Yul Moldauer

Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

Sam Mikulak leads new-look U.S. men’s gymnastics team for worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. men’s gymnastics program tapped a fresh-faced team to avoid its longest medal drought since the turn of the millennium. It didn’t have much else choice.

Two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak, coming off his fifth national all-around title, and 2017 U.S. champ Yul Moldauer headlined the roster named after a two-day selection competition Saturday.

Mikulak and Moldauer were all but locks after going one-two at nationals in August. A selection committee looked at results from nationals and last week’s meet, though Mikulak and Moldauer automatically made the team based on their scores.

None of the other three team members have competed at an Olympics or world championships. That’s Rio Olympic alternate Akash ModiAlec Yoder and Colin Van Wicklen.

The quintet is tasked with reaching high-performance director Brett McClure‘s team medal aspirations at the world championships in Doha that start in one month.

McClure, a 2004 Olympic team silver medalist, said before nationals that China, Japan and Russia are in a different league in terms of routine difficulty.

The U.S. men were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. That marked the first back-to-back global championships without a medal since 2006 and 2007.

The Americans last went three straight global championships missing the podium in 1997, 1999 and 2000.

In addition to the team, Mikulak, 25, yearns for an individual medal. He is at the moment one of the greatest U.S. gymnasts in history without an Olympic medal or an individual world championships medal in his collection.

Moldauer, the 22-year-old NCAA all-around champion from the University of Oklahoma, does own an individual medal. He earned floor exercise bronze at his worlds debut last year.

Modi, the Taco Bell and SpongeBob SquarePants-loving mechanical engineering master’s student at Stanford, was sixth in the all-around at nationals but improved to fourth at the selection camp competition.

McClure noted Modi’s ability to contribute on three of the six events — parallel bars, high bar and pommel horse. The U.S. is a bit weak on high bar, McClure said.

Yoder, 21, is known for his prowess on a past weak event — pommel horse. He won the national title on horse last month and was second to Mikulak at last week’s competition, beating 2017 World team member Marvin Kimble for a roster spot.

McClure praised Van Wicklen’s talent as the top vaulter at the selection camp meet. Moldauer’s former Oklahoma teammate was eighth in the all-around at nationals and fifth of the eight men at the selection meet.

The three men who missed the team were Kimble, Allan Bower (second and third in the U.S. all-around the last two years, but missed both world teams) and Trevor Howard.

All but one of Mikulak’s teammates from the last two Olympics have retired. The one who hasn’t — Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour — has been suspended since June for unspecified reasons.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Laurie Hernandez faces big decisions before comeback

Three thoughts from U.S. Gymnastics Championships

Simone Biles, Sam Mikulak
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three thoughts off a U.S. Gymnastics Championships that saw Simone Biles swiftly, powerfully, insert adverb reclaim the throne and Sam Mikulak match her national title for national title … 

1. An all-timer for Simone Biles
After Biles retires, which as of now will be at the Tokyo Games, this fifth national title may trail only the Olympics on her remember-when list of all-around performances.

Only once before has Biles been so dominant to win by an event-record margin with the highest scores on every apparatus.

At the 2015 American Cup, Biles nearly doubled the previous record margin, winning by 4.467 points in a one-day competition (Biles won nationals by 6.55 over two days). But this year’s nationals field was without a doubt stronger than the American Cup.

While Biles was challenged in the last quad — Katelyn Ohashi and Kyla Ross beat Biles in two of her first three senior competitions in 2013; Romanian Larisa Iordache made the 2014 World Championships interesting — there is nobody in the world who appears up to the task at the moment.

Biles’ worst all-around score of her three days of competition in her comeback (58.7 with an uneven bars fall) is still better than anybody else in the world since Rio.

At worlds, she should break Svetlana Khorkina‘s record with a fourth all-around title to extend a five-year win streak.

The only gymnast to have a longer run of major-event dominance is 18-time Olympic medalist Larisa Latynina, who won every Olympic, world and European all-around title from 1956 through 1962, save the 1959 Euros, which she appears to have sat out following childbirth.

GYM NATIONALS: Women’s, men’s results

2. The U.S. women are loaded
It’s so hard to predict far ahead in this sport. Promising gymnasts can turn senior elite at the beginning of an Olympic cycle and retire before the Games. There are no junior world championships (though that soon will change). So in 2016, as great as the Americans were, it wasn’t clear just how long they would stay at the top.

Halfway through this Olympic cycle, it appears the only changes are in the names who will stand with Biles on the gold-medal podium step at worlds in October.

Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker counted zero falls between two days at nationals. One of them will likely join Biles on the all-around podium at worlds (an American always has). Jade Carey earned world silver medals on vault and floor exercise last year in her first year as an elite gymnast.

The teams at worlds are five women each, but the Americans have the luxury of using their fifth spot purely on a gymnast with the best chance at an apparatus medal.

The team will be named after an October selection camp.

MORE: Biles comments on statement-making leotard

3. The U.S. men must dig deep
Sam Mikulak 
and Yul Moldauer (when healthy) represent the best U.S. one-two all-around punch in several years, but the depth is not there right now. Mikulak is the only active man with Olympic experience.

Of the rest of the 2017 World Championships team, only Donnell Whittenburg competed at nationals. He was limited to two events after shoulder surgery and left off the eight finalists for the five-man world team.

When the Americans line up for team qualifying at worlds in Doha, Mikulak will be the only one who has been in that situation before. Moldauer and Marvin Kimble competed at 2017 Worlds where there was no team event.

Though Kimble missed nationals due to injury, he arguably became more valuable to the program last week, especially given the awful Thursday competition. He can contribute in a three-up, three-count team final on high bar (where the only man to crack 14 at nationals was Mikulak (14.7)) and two or three other events. His gym said Saturday that he was already back training.

The U.S. team will be named after a September selection camp. It will go to Doha as an underdog for a medal behind at least Japan, China and Russia.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM NATIONALS: Where Are The Final Five?