By Patricia C. Duffy
It was a another night of new faces and veterans battling it out for the men’s all-around and individual titles, but by the end, most of the champions that prevailed weren’t a surprise.
Feature photo by Grace Chiu.
Newcomer or veteran?
It was hard to tell the difference between those fighting for their first spot on the U.S. national team and those trying to retain their spot… while all simultaneously fought for the six Worlds team spots.
Yul Moldauer continued to separate himself from the pack, finishing his night winning USA Gymnastics’ 2017 Sportsperson of the Year, but more importantly, securing his first U.S. all-around title.
It wasn’t a smooth road to the title, despite his taking the top prize not being a shock.
Rotation 1 – Moldauer falls, competition thickens
Moldauer’s night started with a fall on high bar after being unable to re-catch the bar on a release. His mistake meant an opportunity for others, namely Allan Bower, Akash Modi and Donnell Whittenburg, those closest to him in the all-around rankings.
Whittenburg posted a consistent 14.450 on parallel bars while Modi was a little less rushed in his floor routine but still missed some key landings. Bower improved on his night one score on high bar with a 14.000. His higher difficulty score combined with a better execution score than Moldauer’s signified the stiff competition to come between the two Oklahoma gymnastics teammates.
After one, Moldauer held the lead with Whittenburg, Modi and Bower following close behind.
Rotation 2 – Questions for some, more gymnasts take a tumble
Rotation two offered Moldauer the opportunity to redeem himself on one of his best events: floor exercise.
The 2017 NCAA floor exercise champion didn’t mess around and posted the top score of the night with a 14.950 to keep himself in the running. Bower couldn’t hang with that score, due to lower difficulty and execution (14.200).
Over on high bar, the U.S.O.T.C. group continued their roller coaster ride on the apparatus. Cameron Bock was greatly improved from night one’s two falls, posting a 12.650. Sam Mikulak followed suit with what seemed to be another technically-sound routine before falling on an early release. Slow to get up, Mikulak may have given his adoring fans a slight heart attack (worrying about another injury), but he returned to the bar to put together the rest of his performance and stick his dismount. The 13.800 could have easily been a 14.800 without the fall. Opportunity = missed. Whittenburg posted a lower difficulty and execution score for his night two performance on the apparatus, which meant, despite not coming off the bar, a lower score than Mikulak (13.500).
After coming off the horse on night one, Modi didn’t have any trouble on pommel tonight. He posted over a point in improvement with a 13.950 and came one routine closer to making his case for a Worlds spot.
Rotation 3 – Penev shines on floor
The way Eddie Penev smiles you wouldn’t necessarily know the absolute terror he is on floor… in the best possible way. His grace, difficulty and stunning lines make for a top routine that the international judges will look fondly upon. His 14.950 tied Moldauer’s for the top spot on the apparatus and would stick through the rest of the competition to earn him his first U.S. floor exercise title.
Penev’s teammate Whittenburg did not have as much success on the apparatus, falling on his opening pass and struggling to keep his footing on others (13.550). Donothan Bailey did have success though and bested his opening night performance by more than a point thanks in large part to a stunning triple full to start and stuck Arabian double front dismount (14.450).
Despite not competing on the event, Mikulak willingly took on the role as his teammates’ best sideline supporter. The two-time Olympian cheered others on loudly saying, “You got this!” Again and again.
Moldauer showed off his NCAA style on pommel where he put together another strong performance, despite scoring lower than his night one routine (13.750). His scissor and flair elements made it seem as though he was on the street break dancing with ease rather than performing on one of the most challenging elements in gymnastics.
Bower followed Moldauer with his highest score of the night coming on the horse (14.850). More pressure between teammates seemed to result in more fire routines.
All-around standings at the halfway point: Moldauer, Bower, Modi and Bailey.
Rotation 4 – Mikulak surpasses expectations
U.S.O.T.C. made its way to the group’s favorite apparatus, pommel horse (high level of sarcasm) in rotation four.
