Yul Moldauer

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

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World medalists Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer headline the five-man U.S. gymnastics team for next month’s world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

The roster, which also includes Akash ModiTrevor Howard and Shane Wiskus, was named after a selection camp. Mikulak automatically qualified via his combined scores from the U.S. Championships in August and the camp.

The other four gymnasts were chosen by a committee.

They will be tasked with ending the program’s longest global meet team medal drought of the millennium. The U.S. men last earned a world championships medal in 2014 (bronze). They were fifth at the last two Olympics despite placing first and second in qualifying. They were fourth at last year’s worlds behind powers China, Japan and Russia.

A look at the five men going to Stuttgart …

Sam Mikulak
Mikulak has been the top U.S. male gymnast since 2013, winning six U.S. all-around titles, the most in the last 50 years. He is the lone Olympian still competing these days and so valuable that, last year, he was tasked with performing on all six apparatuses in the world team final for the first time. Mikulak finally earned his first world medal last year (high bar bronze), but he yearns for more. A world all-around medal is not out of reach.

Yul Moldauer
The only other man on this team with a U.S. all-around title (from 2017, when Mikulak was injured) or a world medal (floor exercise bronze in 2017). The former NCAA all-around champion from Oklahoma is now embarking on his post-collegiate career, but injuries dogged him the last two summers. If Mikulak is the MVP of this program, Moldauer is its Scottie Pippen at the moment.

Akash Modi
The Rio Olympic alternate earned his place on the team by placing third in the all-around at nationals and second to Mikulak at last week’s selection camp. Modi, who debuted at worlds in 2018, can contribute across many events, which may boost his stock come next year when the teams for the Olympics are just four men.

Trevor Howard
Howard, at 26, is on the older end of gymnasts to make his first world team. He has been competing at the senior national level since 2011, but never better than fifth in the all-around. Why this year? Howard has established himself as a force on still rings, where the U.S. lost the most ground in the 2018 World team final.

Shane Wiskus
Wiskus, the youngest member of the team at 20, is the NCAA all-around silver medalist from Minnesota. He may be better known for this crazy high bar save at nationals. He may be needed on high bar, which in the last few years has gone from a strength to a concern for the U.S. Wiskus has the kind of difficulty to be an asset there, but can he execute at the biggest meet of his life?

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Sam Mikulak halfway to record sixth U.S. all-around title

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Sam Mikulak is well on his way to a sixth U.S. men’s gymnastics title. He’s just not quite so sure that’s a good thing.

While the two-time Olympian was relatively pleased with his performance Thursday night, when his all-around score of 86.750 gave him a 2.750-point lead over 2017 national champion Yul Moldauer, Mikulak would prefer to have a little more heat on him heading into Saturday’s finals.

Mikulak intentionally watered down his routines to avoid the kind of big opening night mistakes that have plagued him in the past. It worked. Save for a step out of bounds on his vault, he was dominant. His score of 15.350 on parallel bars was the best of the night on any apparatus.

It means he won’t have to put together a big rally if he wants to tie Makoto Sakamoto for the second-most national championships in history and break the modern-era record he shares with Blaine Wilson

It also means, however, that nobody else in the field came close to matching him on a night when the 26-year-old mostly kept it in neutral. Not exactly the best development with the selection camp for the world championships team a month away.

“I do kind of wish there was a lot more nipping at my heels in a way,” Mikulak said. “Especially doing downgraded (routines) today. It is a bit of a struggle. I know all these guys and I kind of know what’s going on behind the scenes as well. It’s a lot of injuries.”

Colin Van Wicklen withdrew after sustaining a concussion during warm-ups. Matt Wenske placed eighth but was forced to withdraw after hurting his ankle on vault. Moldauer’s health issues over the last year have included a back injury and elbow problems. Donnell Whittenburg, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team who is attempting to get his career back on track, has myriad concerns, from his shoulder to his knees.

Whittenburg put together perhaps his best competition in well over a year until a shaky high bar set in which he nearly came flying off. Though he managed to save it, his score of 11.850 dropped him to seventh overall. Wearing an eye-catching white Jordan brand headband, Whittenburg still believes he took a positive step forward.

Asked if he began making a compelling case to receive an invitation to the world team selection camp in September, Whittenburg nodded even while allowing much work remains to be done.

