Colin Van Wicklen

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

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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.

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