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Note: This interview originally appeared as the cover story for the March/April issue of Inside Gymnastics Magazine. 

Yul Moldauer’s New Motivation

By Christy Sandmaier

Yul Moldauer knows this is his time. With stalwart Sam Mikulak retired and a roster of up and coming players for Team USA, Moldauer is now the veteran and the leader of a generation hungry to make a difference and get Team USA back to the medal podium. Today, whether he’s dreaming about the Audi R8 he’d like to someday have or mixing his own Soundcloud tracks, his goals in the sport are never far from his mind. Afterall, as he told me, “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

At last year’s World Championships in Kitakyushu, Japan, Moldauer put up a great fight after starting the competition with a shocking fall on his rings dismount. After the first rotation he was toward the back of the pack, but by the time the competition chalk dust settled, he was fourth – the highest All-Around finish for a U.S. man at the World Championships in the last ten years. NBC analyst John Roethlisberger called it “possibly the biggest moment that received little attention.”

There no doubt had to be disappointment coming so close to claiming that bronze medal, but Moldauer put things into perspective for all of us.

“I’m actually really happy considering I fell,” he said after the competition. “I just remembered that I was representing the USA and I didn’t want to give up just because I fell. You just have to keep fighting. I feel like this is a good stepping stone for me going into this next quad.”

It was a moment that defined his character. For years, we’ve watched his passion for the sport grow with his resolve to get his team to the podium over any of his individual goals. In the spring of 2020 he told us, “I’m going to give it 200, 300, 500% of what I can because I’m not going to let anything stop me. I want us as a team to be on that podium and I’m going to do everything I can to get us there.”

In Tokyo, the team finished fifth. But Moldauer says more motivation came from that finish than anything else. “Of course, it was always our dream to get on the podium but being there and seeing what’s going on, it actually helped boost us for the U.S. to know what we need to do to get competitive,” he said. “After the team competition we all went back to our rooms and got our laptops out and made spreadsheets of routines we hope to have by the next Olympics and how we can get this team to really be competitive again. It was exciting no matter the podium or not and we really took back and put on paper where we needed to be.”

So now it’s 2022 and with Moldauer’s Olympic teammates Brody Malone and Shane Wiskus still on the scene, along with alternates Alex Diab and Cameron Bock, and up and comers Asher Hong, Moldauer’s teammate and close friend Vitaliy Guimaraes, Paul Juda, and Khoi Young all fighting for spots and success, the quest begins again. At Winter Cup, it was Guimaraes who ultimately took the title and no one was cheering louder for him than Moldauer. “Now that he’s won Winter Cup, I think he’s starting to grow into this role and become one of the leaders on the National Team,” he said. “I’m super happy for him.”

A combination of fire, focus and humbleness on the floor is so much of what Moldauer is made of and what could yet take him to the pinnacle of success in his sport. It’s what makes you want to cheer for him, yell along with him every time he sticks his dismount, chalk flying with his trademark salute. And it’s what could very well lead his team to the next level he’s so driven to achieve. 

“All of this together is a team effort. It’s going to be way more fun when you stand on the podium and look left and right and see your teammates there,” he said, “We all have this greater initiative as a team to do it together.”

We’re here for it. And as they say, Game On.

Now that we’re on the other side of Tokyo, have you had a chance to put it all in perspective?

Even though it was an unusual Olympics, it was still life changing. As soon as you walk into the facility and onto the Olympic floor you can see and feel the energy that everyone wants to succeed. To be in that environment after a long wait – waiting almost your entire life dreaming it – it shows things take time and dreams are all about the process.

A lot of athletes say they have to approach the Olympics the same way they do in other competitions in order to stay calm. Is that truly possible and what was your mentality when you were out on the floor competing?

Honestly, mine was completely the opposite. This is what I was working for. This is what I was dreaming and I looked at it as my chance to really show why I deserved to be there. I took it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I trusted my training, my coaches and the process that it took me to get there and it was time to show it.

Can you pinpoint a routine or moment at the Games that went exactly as you pictured it?

Going up into team finals, I was first on horse. There was a lot of pressure there. I remember the night before I was thinking about my routine and when I woke up, I started thinking about it piece by piece. In every routine there’s that one spot where you can kind of relax and know you can get through the rest. But there, I didn’t want an accident to happen – I didn’t want my hand to slip on my travel or not be focused for the next skill. I was just going skill by skill and I knew I had to start the team off with a hit. It was a lot of pressure but pressure is privilege like Colin (Van Wicklen) says. To be in that position and have the team trust me was really exciting for me.

Were you able to do anything fun in Tokyo above and beyond the competition?

I mean, we bonded the whole trip. We came up with bowling in the hallway, we always pulled our chairs out in the hallway so we could eat together. We always tried to dress cool with all the gear we got! We wanted our spirits to be at an all time high no matter the situation.