“I definitely have,” Whittenburg said. “I know if I do my very best, there’s nothing they can say at this point. But for me I didn’t. So if I didn’t do as best as I can, I feel like that always gives (the committee) questions about like ‘What if? What if? what if?’ For me, I feel like for Saturday I need to try and hit all my routines the best as I can.”

He’s hardly the only one. Moldauer technically hit all six of his routines, but four of them contained wobbles or form breaks that cost him.

“I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself,” Moldauer said. “It’s knowing what you need to improve. Look at the score and look at it in a positive way even though it’s lower than usual, there’s always something you can do to make it better.”

The same goes for the rest of the group behind Mikulak that is hoping to make what will likely be a very young five-man world championship team.

“I do wish we had a lot more of the high-level difficulty that we had pre-2016 (Olympics) but we got what we got,” Mikulak said. “I’m just hoping everyone can catch a little bit more of a rhythm and get some more confidence going into Day 2.”

That won’t be a concern for Mikulak. Even with a massive lead, he has no plans on coasting to the finish. He picked up his first world championship medal last fall when he won a bronze on high bar. Now on the back half of a solid career that he admits hasn’t always lived up to its considerable potential, he is going to put together significant upgrades for Saturday, well aware that it will be required when the stage and the stakes get bigger in October.

“I have a little bit of leeway,” Mikulak said. “I proved to the committee, ‘Hey, consistent Sam can do these easy routines and still score well. Let’s see what event finalist Sam can do going into Saturday.’”

The rest of the field hopes it can put up a fight.

“Everyone wants to beat Sam,” Moldauer said. “He’s the top dog in the U.S. and you know, everyone is trying to get to his level and stuff. But you can’t blame him. He’s a veteran. He’s a pro. He’s been in multiple Olympics, you’ve got to give him respect and just kind of follow his steps.”

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U.S.’ Moldauer three-peats; Wong wins first international senior title at American Cup

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With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games roughly 16 months away, U.S. gymnasts Yul Moldauer and Leanne Wong won the American Cup, the annual one-day all-round gathering of international talent in the U.S.

It was a back-and-forth battle between Moldauer and his friend and five-time U.S. all-around champion, Sam Mikulak, but in the end Moldauer got the win by just one-thousandth of a point posting a final score of 85.932 to Mikulak’s 85.931.

Moldauer’s landings and dismounts on the day were some of the stickiest. After Mikulak sidestepped his landing on vault, NBC Sports mics overheard Mikulak say to Moldauer, “I wanted that stick like you!”

Typically dominant on parallel bars, Mikulak made an uncharacteristic error when his hands slipped as he attempted to launch himself the full length of the bars with one skill

It came down to the high bar between Moldauer and Mikulak, with Mikulak holding the edge on paper as the 2018 World bronze medalist in the discipline. But, Mikulak, like on parallel bars, made a costly mistake when he rotated around the bar in the wrong direction midway through his routine.

Moldauer is the first gymnast to win three years in a row since U.S. gymnast Blaine Wilson completed his own hat trick at three-straight American Cup events back in 1999.

“It was just so fun going out there with Sam again,” Moldauer told NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce after his win.  “The last time we truly competed together for the U.S. was at Worlds. It was just a great feeling having him out there. I can’t describe how I’m feeling right now.”

Moldauer posted the highest scores of the day in the vault and parallel bars, and finished second in rings and the floor.

Full men’s results are here.

In the women’s competition the 15-year-old Wong, making her senior international debut, posted the highest scores of the day on vault and balance beam and had the second best floor routine score, to walk away with the win.

Wong and the U.S.’ Grace McCallum were tied at the halfway point, but Wong’s balance beam routine pushed the rookie ahead of the 2018 World Team Champion. McCallum finished her day in second.

Full women’s results are here.

“It’s so incredible and I’m really excited and it was really fun,” Wong said. “I tried to treat it the same as any other meet, and that’s pretty much what it was.

“I was just afraid about the part that each gymnast goes one-by-one, but I think I handled it really well.”

The next major gymnastics event will be a World Cup stop in Stuttgart, Germany from March 16-17, where the U.S.’ reigning world Champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles is expected to compete.