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What We Learned At The P&G Gymnastics Championships

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 21, 2017, 7:25 p.m. (ET)

Deanne Soza competes on the balance beam at the P&G Gymnastics Championships at Honda Center on Aug. 18, 2017 in Anaheim, Calif.

 

The P&G Gymnastics Championships wrapped up on Sunday in Anaheim, California, with two new all-around champions and a foundation set for the next Olympic quad.

Oklahoma junior Yul Moldauer won the men’s title on Saturday, and Ragan Smith followed with the women’s title on Sunday. Both are the first new champion in their respective division since 2012.

Although last week’s gymnastics wasn’t always sharp — which is to be expected in a post-Olympics year, when turnover is high — there were several standout and breakout performances. There were also some setbacks.

The next step for the top gymnasts is the world championships, which take place Oct. 2-8 in Montreal. The men already announced their six-person squad, while the women’s team will be named on Sept. 21 following a selection camp in Texas.

Here are some of the main takeaways from this past week in Anaheim.

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Ragan Is The Real Deal

Everyone knew Ragan Smith was the gymnast to watch in the women’s competition — including Smith. And the 17-year-old delivered. No longer the “cute” gymnast performing an Addams Family floor exercise, the more mature Smith hit all eight routines and improved from day one to day two. Now the only question is whether the 2016 Olympic alternate can keep up the U.S. streak of winning the world all-around title in the year after an Olympics. Americans Simone Biles (2013), Bridget Sloan (2009) and Chellsie Memmel (2005) won the previous three post-Olympics world titles.

 

Yul Has Stepped Up, And Soon We’ll See How Far

Yul Moldauer ran away with the men’s title. The question now is how he’ll compare against the best in the world. The 20-year-old, who is 5-foot-3 and 120 pounds, is working to build up his strength and add more difficulty to his routines. But he’s not necessarily in a huge hurry. That’s because while other top gymnasts have higher start values, Moldauer has been able to put up similar scores thanks to fewer deductions on execution. That recipe has worked on the NCAA level and now the elite U.S. level, as the Colorado native has won titles in both. Against the world, though, his coach Mark Williams takes the long view. “I think he still needs one more level to go if he’s going to be a world competitor,” Williams said.

 

Sam’s Streak Is Stopped, But He’s Still Staying

An Achilles tendon injury prevented Sam Mikulak from competing the all-around this weekend, ending a streak of four consecutive U.S. titles for the two-time Olympian. Make no mistake, though, the 24-year-old isn’t scaling back, and he’s not even thinking about retiring. In fact, Mikulak, a Southern California native, joked that he might have even tried for 2024 had Los Angeles earned the bid for those Games. Nonetheless, Mikulak was strong this weekend on pommel horse and swung with reinvigorated gusto on the high bar, an event he was only cleared to perform a week before the competition. Despite a fall on high bar Saturday, Mikulak still had top-three scores in both events and made the world championships team. He expects to be back on all six events competing the all-around next year.

 

Everyone Is Still Figuring Out The 2020 Quad Strategy

The Olympic gymnastics format is changing in 2020, with teams consisting of just four gymnasts (down from five in Rio and London), but with each country also able to send two more gymnasts to compete as individuals. This year’s world championships, which only includes individual events, could be a trial run of sorts for some 2020 strategizing. Men’s high performance director Brett McClure said the staff is considering statistical analysis alongside the good old-fashioned eye test, but that the underlying goal behind this year’s world team was to expose more gymnasts to the world level. As such, the team selected three world championships rookies in Moldauer, Marvin Kimble and Eddie Penev, and will likely use only one all-arounder, Moldauer, which will allow more opportunity for the others. “We played out multiple scenarios with one all-arounder, two all-arounders, even four all-arounders,” McClure said. “But do we want to cut ourselves short right now? Early in the quad, we want as big of a pool to work with as possible.”

 

Women’s World Team Takes Shape

The U.S. women can bring four gymnasts to Montreal, and three of them can compete on each event in the qualifying round. Smith, barring injury, is a lock to be one of them. The next two all-around finishers, Jordan Chiles and Riley McCusker, made a strong case to join her. However, much can happen behind closed doors at the selection camp. McCusker is one gymnast who expects to up her standing at camp. She competed clean but watered-down performances in Anaheim as she recovers from injuries. Chiles, too, could make herself a lock if she can nail the difficult Amanar vault that she sat down on Sunday. Another name to watch is Ashton Locklear. The 2016 Olympic alternate and world championships veteran plans to up the start value on her uneven bars routine. If she does, she has potential to be one of the best in the world.

 

The Future Might Have Been In The Morning

Hidden from the national TV audiences at the national championships are the junior competitions, which take place each day before the seniors. While Smith stole the show at the women’s senior level, two juniors quietly made a statement in the early sessions. Las Vegas native Maile O’Keefe won the junior title with 114.45 points, while Emma Malabuyo was second with 112.45. Among both juniors and seniors, only Smith scored higher over the two days. O’Keefe, 15, and Malabuyo, 14, both graduate to the senior level next season, where they should quickly be Smith’s two strongest domestic rivals.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

 

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