And you all had your own Opening Ceremony with the women’s team…

It was awesome because the guys said they’ve never done an Opening Ceremony before because the competition was always the next day. So we said, “let’s do one at the hotel. Let’s get dressed up, do the walk and just have a good time.”

Was it at all frustrating that you had to qualify for the Worlds team after just coming off of the Olympics?

That was the hardest training – those couple of months – of my life. Coming out of the Olympics, I was so braindead, I almost couldn’t get out of bed. It was definitely tough having to re-ramp up and have to make the team again. It’s fair to the other athletes so that’s what you have to do. So for me, it wasn’t a big deal but it would be nice if there was some leeway. But again, I get it. I don’t think a lot of people would understand that training time unless they go through it. It was all mental. I just came off the Olympic Games, the pinnacle of what I’ve been working towards in gymnastics competition and had to get ready for Worlds.

Have you allowed yourself a moment to relax and really take stock of what you accomplished last year?

I’ve analyzed it. It honestly was such a crazy year because I went to Switzerland after Worlds. The only week I took off was for Allan’s (Bower) wedding in the Bahamas. Going to those competitions and placing fourth with a fall and going to Swiss Cup and beating (Nikita) Nargornyy really motivated me. The next Olympics is really only a year and half away before you get in that mode. I’m working on upgrades this year. It’s time to start off slow and just be peaking by 2024.

Did Winter Cup feel like a clean slate or is it just part of the continuation of what you built up at the end of last year?

I know I didn’t perform well day one but I was trying new stuff. I have 6.1 rings, above a 6.0 on pommels, p-bars is right up there now with the rest of the world at a 6.7. High bar is upgraded. Floor, I’m still adjusting to the new code but I know by next year it will be good. For all of that, it’s just a different game now. [Before this year] I could always downgrade my sets and try and win every single meet, but I think what the U.S. needs right now is to push difficulty and that’s what I’m trying to do. Even if I don’t win every single meet or get top three, I know I’m in the process right now to be the spot I’m going to be in by 2024.

Do you feel adding the difficulty bonus at Winter Cup was truly an incentive? Does it really help the team on an international stage going forward?

For me, it helped me make the (National) team again. If I hadn’t had the bonuses, I wouldn’t be on the team again, so I’m not in a stressful spot worrying about how I’m going to get paid and all that. But if you look at Vitaliy, he has average start scores and he hit [his routines] clean. So I think it plays both ways. It will help the gymnast who decides to do average start scores and stay clean but it will also help the guys who throw bigger skills keep their spot on the team. It’s kind of hard to say if it will motivate people or not, but we’re still early in the quad, we’re still early with this brand new National Team. We’ll see how it plays out, but I think it will make things a little confusing when we compete internationally.

Are there things you think USA Gymnastics and the men’s program could be doing more of to help all of you succeed and get to the podium?

The only thing that bothered me is that I just came off a really long year and I was put in a position of having to make the (National) team again and that was just stressful. They bragged on social media that I was the best placement [at Worlds] in over a decade and I just got no rewards for it. So that was the only part that was stressful for me. But, I think the U.S. is starting to come to the realization of what we need to be on the podium.

Do you think it’s a benefit to see different guys at the top of the podium to give everybody that extra fight they need to be competitive and fight for each spot on the team now?

It definitely brings the competition level up a lot higher. You can’t just go in expecting to win a meet. You have to worry about five to six other guys. With more guys at the top level, you’re not going to get relaxed. 

One of the things we’ve admired over the years is how much you support your teammates. Is that a natural part of your personality?

My whole life I’ve grown up with friends around me and we’ve accomplished great things together at the club level at 5280 and at OU in NCAA where it all comes down to team. You have to appreciate your parents, teammates, your coaches, the athletic staff, your friends and your fans. You wouldn’t be here without them and their support, and with all of the little extra things they do. 

Vitaliy calls you his role model. How do you make each other better as athletes?

I was telling Vit from the very beginning, “don’t give up, you have the international gymnastics style. Once you start going, people are going to realize how good you are, so never give up on that dream.” When you have a best friend doing well, it’s just so exciting to see everything he’s overcome to be at the place he’s at now. I know this has been a dream of his.

How do you pace yourself now? It’s going to be a very quick Olympic cycle as you said…

Just looking at Worlds, that really motivated me because that was the new quad, competing with those guys. I think [the timing] actually played out really nice, and I think it’s going to make this Olympic journey feel a lot less long and stressful. Every day is part of the process. I’ve got the experience under my belt now. Now it’s time to really make a difference.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Smith & Ricardo Bufolin 

For more:

First Stop, Tampa! 2022 U.S. Championships Senior Men’s Preview

McClain’s Moment To Shine 

August 2022 Issue Preview!

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