Following fifth place finishes at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games—where the U.S. was expected to challenge for a podium position—USA Gymnastics made a number of changes to the men’s program. One of the biggest changes was transitioning the National Team Coordinator position (previously held by Kevin Mazeika) to what is now titled Director of High Performance. That title alone indicates the results-driven approach USA Gymnastics is taking in re-developing the program. The organization chose Olympic medalist and former NCAA (Cal) coach Brett McClure to lead the charge. He’s instituted a number of changes to the training regime (more on that in our Nov/Dec issue) and begins the road to Tokyo 2020 here at the 2017 Gymnastics World Championships in Montreal. McClure spoke to the press following this year’s U.S. Championships in August and again just days ago following podium training in Montreal. Here’s a portion of his conversation with members of the media, from both occasions, on selecting the team, his focus for the position and expectations…
Part 1: McClure Speaks with Reporters Following the 2017 U.S. Championships
There are lots of new faces on the [National] team this year, what are your thoughts on that?
Anything can happen with an individual Worlds. If you make it into finals, you’re giving yourself a chance regardless of start value. I was able to make an event final at Worlds in 2002 in Hungry and I did not have the highest difficulty. Everyone basically counted me out of event finals and I was able to sneak in there. I think a lot of these guys can put themselves in a similar position. I think we have a lot of guys with event final potential.
How much consideration did you give to taking another all-around gymnast instead of another event specialist?
I considered it quite a bit! Looking towards the future with a four-man team, obviously you’re going to need four all-arounders because it’s four-up, three-count in prelims. So we played out multiple scenarios with one, two, and even four all-arounders. Early in the quad we want as big of a pool to work with as possible, so we’re not ready to trim anything down just yet. We wanted to take the opportunity to have as many guys getting experience as we can.
When you made the decision to go all-around instead of specialist, how much did you look at the international scores to help make your decision?
I have all the international results from the last six months and I’ve compiled the top ten athletes on each event. We’ve compared start values and final scores and seen what our potential is. That definitely plays a big role with the selection committee when selecting different teams.
How much of the selection is computer-driven or human judgment?
We look at the numbers first because they really don’t lie. Then you look at consistency, ‘Are you going to be able to perform under pressure?’ That kind of thing. It’s a new year, we’re trying to give everyone a clean slate.
Even though Marvin [Kimble] won two events, he was inconsistent. Talk about that…
He made the choice to do the all-around in a year with an individual event World Championships. I commend his effort because he’s trying to put together all six events, while other guys made the choice not to do the all-around and focus on their best events. In Marvin’s case, he was able to put together three solid events, so if he chose to do just those events you wouldn’t have seen the falls. He executed on the events that he’s best at and I think he did a good job there.
What have you seen from him that gives you confidence that he will hit when he gets to a big stage?
The effort has changed, he’s going all in. Even though he made mistakes on some of the other events, he chose to compete them instead of pulling out. I’m really liking the effort and I think we have a long road ahead of us. I think as long as he continues to train as hard as he can and push the envelope, he can be a valuable asset to Team USA. I think that goes for the entire national team—all these guys are starting to put in a big effort. Coming off an Olympic Games is hard to do. Traditionally it’s a down year, but it’s good to see everyone hungry again. They want this bad, and they want to continue to get better.
Can you talk a little about Alan [Bower]?
He’s done a great job this year. He’s probably one of our most consistent guys right now. He made some mistakes in his last international assignment, but was able to come back and I think that has really helped him prepare for this competition. Now it’s time for him to perform instead of just trying to hit routines. What he did this past week was extremely encouraging for Team USA. He’s really made a statement for himself that he is an all-around contender.
If Donnell Whittenburg makes event finals, will he go for the triple pike?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s definitely a possibility! The Whittenburg is such a spectacular dismount, but it’s also very risky, which is why no one else in the world has done it. He also has a clean laid-out double-double that he can stick more often, so we’ll just have to see how the world camp goes and play it by ear.
Has there been any thought at changing the way the program works to be more like top international teams?
Yeah, there has been a lot of discussion on how to select teams. We’re trying to focus on a collaborative effort—trying to get the team together early on to build camaraderie. We don’t train together as much as the women’s team. Some of the men are older and have children, jobs, and they have to take care of their families. It really is a different expectation level. If we can figure that out, maybe we can start to push back the selection process closer to the competition, but right now this is the system that works best for us.
What will make you happy at the conclusion of Worlds?
Our goal is to execute as best as we can. Whatever happens as far as event finals or medals, that’s kind of out of our control. We have to focus on our job. I think we have potential to make at least five finals or maybe more. But our main goal is to focus on our hit percentage.
Part 2: McClure Speaks with the Press at Conclusion of Podium Training in Montreal
It’s your first time out there in this position. How did it feel?
Awesome and nerve-wracking. I feel so comfortable back at the World Championships — I felt like I should have been at the chalk box getting ready to go up on the equipment. [Laughs] That part was a little challenging for me … to sit back and watch. I was really excited for the guys to get out there and start getting comfortable.
What was your assessment of their performance at podium training?
I think we have a lot to work on. Getting adjusted to the lights was something new for us, especially on vault. We’re going to have to take a little more time in the warm-up hall and zone in on what our approach is going to be there. I think the nerves started settling down towards our second or third event. High bar was our highlight…I think we need to find a way to get into that mindset right from the first event and carry that through. Towards the end we lost a little momentum, but overall I’m really happy with how they did today and I think we have our game plan for the next two days to be as best prepared as possible for qualifications.
What are some of your best competition memories — other than the Olympics?
My first World Championships. It was in 2001 in Belgium and we were basically coming off of [the 9/11 terrorist attack]. It was a very hard time for Americans and this was an opportunity for us to give back some kind of hope to our country. I feel like right now with all the hurricanes that are happening — this team has an opportunity to maybe bring something positive to the newsfeed for everybody at home. I’m really excited for them to do that.
As a former athlete, what is your take on athletes kneeling during the national anthem?
I think equality is the big thing and I support that over anything. I also support the American flag and the national anthem. I think we’ve got to respect each other’s rights to do what we feel is right.