BOSTON – It’s the one annual event that gymnasts train intensely and sacrifice greatly to vie for a spot at: world championships.
This year’s FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships will be held Oct. 25-Nov. 3 in Doha, Qatar, and several U.S. men’s gymnasts took their first step toward making the world team at this week’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
The 2018 worlds are more important than most as they mark the first opportunity for countries to qualify a team berth for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
So who will make the team?
The United States will field a team of five men, plus one traveling alternate and two non-traveling alternates, for worlds.
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Selection for worlds is based on performances at U.S. championships and a world team selection camp that will be held Sept. 19-23 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Eight athletes were invited to that camp following nationals: Donothan Bailey, Allan Bower, Marvin Kimble, Sam Mikulak, Akash Modi, Yul Moldauer, Colin VanWicklen and Alec Yoder.
A six-member selection committee will look at scores and performances from both events – including percentage of hit routines, plus start values and execution scores. Selection will also be based on past domestic and international performance and experience, demonstrated professional attitude and ability to positively contribute to the team dynamic, and any physical, training or performance factor that might inhibit peak performance at the world championships.
Kimble sat out nationals, but let’s take a look at how the remaining seven made their case for a spot at worlds:
Hometown: Newport Coast, Calif.
School: Michigan ‘15
How He Fared At Nationals: Mikulak won his fifth all-around title by his largest margin yet, 4.75 points. He also won U.S. titles on high bar, floor exercise and parallel bars. He was fourth on pommel horse and still rings, and tied for fifth on vault.
His Case For The World Team: Mikulak is the closest thing to a lock for the world team. The selection procedures state that gymnasts who finish top-two in the all-around and also place top-three in three events at the U.S. championships and selection camp qualify for automatic selection for the world team. If that went for solely U.S. championships, Mikulak would already be on the team.
He is also the most experienced athlete in the current U.S. gymnastics field. The two-time Olympian is the only men’s athlete in Boston with Olympic experience, plus he’s competed at three worlds already, helping Team USA to bronze in 2014 and coming close to a few individual medals (fourth on high bar at 2013 worlds and at the Olympic Games Rio 2016).
He has proven he is consistent and reliable. Boston marked his fifth all-around national title; he is the first man to reach that number in 18 years and only the sixth ever, dating back to the 19th century.
Finally, he is hungry. Mikulak said the hunt for additional world and Olympic medals is a large part of what has kept him in the sport.
On His Individual Goals At Worlds: “I want to get an individual all-around medal. I wouldn’t mind making a couple event finals and getting something in there as well, but I think all-around has always been my biggest aspiration.”
Age: 21 (born Aug. 26)
Hometown: Arvada, Colo.
School: Oklahoma ‘19
How He Fared At Nationals: Moldauer placed second in the all-around to Mikulak, and while there was a wide gap between first and second, Moldauer was still a strong 1.200 points ahead of third. He also finished second on floor exercise and vault, and third on rings and parallel bars.
His Case For The World Team: Like Mikulak, Moldauer would have automatically qualified for worlds if the selection procedures were based solely on the results at nationals. He was top-two in the all-around and actually earned more than three top-three’s on apparatuses.
He brings two key qualities to the table that all teams need: consistency and proven success.
The 2017 U.S. champion in Mikulak’s absence from the all-around that year, Moldauer led the U.S. world team last year and emerged as the only men’s medalist, winning bronze on floor. He also started 2018 with international success, wining the American Cup in March, part of the FIG all-around world cup series.
Moldauer, again, like Mikulak, also brings an element of experience and leadership to the team, and is well-respected by many teammates.
On The Importance Of Training And Mind Over Matter: “When you’re out here and performing, you want to be out here and performing. I don’t want to be let my injuries get in the way. I wanted to know in my head this was going to be one of my greatest performances; it’s not going to be 50/50 because I’m injured.”
Hometown: Chandler, Ariz.
School: Oklahoma ‘17
How He Fared At Nationals: At a meet where the third-, fourth- and fifth-place all-around finishers were within 0.400 of each other, Bower led that trio in third. He also finished second on pommel horse and fourth on floor. His remaining event finishes were less noteworthy: seventh on rings, seventh on parallel bars, eighth on vault, 15th on high bar.