As some of the most experienced athletes on the competition floor, the uneasiness on each competitor’s face was obvious and unsettling for viewers. Giving fans a slight breath of relief, Whittenburg improved his night one score with an increase of more than one-point (14.000). 2016 U.S. pommel champ Donothan Bailey didn’t have as much luck and came off the horse, squandering any chance at a repeat run (13.550).
Yet, the highlight of the pommel group was again Mikulak, who smiled big as he rounded out his night with a huge 14.850, proving he’s one of the only athletes who can post scores somewhat close to Alex Naddour on the apparatus.
Elsewhere, Moldauer stuck his dismount on rings and posted a 14.850 of his own. Bower scored a 14.350 to stay just behind Moldauer in the overall standings, despite having a higher day two all-around score.
Vaulting away, Modi posted a 13.850 with -0.3 in deductions, further hurting his chances of finishing with a medal.
With only two more rotations, and two of Moldauer’s strongest apparatuses remaining (vault and parallel bars), the only gymnast who could even come close to competing with the 2017 AT&T American Cup champ was Bower.
Rotation 5 – Whittenburg still doesn’t do “The Whittenburg”
As the night began to wrap, it was obvious Moldauer was the one to beat, and the only way he would likely lose was a internal mental error rather than an external force.
He kept his score on vault where it needed to be, despite not improving on night one’s mark (14.150).
Bailey (14.050) and Whittenburg (14.850) both looked relieved to finish their still rings routines. As Whittenburg warmed up, he looked uneasy, as though he may be considering adding in a last minute upgrade like his “The Whittenburg” dismount, but he opted to play it safe in the end. If Whittenburg is selected to the Worlds team, SR are an area he could greatly contribute to along with others.
As the meet rounded the corner of the last lap, Moldauer had the all-around title all but wrapped up.
Rotation 6 – It’s Moldauer’s title to lose
Penev and Whittenburg both had improved outings on vault to finish their nights, ultimately tying for the top spot with a 29.4 total from the two evenings of competition.
Unlike Thursday evening, when Naddour was able to perform his two routines back to back and rest for the remainder of the evening, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist had to wait five rotations before performing on pommel horse. Despite the wait, Naddour took a deep breath and did Naddour things, proving yet again no one can come close to his quality on the apparatus (15.250).
Bower posted an average 14.200 on PB, not improving on his night one score, which meant, barring utter catastrophe, Moldauer would take the crown.
One well-executed routine later, Moldauer dismounted to the sound of an entire arena cheering for him.
The cheers and celebrations began as the lights came down on yet another P&G Championships, with a new champion and national team waiting to be crowned.
The men’s selection committee will announce the 2017 individual Worlds team that will represent Team USA in Montreal, Canada at some point tomorrow. Below is Inside Gymnastics’ Worlds team prediction for the U.S. men.
2017 Individual Worlds team prediction:
Moldauer, Naddour, Penev, Mikulak, Whittenburg, and Modi/Bower
All-Around top 5:
- Yul Moldauer – 171.600
- Allan Bower – 170.600
- Donnell Whittenburg – 169.700
- Akash Modi – 169.250
- Donothan Bailey – 167.100
- Tie: Eddie Penev & Donnell Whittenburg – 29.400
- Tie: Yul Moldauer & Eddie Penev – 29.500
- Colin VanWicklen – 28.900
- Christopher Stephenson – 28.600
- Matthew Wenske – 28.350
- Alex Naddour – 30.550
- Sam Mikulak – 29.600
- Allan Bower – 28.800
- Donothan Bailey – 28.400
- Marvin Kimble – 28.300
- Tie: Michael Wilner & Marvin Kimble – 29.900
- Donnell Whittenburg – 29.850
- Alex Naddour – 29.800
- Yul Moldauer – 29.700
- Akash Modi – 29.450
- Yul Moldauer – 29.150
- Donnell Whittenburg – 28.900
- Jordan Valdez – 28.800
- Sean Melton – 28.550
- Marvin Kimble – 28.450
- Colin VanWicklen – 28.100
- Sam Mikulak – 27.850
- Jalon Stephens – 27.750
- Akash Modi – 27.700