With two stuck vaults, and his much-talked-about tawny mane, Oklahoma’s Gage Dyer jumped (literally) into the USA’s 2021 Olympic and World Championship team conversation after day one at U.S. Championships in Fort Worth.

Dyer is used to getting gasps with his NCAA performances, where he’s the reigning floor and vault champ, but, while he’s had flashes of greatness at past USA Gymnastics events—winning floor at Winter Cup in 2020 and earning bronze at USAs in 2019—ill-timed injury means he’s never been a U.S. National Team member…At least not yet.

Last night, not only did Dyer turn in the highest Start Values of the competition on both vault and floor, where he currently sits in first and second place, respectively, but he stuck both his Kasamatsu double (don’t let the name fool you, that’s three full twists) and handspring double front, cold, making quite an impression in the process.

“Gage was awesome,” USA Gymnastics’ High Performance Director Brett McClure said after the meet. “Sticking one vault is hard, let alone two! And that difficulty—no one else has it.”

Dyer’s feat is made even more impressive when you consider that not only was this the first time he’d performed his double front second effort, but he’s also competing with both a bone chip in his ankle, and a partially torn teres major muscle in his side, which forced him to forego the all-around and stick to the leg events most of this season. Oh and, if that weren’t enough, Dyer has also had two shoulder surgeries in three years, most recently last May.

“I’m extremely happy with how my body is holding up, considering all the injuries and setbacks I’ve had,” Dyer said. “To be able to do what I did last night gives me a little extra confidence to be able to come in on day two feeling ready to go. I think I can clean up floor, and copy and paste the vaults I did last night. That’s the plan anyway.”

Dyer hopes that plan will take him to St. Louis and secure his first National Team spot. After that, well, the sky is the limit. 

“He’s an untapped resource for Team USA,” said Dyer’s coach, Mark Williams. “He has so much potential. Like with anyone, it’s what can his body handle? Because his talent is limitless.”

“He’s willing to try anything,” Williams adds of Dyer’s daredevil streak. “I could tell you six different things we have a conversation casually about, or I show him a video of during practice, and the next week he’s putting it in his routine, and it looks like he’s worked on it for years. It’s really fun to have a kid like that in the gym. Gage is a character.”

Dyer himself made a straightforward pitch to the powers-that-be after last night’s meet, “I’d say bringing back two medals is better than one,” he opined, only half-jokingly, when asked why he should be considered. “I’m very confident with my ability if that shot is given to me. I think what I have been doing has hopefully opened the eyes of the selection committee, to let them know that I am very capable of bringing home a medal for our country.”

Inside Gymnastics got an exclusive opportunity to get to know this up-and-coming athlete, chatting with Dyer earlier today about his goals, planned upgrades and, yes, that hair…

INSIDE: You started the sport relatively late at 13-years-old, did you have any idea then this is where you wanted to wind up?

DYER: Everyone says it’s crazy to hear someone starting that late and being in the position I’m in. But they don’t know that, not only did I start very late, but I was very bad at everything [laughs]. Obviously, I had some power, and the coaches saw that I could be decent on floor and vault, and then they saw I picked things up quickly on other events. All of my J.O. coaches said I could go as far as I wanted to go, but I didn’t really expect anything. Now, I know I want to go extremely far in the sport.  Having the opportunity to come to Oklahoma molded me into the gymnast I fantasized about becoming. I want to show that no matter how late you start, if you have a dream, you can achieve it, through incredibly hard work and dedication. When I was [a junior] my No. 1 goal was to make it to Oklahoma. Once I got here, that’s when my gymnastics transformed, and allowed me to have those bigger goals: making National Team, making it to Olympic Trials, making a World team and winning a medal. 

I know the competition for the Olympics, if we get that specialist spot, is going to be extremely high, so my main goal is Worlds, because I want to put myself in a realistic mindset and make that World team. But, you know, if [the Olympics] became a possibility I am definitely open to it.

INSIDE: It seems like you turned some heads, were you happy with your performance last night?

DYER: Absolutely. It was really a great opportunity to show everyone I am capable of doing two vaults, and sticking the triple full was awesome. Being able to compete that double front for the first time, and do it so well, gives me confidence going into day two—knowing that I’m completely capable of doing it.

Honestly, it’s just within this last week that I’ve started to figure out how to do that vault (double front), and once we got on podium, I felt like I honed in on how to do it, and how to do it well. We wanted to make a safe bet, to not make that [second] vault any harder here, but I’ve been working on it with a half out, or a double pike. Hopefully, if I get the opportunity to go to Olympic Trials, I can play around with those and up that value a little bit. …I think that, with being able to do that vault as well as I did it here, in the next two weeks it’s possible to upgrade, and we’ll just have to see what’s working better, the pike or the half.

INSIDE: Do you have any upgrades planned for day two here in Fort Worth?

DYER: Honestly, for day two we’re just going to try and clean up my floor set. The double pike-half is new since NCAAs, but for Trials, if I get to go, I think I’m extremely capable of a 6.8-7.0 Start Value set. To do the triple-double, or the triple back, as a mount; maybe the triple back pike.

