By Patricia C. Duffy

The premiere USA Gymnastics meet of the year, the 2017 P&G National Championships, kicks off today with day one of junior and senior Men’s competition. In a matter of months, Olympians Chris Brooks, Jake Dalton, Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva and John Orozco have announced their retirement from competitive gymnastics, leaving the state of men’s gymnastics in America in flux. Who will make a name for himself this weekend? Will the college men dominate? Will Sam Mikulak impress despite only competing two events?

Many questions are still up in the air with this field of talented gymnasts, but don’t be fooled, this championship is packed with talent.

Feature photo by Ricardo Bufolin.

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The premiere USA Gymnastics meet of the year, the 2017 P&G National Championships, kicks off today with day one of junior and senior Men’s competition. In a matter of months, Olympians Chris Brooks, Jake Dalton, Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva and John Orozco have announced their retirement from competitive gymnastics, leaving the state of men’s gymnastics in America in flux. Who will make a name for himself this weekend? Will the college men dominate? Will Sam Mikulak impress despite only competing two events?

Many questions are still up in the air with this field of talented gymnasts, but don’t be fooled, this championship is packed with talent.

Floor

The 2016 U.S. floor exercise champion Jake Dalton has retired, and Sam Mikulak is not competing floor in an effort to continue recovering from the achilles injury he retained at the 2017 Winter Cup. A field missing Dalton and Mikulak routines may seem sub-par, but this group is far from it. The playing field is fairly even, making the competition on this apparatus one of the most interesting to watch this year.

2017 NCAA floor exercise champion Yul Moldauer has the difficulty, execution and presentation that make him a favorite to take home the FX title. Factor in his “sticky feet” and Moldauer is one to beat on this apparatus. One of Moldauer’s most difficult competitors on FX is three-time Winter Cup champion Eddie Penev. Penev uses his long lines to his advantage with a routine that is jam-packed with laid-out tumbling, including a sky high double twisting double layout. Moldauer’s former teammate Colin Van Wicklen could give his competitors a run for their money on this event. As the 2016 NCAA floor exercise champion, Van Wicklen has a lower difficulty score than Moldauer and Penev, but if he executes his routines well, he could prove to be a spoiler.

Pommel Horse

USA men’s gymnastics continues to lack the necessary depth and consistency on pommel horse needed to compete with other countries on this apparatus and as a team, but 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Alex Naddour is proof that the U.S. men can improve and challenge on this event in international competitions.

For an apparatus that U.S. gymnasts struggle with, the pommel championship lineup is deep with talent and potential. Naddour and 2016 U.S. champion Donothan Bailey are the two competitors to beat in this lineup. Meanwhile, Mikulak has opted to only compete on pommel and high bar because he believes he can contribute to the men’s Worlds team on those events. When Mikulak hits, it’s a big score. 2016 NCAA champion and 2017 Big Ten pommel champion Brandon Ngai may have a lower difficulty score, but his routine can score big when he hits and dismounts cleanly. He also starts his routine with an intricate twist that is an eye-catcher on the apparatus.

Still Rings

Two-time U.S. champion Donnell Whittenburg is world class on this event and recently performed the first triple back on rings ever at the 2017 Koper World Challenge Cup. The skill is now officially “The Whittenburg” in the code of points. Yul Moldauer is the 2017 Winter Cup and NCAA champion on this event and has beaten Whittenburg before, including at Winter Cup this year.

Vault

2014 champion Whittenburg doesn’t have to compete against 2015 and 2016 champions Mikulak and Dalton, but he does have to worry about PenevKanji Oyama and Moldauer, among others. His double front with a half twist is a mesmerizing feat of strength.

Parallel Bars

NCAA rivals Moldauer and Akash Modi will challenge the field on this apparatus. Former champions MikulakBrooks, and Leyva are not in the lineup, so the 2017 Winter Cup and NCAA champions, respectively, have a wide open race to the title. Along the way they’ll have to challenge Cameron BockAllan Bower, and Whittenburg. Ultimately, it won’t be shocking if this pair goes one-two on this apparatus.

High Bar

Mikulak was the 2013 title on this event, and if he is going to challenge for a spot on the Worlds team, as a specialist of sorts with his injury, this event is his best bet. He has competed against the best in the world on high bar at the Olympics and knows what it takes to secure gold on national and international soil. Mikulak’s competition is stiff, including MoldauerModi, and Alexander Wilson.

All-Around prediction:

Four-time AA champion and two-time Olympian Mikulak is sitting out of the all-around in a smart move to preserve his recovery. 2017 NCAA champion (and 2016 Olympic team alternate) Modi, 2016 NCAA champion Moldauer, and 2016 Olympic team alternate Whittenburg all have solid chances if they compete all six events. But the field is wide and deep. It’s anyone’s guess who will secure the title and, potentially, become the new face of USA men’s gymnastics.

Stick with Inside Gymnastics for continued coverage of the 2017 P&G Championships in Anaheim, California by following us on social (@insidegym) and visiting insidegym.com for daily coverage!

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