Tokyo Bound: Meet The U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Team
By Chrös McDougall |
June 26, 2021, 6:19 p.m. (ET)
Brody Malone, Sam Mikulak, Yul Moldauer, Shane Wiskus and Alec Yoder pose for a photo after being named to the U.S. Olympic Team on June 26, 2021 in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS — Sam Mikulak is back for a third Olympics, and he’s brining some talented gymnasts with him to Tokyo.
Mikulak, Brody Malone, Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus were named to the four-person U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team following the conclusion of the two-day U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Saturday in St. Louis.
In addition, Alec Yoder was named to the Tokyo squad as the “plus-one” selection, meaning he’ll compete at the Olympics as an individual with his scores not counting to the team.
The plus-one spot is new to the Tokyo Games, part of a larger change that also saw the team sizes shrink from five to four.
After finishing fifth at the Rio Games, the U.S. men were fourth at the previous two world championships — with China, Japan and Russia splitting up the medals one way or another each time. Those three teams go into Tokyo as favorites to claim the medals again, but the U.S. should be right in the mix, and the five gymnasts should also be contenders to qualify for finals in the all-around plus in multiple events.
Here’s a look at the men who will be representing Team USA in Tokyo.
Though new to elite gymnastics fans, Brody Malone is an established star on the collegiate level, where he’s won the past two NCAA all-around titles while competing for Stanford. A native of Summerville, a small city in northern Georgia, Malone opted out of the 2018 U.S. championships while preparing for college and missed the 2019 meet to take part in the Pan American Games, so he was something of an unknown quantity when he arrived at the national championships earlier this month in Fort Worth, Texas. He left with a reputation after snapping Sam Mikulak’s six-year stranglehold on the U.S. all-around title. Deservedly. The 21-year-old got through the meet with just one major mistake across 12 routines and ended with a convincing win and top-four scores across four apparatuses.
Malone kept that up at trials, where he led after night one, and then closed things out with six more hit routines to score a two-day total of 171.60 points — a full three points above the field — and earn an automatic bid to Tokyo. He was also tops on high bar, second on floor and rings, third on parallel bars, and sixth on horse and vault. In other words, he was all-around awesome in St. Louis.
While untested against top international competition, Malone figures to be the country’s top contender for the all-around finals and a possible event finalist on high bar, vault or still rings.
The standard bearer for U.S. men’s gymnastics over the past two quads is ready to ride into the sunset with his first Olympic medal. The 28-year-old made his Olympic debut in 2012 and won all six U.S. titles he competed for from 2013 through 2019. Though he lost that streak to Malone in Fort Worth, Mikulak remains the face of the team after his cool SoCal smile has graced just about every USA Gymnastics promotional poster for the last eight years. Team USA’s first three-time Olympic men’s gymnastics since Blaine Wilson in 1996-2004, Mikulak has said he will retire after this year.
Mikulak, who was an NCAA champ at Michigan and now trains in Colorado, has battled a wrist injury, and after more than a year without competition he wasn’t at his sharpest through nationals and trials, but he still posted the top all-around score on night two of nationals and ended trials fourth in the all-around.
Though those all-around placements are lower than have come to be expected from Mikulak, he maintained his status as an irreplaceable member of the team thanks to his floor and high bar scores — which ranked first and second, respectively, in St. Louis. For all of Mikulak’s success over the years, the one knock was that he had never won an individual medal at the Olympics or world championships. That finally changed in 2018, when he won a world bronze medal on high bar. He could be a contender in that event again in Tokyo.
Born in South Korea and adopted as a baby, Moldauer grew up on a farm in Colorado and has quietly become one of the country’s most accomplished gymnasts during the past five years. The 24-year-old was the only national title winner not named Mikulak between 2013 and this year, and he’s also the only team member besides Mikulak to have a world championships medal, having won a floor exercise bronze in 2017 (before finishing fourth in 2018). And don’t forget his two NCAA all-around titles while competing for Oklahoma.
Despite some mistakes at nationals while battling back spasms, Moldauer still finished with the second best all-around score, and he backed that up with 12 strong routines at trials to take second this weekend in St. Louis. With the top parallel bars score, plus top-three scores on four of the six events, he hit the criteria for automatic selection to the team.
In Tokyo expect Moldauer to make an impact across the board, possibly contributing as many as five routines in the team finals. Individually his best shot to get back on the podium is on floor exercise.
Wiskus first caught the national spotlight in 2019 when he avoided fall off the high bar with a thrilling one-handed catch at the U.S. championships. After making that year’s world championships team and establishing himself as a bona fide Olympic contender, the Minneapolis native found himself back in the spotlight over the past year for less fun reasons. With the University of Minnesota announcing it was dropping its 118-year-old men’s gymnastics team, Wiskus nonetheless powered through his senior season only to finish runner-up in the NCAA all-around for the third season in a row.
Attention now turns to Tokyo, where Wiskus, 22, has a chance to make an impact across multiple events for Team USA. Following a disastrous ending to the national championships, where in his last of 12 rotations he fell three times off the high bar and dropped from second to ninth in the all-around standings, Wiskus was back to his regular self in St. Louis, finishing third, with top-five results on four events.
Flying under the radar all year, Yoder hit his biggest routines when it counted most. With as many as five guys considered to be in the top group of contenders for the plus-one spot, Yoder came into the year not quite the favorite in his best event. That position went to Stephen Nedoroscik, who posted back-to-back 15.10s at the national championships. Just behind him, though, was Yoder. The 2014 Youth Olympian scored 15.00 and 15.05. In St. Louis, when Nedoroscik and the other top specialists weren’t at their best, Yoder still was, with his 15.05 horse on Thursday topping the field by nearly a point. He wasn’t as sharp on Saturday, scoring just 14.55, but importantly he stayed on the horse.
The selection sends Yoder, 24, to his first Olympics, where he’ll compete for a podium on pommel horse and could also do parallel bars in the qualifying round. The former Ohio State standout, originally from Indianapolis, won an all-around bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, and was a member of the 2018 world championships team. In 2018, he also donned a suit to perform some swings on the still rings in an advertisement for Hugo Boss.
Alec Yoder Pommel Horse Day 2 | Gymnastics U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
Alex Diab Rings Day 2 | Gymnastics U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
Brody Malone Rings Day 2 | Gymnastics U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
Shane Wiskus High Bar Day 2 | Gymnastics U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.