INSIDE: You had shared some videos playing around with the piked triple back, but only one person, World Champion Nikita Nagornyy, has ever even attempted that skill, is that actually realistic for you?

DYER: Yeah, it’s very ambitious, but it is possible, and I’m a daredevil, so I think I can do it.

COACH WILLIAMS: I do believe Gage can mount with a triple pike. He’s fully capable of that. He’s done it in training. Gage has done all those passes, so I do think a 6.8 is realistic in two weeks. The dilemma becomes: Will he have the kind of control he has now with that higher Start Value? That’s the push-pull of difficulty and execution. 

Gage can do all the upgrades. It’s just so much about the landings, because with landing deductions, a higher Start Value can become a moot point—you’re not going to score higher. So, if there’s a way to jump his Start Value and still have good control, he’ll definitely do that.

INSIDE: Floor and vault are your specialties, but you also did pommel horse last night. What is the strategy there? 

DYER: [laughs] There wasn’t any. It was just for fun. I think on day two we’ll just do floor and vault. 

When I was trying to give my legs a break during training, I’d go do horse. I did it just to make the meet more interesting, and keep me warm after floor. I know, most [gymnasts] hate horse, and here I am choosing to do it.

INSIDE: You’ve had, and are still dealing with, a slew of injuries—partially torn muscle, bone chip, shoulder surgeries—how have they effected your training, beyond getting extra time for pommels?

DYER: The teres tear—that one obviously limited my gymnastics abilities, because I couldn’t do any of the [arm] events, but I also somewhat see it as a blessing, because it allowed me to focus on the events I knew I would be extremely capable of making a National and World team for, and hopefully medal on. That focus allowed me to become the gymnast I’ve seen myself as.

The [partial muscle tear] really doesn’t affect me on floor and vault at this point. At first, I couldn’t really throw back my arms to do back handsprings, but it hasn’t given me any issues since the first week or two, as long as I stick to just those events. But sometimes I’ll be doing conditioning pull-ups or something, and it will remind me that it’s there. The bone chip is from a previous ankle injury, and at first there was inflammation against the Achilles, so we were worried. But doctors say the Achilles is in good shape—knock wood. 

That’s what didn’t let me do the upgraded floor set that I wanted to do. I was pushing really hard and had to pull back, which gave me time to analyze and remind myself to train smart, as well as hard. I know I’m completely capable of those new skills, but I need to do it smartly. Hopefully make it to Trials, and take it from there.

INSIDE: Do you plan to return to the all-around at some point, or do you see being a floor and vault specialist as your future?

DYER: I can say that, right now, I’m not in a rush to get to the other events. It’s a wait and see. I want to avoid hurting it further, or tearing it completely. I don’t want to put myself at risk, but it’s not out of the question. I’m also still dealing with shoulder surgery, doing rehab every day. It’s never ending. It’s being a gymnast. [The limitation] allows me to focus on what I know I do best, but when I watch the guys doing high bar and p-bars, I do miss those. But I also remember the pain and anxiety of doing those routines. For now, I’m happy with how I’ve directed my energy and time.

INSIDE: In addition to the physical injuries, you’re also dealing, like everyone else, with the global pandemic, which prematurely ended the 2020 NCAA season and closed down the Oklahoma gym for six months. How did that effect your training?

DYER: It was difficult. I had to really adjust my mental game. I was also coming back from surgery, so while everyone was training at their home gyms, I was doing shoulder rehab. It was very hard to stay motivated when all my teammates are away and doing gymnastics, and I’m struggling to curl five-pound weights. 

Once we were allowed back in the gym, it lit a fire underneath me; reminded me why I was here. We knew it was going to be a hard season, but I took it as a challenge to feel blessed to have the opportunity to compete and come back together. It started off really hard, but it helped in the end, because it made me appreciate all those hard moments. 

After the way last season ended, it just felt like at any moment they could flip a switch and it would all be over. It was scary. But we decided to deal with it by treating every competition like it was our last—really go out and there and do our best.

When we were finally able to go to NCAAs, it felt like a miracle being out there with the other teams. I think every gymnast there was excited to have that opportunity. That excitement shut down all the nerves for me, helped me really focus and have the best floor and vault of my life. I’ve never felt so calm at a competition. I was just so happy to be there. 

I think it turned out really great. It’s a year for the books. It molded me into a man I’m proud to be.

INSIDE: Now that the NCAA has extended an extra ‘COVID year’ to all winter sport athletes, will we see you back at NCAAs in 2022?

DYER: It’s under consideration. I’m gonna see what I can get out of this summer season, and then, once we get to NCAA stuff, that’s when it’s time to make a decision.

INSIDE: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask the question on the Internet’s mind…Who cuts your hair?

DYER: [laughs] I do. I mean, I did. I’m sort of the unofficial team barber— taking over for Yul (Moldauer).

All that [hair talk] makes me smile. I’ve mostly got good comments, a few haven’t liked it. I just see all these short haircuts, and I wanted to stand out, do something new. 

Also, I started to do a lot better when I grew out my hair, so it’s like my hair is where I get my power. [laughing] I’m hoping for that full lion’s mane to up my ability to perform some really great stuff. 

Photos by University of Oklahoma

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