TAMPA — Stephen Nedoroscik is the lone entrant at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships who already owns an individual world title, yet he might not make the five-man team for the world championships in two months.
Last October, Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympics to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse (unbeknownst, he competed with a broken bone in his left hand that later put him in a cast for 10 weeks.)
Nedoroscik is a specialist, focusing on just that one apparatus out of the six in men’s gymnastics. He will compete for a total of 90 seconds at nationals this week, bypassing floor exercise, high bar, parallel bars, still rings and vault.
That was fine in the last Olympic cycle, when the format allowed for some gymnasts to qualify for the Games via international results on one event. And at last year’s worlds, where there was no team event and less incentive to pack rosters with all-around gymnasts.
But this year, and this Olympic cycle, is different. The 2024 Paris Games revert to the five-man and five-woman team formats from the Olympics in 2012 and 2016. The world championships the next two years also have five-person teams, with no extra spots for American gymnasts to compete strictly in individual events.
So Nedoroscik, who on Thursday solved a Rubik’s cube while waiting for his pommel horse score (15.693 points), must find a way to fit in the U.S. men’s team puzzle.
“My [Olympic] path is going to be a little bit trickier,” said Nedoroscik, a Penn State electrical engineering grad who competes in Rec Specs out of comfort and superstition rather than prescription (but forgot to bring them to last year’s worlds). “I have quite a good understanding of how well I need to do at competitions to make the meets I want to make.”
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After a selection camp this October, a committee will finalize the five-man world championships team. The onus is on producing the highest score in the team final at worlds, where three different gymnasts out of the five perform on each of the six events.
Nedoroscik’s pommel horse score would of course help the U.S. bid to win a men’s team medal for the first time since 2014. But it is only one score out of 18 in the team final.
“I’ve always had that thought of potentially picking up parallel bars or rings,” he said, noting it has been about six years since he competed on another event. “But with the years that pass of me just being a specialist, it’s becoming less and less likely that I’ll be able to do that. So probably not.”
Nedoroscik’s value would be tied to the ability of the other four gymnasts to hold their own for the other 17 routines. He needs teammates who can perform at an all-around level, contributing on several events to complement his specialty.
“To make it as a single event person, it’s always been a big challenge,” NBC Sports analyst Tim Daggett said. “It absolutely depends on who else is on the team.”
Fortunately for Nedoroscik, the U.S. took a specialist to each of the last two world championships with a team event.
Alec Yoder performed solely on pommel horse in the 2018 team final, when Sam Mikulak picked up the slack by becoming the first U.S. man to do all six events in an Olympic or world team final since the format switched to three-up, three-count after the 2000 Olympics.
Mikulak did all six again in 2019, when Trevor Howard was used strictly on rings. Mikulak retired after Tokyo, but Brody Malone emerged as a candidate to compete on everything in a team final. The question is who else can carry a heavy load.
If the world team was chosen solely off Thursday’s first night of nationals, Nedoroscik would not be on the highest-scoring five-man lineup.
He hopes to score higher on Saturday night, then excel again at the October camp. Selectors also have discretion to consider a gymnast’s ability to earn a medal in an individual event, even though the primary focus is on the team.
“Stephen is definitely capable of having such a big swing on that single event to take care of his opportunity to be on the world team,” said U.S. men’s high performance director Brett McClure, one of six people on the selection committee. “World champ definitely is a feather that you can’t ignore.”
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WHAT?! 🤯@GymnastSteve casually (AND QUICKLY) solved a Rubik's Cube during his competition. #OOFOSChamps pic.twitter.com/JinnxFusDF
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 19, 2022