There will be new faces, and familiar faces in new roles, as the U.S. men’s gymnastics team opens the world championships on Oct. 2 in Montreal.
Olympians Sam Mikulak and Alex Naddour are back from the Rio team, but each are limited to just two events — Mikulak by necessity, Naddour by choice.
New U.S. all-around champion Yul Muldauer, meanwhile, is one of three world championships rookies on Team USA, while 2015 world championships standout Donnell Whittenburg looks to rebound after missing out on the team that went to the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
With no team competition in the world championships following an Olympic Games, the U.S. gymnasts will be focused solely on individual medals in Montreal. Each country can enter three gymnasts per apparatus in the qualifying round, and as many as two per country can advance to the finals. That leaves plenty of room for strategizing for new men’s high performance director Brett McClure.
Here’s a look at the six U.S. gymnasts who will be competing in Montreal.
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Events to Watch: High bar and still rings
What to Expect: Kimble had some major errors at the U.S. championships, ultimately finishing seventh in the all-around. But the U.S. didn’t need another all-arounder for Montreal, and Kimble’s acumen in high bar, pommel horse and rings were enough to get him the nod. He won national titles on high bar and rings in August, and though he finished fifth on horse, his difficult routine packs potential for a much higher score.
Hometown: Newport Coast, California
Event to Watch: High bar
What to Expect: An Achilles injury ended Mikulak’s hopes of competing for a fifth consecutive U.S. all-around title in August, but the two-time Olympian was able to compete on high bar and pommel horse. Top-three finishes in those events were enough to earn him a spot on the world championships team, and he should only get better as he continues his recovery. At nationals, for example, Mikulak took a deduction on high bar because he used an extra mat, something that won’t be needed at worlds. Mikulak finished fourth in the high bar final at the 2016 Olympics.
Hometown: Arvada, Colorado
Events to Watch: All-around, floor exercise and parallel bars
What to Expect: Moldauer ran away with his first all-around title last month, winning the two-day competition by a point despite a fall on high bar. With Mikulak limited, Moldauer is the only sure bet to compete in the all-around in Montreal. He could factor in other event finals too, after tying for first on floor exercise and finishing second on parallel bars at nationals. The Oklahoma junior doesn’t have the difficulty of some of the top men’s gymnasts, but he makes up for it with strong execution.
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Events to Watch: Pommel Horse
What to Expect: Naddour gave up four of the apparatuses after Rio, and for good reason: He’s really good on the horse. In Rio, he became the first American to medal on the event since 1984 when he took home bronze. The momentum continued at nationals, where he scored 30.55 over two days to win the event. No other gymnast scored above 30 on any apparatus. Although he gave up the all-around to save his body and make a run toward the 2020 Olympics, where a new format benefits event specialists, Naddour also continues to train on rings and finished fourth in that event at nationals.
Hometown: Penfield, New York
Events to Watch: Floor exercise and vault
What to Expect: A veteran in the sport but a newcomer to the world championships — at least for Team USA — Penev fills the role long held by Jake Dalton as Team USA’s resident power gymnast. With the two-time Olympian Dalton retired, Penev won national titles last month in floor exercise and vault. They were his first national titles since winning vault in 2013. Those were the only two events he competed in on both nights at nationals. Penev previously competed in two world championships for his native Bulgaria, in 2010 and 2011, making the floor final in 2011.
Events to Watch: Parallel bars, rings and vault
What to Expect: A rocky 2016 season left Whittenburg off the Olympic team, an omission that was almost unthinkable when he made three event finals as a rising star at the 2015 world championships. Now he’s back and looking to make up for lost opportunities. Although he could figure into the all-around in Montreal — he finished third at nationals and was eighth at the 2015 world championships — the man with the massive upper-body strength collects the biggest points on parallel bars, rings and vault. He had top-three finishes on those apparatuses at nationals, with his combined vault score of 29.4 tying Penev for first. Whittenburg won a bronze medal on vault at the 2015 world championships.
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.