place finisher does, too, provided he finishes in the top three on three of the six apparatuses.
The rest are chosen by a committee looking to build a team to bridge the gap to Olympic medal favorites Russia, China and Japan.
A look at 10 contenders …
Six-time U.S. all-around champion
Had the same record as Simone Biles in U.S. Championships all-arounds up until three weeks ago, when he finished third. Mikulak, in his first meet since March 2020, was a rusty seventh on the first day at nationals. There was concern that his status for the Olympic team was something other than a lock. But then he had the best score on the second day, and all was well. Mikulak suffered elbow and wrist injuries during the pandemic and put a limit on his ability, saying he can’t exceed where he was in previous years. That should still be enough to make this team. He can be internationally competitive on high bar, where he earned world bronze in 2018. At 28, the end is near. He is trying to become the first U.S. gymnast to compete in three Olympics since Blaine Wilson in 2004.
2017 U.S. all-around champion
2017 World floor exercise bronze medalist
All-around silver medalist at the last three nationals. Moldauer, too, has dealt with injuries in this Olympic cycle, but he has been the most consistent American throughout. Reliability is key considering the Olympic team event roster cut from five to four, putting a greater emphasis on all-arounders. Born in South Korea, adopted as an infant. He learned from 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Sasha Artemev as a kid in Colorado. Then matriculated at the University of Oklahoma and was guided by Mark Williams, the USA Gymnastics Hall of Famer who coached a man to each of the last four Olympics.
2021 U.S. all-around champion
Two-time NCAA all-around champion
Competed in rodeo — team roping, to be specific — as a kid in four-square-mile Summerville, Georgia. Then flourished as a gymnast at Stanford (13 square miles), while still enjoying frog gigging on trips home. Malone won the 2017 U.S. junior all-around, then missed nationals in 2018 (transition to college) and 2019 (competed at Pan American Games). Still proved himself in big meets, becoming the third freshman to win an NCAA men’s all-around after Mikulak and Moldauer. On the second day of nationals earlier this month, competing with a lead, he bent but didn’t break, posting the second-best score to win by a comfortable 2.75 points overall.
2019 World Championships team member
Three-time NCAA all-around silver medalist
A favorite to make the Olympic team at the start of the year. Malone’s ascent complicates matters. Wiskus finished ninth at nationals, but he was second going into the 11th of 12 events before falling three times off the high bar. At 2019 Worlds, where team event sizes were five, he was the fourth-most-used U.S. gymnast after Mikulak, Moldauer and Akash Modi.
2016 Olympic alternate
Two-time world championships team member
Trying to make his first Olympic team at age 26. Only Mikulak and Moldauer performed on more events in the world championships team final in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016, has placed between third and sixth in the all-around at every U.S. Championships. Modi was sixth at nationals three weeks ago, so he needs a strong performance at Trials.
2021 U.S. all-around fourth place
2021 NCAA all-around bronze medalist
The Robin to Malone’s Batman this year, both as a Stanford teammate and as a revelation at nationals. Tied for second on the first day of nationals, then dropped to fourth as Mikulak and Moldauer improved significantly on the second day. Still had a full point cushion on fifth place Allan Bower. If, so far, nationals is this most important meet in the committee’s eyes for the four team event spots, then Briones is right in the mix.
World championships alternate in 2018, 2019
2017 U.S. all-around silver medalist
Just missed each of the last three world teams but the only man other than Mikulak, Moldauer and Malone to finish top two in a nationals all-around this Olympic cycle. In the middle of a medical school admissions process and planning to get married in December.
2021 U.S. pommel horse champion
Two-time NCAA pommel horse champion
Prevailing notion is that the one Olympic spot for individual events only will go to a specialist on one event, and likely pommel horse. Nedoroscik, who competes in rec specs, was in contention to earn an Olympic spot for himself via the apparatus World Cup series early in 2020, but was done in by the pandemic wreaking havoc with the final qualifying events. The Penn State electrical engineering graduate may be in the driver’s seat after winning his first national title on pommels.
2018 World Championships team member
2021 U.S. pommel horse silver medalist
Finished a scant .15 behind Nedoroscik at nationals on pommel horse, combining scores from two days. Their head-to-head battle, potentially for that individual Olympic spot, may turn out to be the most compelling men’s storyline at Olympic Trials. After winning the 2018 U.S. pommel horse title and making the world team, fell off the horse at 2019 Nationals on day one, then withdrew with a shoulder injury. Nedoroscik since gathered momentum, but Yoder was right with him at nationals.
Two-time world medalist
2016 Olympic alternate
Only man at Olympic Trials other than Mikulak who owns multiple world championships medals, though they are from the previous Olympic cycle (2014 and 2015). In 2016, Whittenburg was fourth in the all-around combining scores from nationals and the Olympic Trials, but left off the five-man team. Wasn’t called up when John Orozco got hurt, either. If Whittenburg can show the vault form that earned a 2015 World bronze medal, he can be in the running for the individual Olympic spot.
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