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Unexpected Wins: Gymnast Leanne Wong Shines In Her Debut, Yul Moldauer Edges Sam Mikulak At American Cup

By Alex Abrams | March 02, 2019, 5:06 p.m. (ET)

Leanne Wong competes at the 2018 U.S. Classic gymnastics on July 28, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. 


GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Leanne Wong stood in the center of the Greensboro Coliseum and smiled as she held a bunch of red roses in her arm.

She didn’t appear nervous at all.

It was almost as if the 15-year-old gymnast expected to win the American Cup on Saturday and announce her arrival on the senior circuit with a strong performance in front of a nationally televised audience in a FIG World Cup event.

Wong opened the one-day competition with a solid vault and closed it with just enough in the floor exercise to edge fellow American Grace McCallum and a top international field for the American Cup title.

“I was a little nervous at first, but once I started going through my routine it just felt the same,” Wong said.

Despite competing against more experienced gymnasts, the high school freshman won her first senior event by earning a score of 13.933 on the floor exercise to finish with 56.765 points, besting McCallum, who finished second with 56.465 points.

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Theirs was not the only 1-2 finish for Americans on Saturday afternoon. 

Yul Moldauer, a senior at Oklahoma, managed to do just well enough on the high bar to edge two-time Olympian and five-time U.S. champ Samuel Mikulak by one-thousandth of a point to win the men’s competition on the final event.

Moldauer finished with 85.932 points to Mikulak’s 85.931.

“I just said I’m just going to go out there and do what I’ve been training (to do). I’ve been training high bar routines,” Moldauer said. “I’ve been hitting them pretty well, and really honestly for me, Sam is just a great gymnast that even if I lost I wouldn’t have cared. 

“Honestly, it was a surprise.”

Wong, last year’s junior national champion, stole the show with her remarkable senior debut. She proved from the beginning she wasn’t about to be overcome by any first-time jitters, and she maintained her composure even with McCallum pushing her for the title.

McCallum, 16, is coming off a breakout season of her own that ended with a team title in her world championships debut.

“I’m really proud of how I did,” McCallum said. “Obviously, I had a few things that didn’t go so well, but I’m really happy.”

Wong took an early lead with the top vault score with 14.666 points, and she was tied with McCallum atop the leaderboard at 28.766 after the first two rotations.

After posting the top score in the balance beam (14.066), Wong headed into the final rotation of the women’s competition — the floor exercise — with a 42.832-42.599 advantage over McCallum.

“I felt some pressure because I was a little nervous for my floor routine, and it’s the last event and I was last up,” Wong said.

McCallum posted a score of 13.866 while debuting a new routine in the floor exercise, but Wong managed to do slightly better with her routine a few moments later.

“It’s definitely a stepping stone, and I’m just taking it one meet at a time and doing the best I can at every meet,” Wong said.

The men’s competition featured two well-established U.S. names.

After Mikulak’s final routine on the high bar, he waved to the crowd and then gave a quick hug to Moldauer, who was waiting his turn. Between the two of them, they have won every U.S. all-around title since 2013.

While Mikulak posted a better score on the high bars than his fellow American, 14.166 to Moldauer’s 13.733, Moldauer had built a large enough lead with his strong showing in the vault and parallel bars to take the title.

“Honestly, I had no idea. I was just happy to finish the meet hitting 6-for-6,” Moldauer said. “It was honestly a fun meet. The crowd was really wild, and I got to keep side-by-side with Sam, so that’s fun. 

“So it was just fun.”

Moldauer’s chances of winning improved after Japan’s Kenzo Shirai, the 2016 Olympic vault bronze medalist who took home two individual medals at the 2018 world championships, withdrew before the start of the American Cup because of an ankle injury.

Mikulak opened the competition with the best performance in the men’s floor exercise, earning a score of 14.733 on an impressive routine that excited the crowd and had him pumping his fists afterward.

Moldauer, competing last in the floor exercise, posted a 14.500 to ensure that the two American gymnasts were atop the leaderboard after the first rotation. They continued to go back and forth and push each other throughout the competition. 

Moldauer narrowed Mikulak’s overall lead after four rotations with the top vault score with 14.733 points. The Oklahoma star then took the lead with a 14.966 on the parallel bars, and he capped his strong routine with an emphatic salute to the crowd.

Oklahoma gymnasts have now claimed 11 American Cup titles, the most of any college.

“It means a lot,” Moldauer said. “I feel like just having someone like Sam and I going at each other is going to help us a lot, always knowing that we’ve got to be better and better, to push each other to be better and better for the (U.S.) team.” 

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.