Three-time Defending American Cup Champ Moldauer Pulled From Roster

On January 23 of this year, USA Gymnastics distributed a release to the media and the public that announced the participants for this year’s American Cup. No surprise that the three-time defending men’s Champ Yul Moldauer was on the roster.
“The lineup of the FIG All-Around World Cup in Milwaukee is a who’s who of Olympic contenders,” the release touted and described Moldauer as “the 2017 World Floor bronze medalist and three-time defending American Cup champion.”

Nowhere in the release did it specify that this roster was tentative or dependent upon other factors. By all indications, Moldauer was a lock for the event. And just as when a line-up for a concert or other marquee event is announced, when fans spend their hard earned money to purchase tickets, they generally expect to see the artists who were promoted.

But on February 27, just eight days before the event, USA Gymnastics distributed another release, headlined: ‘Final lineup for American Cup announced’ that removed Moldauer from the roster and replaced him with Shane Wiskus.

All of this follows a chaotic week in the aftermath of the 2020 Winter Cup competition, where U.S. men’s athletes vie for medals, National Team spots and the opportunity to represent the U.S. in international competition. Following the conclusion of the two days of competition, an awards ceremony was held on site awarding Moldauer the All-Around medal based on his two-day total. USA Gymnastics also tweeted the results proclaiming Moldauer as the champion. But after the competition, it was announced that the results were incorrect and that Sam Mikulak was actually the champion. Confused already? Most people were, too.

“We apologize for the confusion over this weekend’s Winter Cup results, and the impact it had on our athletes,” USA Gymnastics later said. “As part of the final event preparation, we failed to clearly communicate and confirm with our event staff the final scoring format for the All-Around competition, which was determined from day 1 results. We are immediately implementing procedures to improve this communication and limit any confusion in the future.”

After the new results were revealed, Moldauer officially got the fifth place position based on his day 1 total. When day 1 and day 2 were combined, he led the field in the All-Around, but some athletes chose not to compete all events on day 2.

Moldauer used Winter Cup to test new, upgraded routines on 5 of 6 events (all except vault).

Moldauer also earned the individual title on vault. In the highly touted Men’s Program Point Accumulation for the event (another measure the program has used for years to determine potential to contribute), Moldauer actually earned the second highest point total for the entire field as well. 

It was therefore shocking to many, including Moldauer and his coach Mark Williams, and fans who had purchased tickets to the American Cup, when he was taken off the assignment.

USA Gymnastics provided the following statement in the days just prior to the official announcement of the replacement: “Because USAG must often provide athlete names prior to certain competitions, we often share names of potential or likely competitors to FIG while awaiting results from upcoming competitions. The Men’s Program Committee (MPC) ultimately assigns the athletes traveling closer to the event. Consequently, we submitted a nominative registration with Yul Moldauer for American Cup, Stuttgart and Birmingham. And, with the results of Winter Cup now in, the MPC will finalize its assignments. Although it has not yet confirmed, we anticipate that the MPC will assign Brody Malone for Birmingham World Cup, Sam Mikulak for American Cup, with Shane Wiskus as the wild card, Sam Mikulak for the Tokyo World Cup, and Yul Moldauer for Stuttgart World Cup.”

But nowhere in the January press release, nor on the website or other venues where USA Gymnastics promoted Yul Moldauer as a participant was anything conveyed to fans that this was just a placeholder – they promoted him as a competitor.

For his part, coach Williams says USA Gymnastics failed to communicate properly with him or his athlete and has expressed his complete frustration.

“Deeply disappointed in the decision by USA Gymnastics and the Men’s Program Committee to remove Yul from event assignments we were told were already his,” Williams says. “Yul and I were aware that he needed to make the National Team and show readiness to represent the USA, but we were never advised that already-designated spots might be given to someone else even if Yul made the National Team, topped the two-day all-around standings, won vault and finished second in the overall 10-point standings…. Our understanding, through months of conversations with both myself and Yul directly, is he would be competing as the American Cup wild card, as well as in the Birmingham and Stuttgart World Cups, and his training plan was designed towards peaking for those events. I have been coaching at this level for 30 years and that’s always been the standard—show readiness to retain your nominative spot. It is extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, to replace an athlete for reasons other than illness, injury or voluntary withdrawal.”

Williams continued, “Prior to competition, there was never notice that Yul’s World Cup spots were contingent on him finishing a particular rank at Winter Cup. Instead, our understanding was that Yul had already earned these spots as the No. 2 American at both 2019 USAs and the World Championships, and his Winter Cup performance was a formality to confirm National Team status.” 

USA Gymnastics signified the American Cup as “the USA’s most prestigious international invitational” in their January release.

“Only four gymnasts have won the Cup three times in a row: Kurt Thomas, Mary Lou Retton, Blaine Wilson and Yul. None have done so four times consecutively,” Williams said. “While we knew, as the wild card, that his performance wouldn’t count towards Olympic selection, Yul very much wanted the opportunity to defend his title.”

When USA Gymnastics was asked what their response was to fans who saw their press release and promotional material, the organization responded: “Candidly, this was a communications error on our part. We should have stressed in our release and other communications that all assignments are subject to MPC decision before they are made final.”

To say that fans are upset is an understatement. Many have taken to social media to express their frustration. World Champion Natalia Yurchenko stated: “So disappointed. I bought tickets because it was advertised everywhere that Yul will be competing.”

All of this follows USA Gymnastics’ hiring in December of Jason Woodnick to serve as the vice president for men’s gymnastics. Woodnick “will be responsible for overseeing the USA Gymnastics men’s gymnastics program, from grassroots to the national teams. He will be based in Indianapolis and will report to Stefanie Korepin, the chief programs officer,” USA Gymnastics said upon his hiring. It should be noted that he only took the helm of the program as of February 1.

We should also note that Shane Wiskus had a fantastic performance at Winter Cup, placing second in the All-Around on day 1, landing in the sixth spot on the men’s program point totals and is a phenomenal athlete and also a potential Olympic team member. We wish Shane, Yul and all of the athletes who earned a spot at Winter Cup all of the best with their upcoming assignments and hope for a positive, successful outcome for each of them and Team USA.

USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung has touted an “athlete first” policy since taking the reigns of the organization and we’ve reached out to ask for her take on the situation and will update this article when we receive a response.

American Cup Photos by Lloyd Smith