KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yul Moldauer texted his girlfriend Thursday night.
The first night at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, didn’t go awesomely for Moldauer, the 2017 all-around champ. The night wasn’t memorable for many of the top Americans, in fact, save for two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak.
Moldauer, coming off an elbow injury, avoided any falls but was technically shaky all night, and though he posted the second-best score he was nearly three points behind Mikulak. Allan Bower, a top-three all-arounder in 2017 and ’18, competed with a cold and ended the night 10th. Their former Oklahoma teammate Colin Van Wicklen, who made his world championships debut last year, had to withdraw after warmups due to a concussion.
It was just that kind of night.
“Day 1 is typically a lot of nerves show up, and mostly the reaction is, what is wrong with the men’s program?” said U.S. Men’s High Performance Director Brett McClure. “And then Day 2 they get it together and they perform instead of trying not to fall.”
That was mostly the case as nationals wrapped up Saturday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
No gymnast got any closer to Mikulak, who upgraded his difficulty and improved his all-around score to record a two-day total of 174.150, running away with his sixth U.S. title by 5.55 points.
But others improved, too. Moldauer upped his scores on four of the six events as well as his all-around to claim a second consecutive U.S. silver medal with 168.600 points. Akash Modi, a 2016 Olympic alternate, also improved and finished third with 168.250 points. In fact, of the top 10 finishers, eight scored better on Night 2 than on Night 1.
The result left Moldauer in particular feeling a lot less “meh.”
“I think I did pretty good,” he said.
“Of course,” he added, “I wish I got to do the routines that I wanted to upgrade and show.”
This past spring, Moldauer began feeling pain in his right elbow, and it only got worse heading into the NCAA championships in April. Moldauer, who had twice been the NCAA all-around champ and once the runner-up, wanted to end his collegiate career on a high note, so he pushed on through the pain. Alas, the pain won. The elbow flared up at the worst time, and Moldauer finished sixth in his last college championship. Making it sting even worse was that his team, Oklahoma, took second place by the slimmest of margins, ending a string of 121 consecutive wins.
Unsure exactly what was wrong, doctors recommended a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection and told Moldauer to take a break from gymnastics. Then they all crossed their fingers.
To his relief, the pain went away.
“They said if (the PRP) didn’t work I was going to have to get surgery and it would be like seven months of recovery,” he said, “so I’m glad that didn’t happen.”
The process still set him back. Moldauer, a veteran of the past two world championships and floor exercise bronze medalist in 2017, lost around six weeks of practice, and in four of those weeks he wasn’t able to do anything gymnastics related.
“It’s almost like you sit there and look at the wall,” he said.
Because of the setback, Moldauer only started doing full routines about a month ago, and though he said his elbow didn’t give him any problems this weekend, the lack of preparation forced him to compete with watered down routines on multiple events.
“Personally I would have loved to throw bigger skills,” he said after Thursday’s competition.
Instead, he went for consistency, aiming to show he could hit his base routines now while knowing he could add difficulty later, particularly to his floor exercise and pommel horse, as well as possibly his parallel bars and high bar. The end goal, after all, isn’t national titles but rather the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany.
“I don’t want to come in here looking bad and blow my chances of even making the team,” he said.
McClure liked what he saw in Kansas City. Though Moldauer’s difficulty and execution weren’t where they typically would be at this point of the season, he got through the meet without any falls, and his only notable error came on high bar Saturday, when he caught his Kovacs close and had a few other deductions for his lowest score of the meet. On the contrary, he ended the competition with a strong floor exercise for his second-best score.
“That was fantastic for him to come out of the gates and go as well as he did,” McClure said. “So he’s got a few more weeks to prepare for the next one, and we’ll see what happens with the world team selection camp.”
As anticipated, USA Gymnastics on Saturday night named Moldauer as one of eight gymnasts who will attend that selection camp Sept. 5-9, and of them five will be chosen to compete in the world championships.
For Moldauer, that leaves a little less than four weeks to get those upgrades in.
“Now it’s some big-time work,” he said.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.