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Moldauer's contagious energy powered Tokyo pursuit

By Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 24, 2021, 7:06 p.m. (ET)

U.S. gymnast Yul Moldhauer soars and twists midair during a tumbling pass

Yul Moldauer's (Oklahoma Gymnastics) energy is contagious. His resounding celebration is loud. 

“You pretty much saw as he finished a routine, he went into that salute, telling people, ‘Let’s go!’” Oklahoma gymnastics coach Mark Williams said. 

His enthusiasm is a trait on display at the Olympics in Tokyo. He and the U.S. men’s gymnastics team finished with 256.761 points at Ariake Gymnastics Centre Saturday, advancing to Monday’s team final with Japan (262.251), China (262.061) and Russia (261.945).

His energy is a spark that has fueled momentum during his time with the Sooners. But at one point, the shouting was for different reasons. 

Yul’s father, Shaw, remembered the moment they picked him at the airport after he was adopted from South Korea.

"When the plane arrived, I heard a child screaming down the plane and the tunnel, and it turns out it was Yul,” he said. “He was screaming quite loud."  

 Although there was no official diagnosis, Yul’s parents suspected he may have had drug exposure while in utero because it was consistent with his behavior. 

The screaming stopped once he could start talking, but Shaw said the gymnast had to have things just a certain way. For Yul to be comfortable sleeping, he had to sleep on sheepskin. 

In his youth, a schoolmate invited him to a free gymnastics tryout. It was a sport he enjoyed, but it also helped control his obsessiveness, Shaw said. 

Yul progressed quickly, his father said. While most kids completed a recreational program in a year or two, Yul was competing competitively in a matter of weeks, claiming two medals against kids who had been participating in gymnastics for a long time. 

"On parallel bars at Level 7 is the first time they do a pirouette where they turn around in a handstand. And all the kids fall doing it,” Shaw said. “Yul lost his balance at regionals and started to fall. He knew he had fallen, but he didn't want to jump on the ground to get back up. 

“He had enough determination, after falling, he didn't let go of the bars and pulled himself back into the handstand."  

Shaw recalled a coach reacting and asking why Yul wasn't training at 5280 Gymnastics  in Littleton, Colorado, the gym he now trains at since completing college. 

By then, the screaming had stopped and the fiery “let’s go,” hadn’t started yet.

“When you’re good at a sport, it’s not something you talk about, it’s not something you inflate yourself. It’s a thing you show," Shaw said. "I impressed that on him. Don’t talk about gymnastics but show people what you can do, and I think that helped him a lot in his career.”

The transition to college came with an adjustment for Yul, who was not as tuned in to outward celebrations as others were. 

He was able to break out of his shell during his first years of college, after having more opportunities to perform in front of spectators. Williams thinks Yul has always had that performer mindset, but instead of focusing on just the execution, he became more comfortable and more of a “showman." 

“He thrived on feeling that interaction from the audience, and in a lot of ways he performed better and came to be a better competitor in a way even pumping himself up, ” Williams said.  

The Oklahoma men's gymnastics program claimed champions from 2016 18. Williams said those were all fueled by Yul. He was slowed in 2019 because of a nagging elbow injury.

The difference in a healthy, energetic Yul is impressive and exciting to watch, Williams said.

NCAA experience taught Yul to be more demonstrative and vocal, helping pump the team and build excitement. 

“Going into Oklahoma really taught me that team atmosphere, and I live by these words, ‘embrace the grind,’ Yul said at the Team USA virtual media summit. “And we always said championships are won in preseason.” 

Just like any gymnast who has to grind through tough practices and nurse injuries, Yul knows how to channel the grind and let it ignite his performances. 

The gymnast is a performer. 

“He’s not necessarily competing for a score or a placement on a team, but he’s performing for the crowd,” Williams said. 

Yul may be wearing red, white and blue, but he will always be a Sooner, bleeding crimson and cream. 

“Without OU, I don’t think I would be the athlete that I am today,” he said. “I made a world team my sophomore year. I got a bronze medal on the floor. All these crazy things are happening to me throughout the NCAA, and I am so thankful. “


Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Taiwo Adeshigbin is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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