His Case For The World Team: The biggest reason might have to do with the fact he wasn’t on the team last year.
Bower finished second in the all-around at the 2017 national championships – somewhat of a surprise considering his previous best finish was 13th at his senior debut in 2014 – yet was not one of the six men named to the squad for worlds.
Eager to make the 2018 team, he returned this year and proved last year’s result was not a fluke. Bower was third both days in Boston, also proving he is consistent. Plus, he can contribute on one of the U.S. men’s weakest events, pommel horse.
Hometown: Mission Viejo, Calif.
School: Cal ‘13
How He Fared At Nationals: Bailey placed fourth in the all-around, just 0.150 behind Bower, and was second-best at the meet on two events: high bar and parallel bars. He was fifth, fifth, seventh and 18th on pommel horse, vault, floor and rings, respectively.
His Case For The World Team: In short, he hasn’t given up.
Bailey is the oldest of the eight athletes being considered for worlds and just finished competing at his ninth senior nationals, where he had his best result yet, likening him to a fine wine.
He has had only four international assignments in the past, which date back to 2011, but is clearly primed for a potential worlds debut this year. Out of the eight men being evaluated, Bailey was second-best on parallel bars, second-best on high bar, third-best on vault and fourth-best on pommel horse.
School: Ohio State ‘19
How He Fared At Nationals: In that tight pack with Bower and Bailey, Yoder ended up fifth in the all-around. He also won the pommel horse national title and was fourth on parallel bars. Yoder was eighth, 12th, 13th and 19th on rings, floor, high bar and vault, respectively.
His Case For The World Team: Yoder first made his mark at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014, where he won bronze in the all-around.
But he would then go four years without representing his country. Returning to the international stage earlier this year at the Doha World Cup, Yoder earned bronze on pommel horse.
He won that event – long considered the biggest weakest for U.S. men – in Boston, giving him a crucial leg up in worlds consideration. Of the eight men, he could also contribute on parallel bars and rings as fourth-best on each of those.
Yoder’s fifth place in the all-around was far better than his previous best, 11th in 2017.
On His Comeback This Year: “I’ve been able to improve my gymnastics, I’ve been able to find my rhythm, I’ve been able to find a good dynamic when it comes to gymnastics… I’m definitely back and I’m back better than I ever was.”
Hometown: Morganville, N.J.
School: Stanford ‘17
How He Fared At Nationals: Modi was sixth in the all-around, fifth on high bar and floor, sixth on pommel horse, seventh on vault, ninth on rings and 15th on parallel bars.
His Case For The World Team: Modi’s performance in Boston was inconsistent, but still strong.
He was sitting second in the all-around after Day 1, proving he has the potential to be an all-arounder at worlds, but a wonky fall on parallel bars, where one hand missed the bar on a release, was the leading factor in his drop to sixth. Still, of the eight men, Modi was fourth on floor, fourth on high bar, fifth on pommels, fifth on rings and fifth on vault, showing he can contribute across many areas.
Modi also has the international experience to help him at what would mark his worlds debut. The 2016 Olympic alternate was third at the 2017 American Cup, second at the 2018 Stuttgart World Cup and second at the 2018 Pacific Rim Championships.
On His Chances For The World Team: “It’s not where I want it to be, but we have two more days of competition so I’m ready to show off at the camp. I just want to do 12 routines that I’m capable of.”
Hometown: Magnolia, Texas
School: Oklahoma ‘17
How He Fared At Nationals: VanWicklen was eighth in the all-around, third on both high bar and vault, and 11th, 13th, 14th and 17th on rings, floor, parallel bars and pommel horse, respectively.
His Case For The World Team: High bar is notably one of the Americans’ weakest events this quad, and VanWicklen can contribute greatly there. Vault is considered one of the team’s best events, with VanWicklen being one of the top scorers. Plus, of those at the worlds selection camp, he actually had the second-highest total on vault.
He was also second on high bar and third on floor at last year’s U.S. championships, proving he has consistently been one of the nation’s best of late.