By Ashlee Buhler
From the moment Yul Moldauer nailed his high bar dismount at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, he knew he had done enough. There was a brief pause as he held his salute. He fought back tears as thoughts of his family, coaches, teammates, and everybody who has supported him along the way came flooding into mind. The years of hard work and sacrifice were worth it. Yul Moldauer had just become an Olympian.
Over the last five years, Moldauer proved to be one of the best gymnasts in the nation. He started the Olympic cycle with a win at the U.S. National Championships in 2017, won bronze on floor at the World Championships later that year, and went on to win three consecutive American Cup titles from 2017 to 2019. The Olympics seemed to be the next sequential step and with a second place All-Around finish at the Olympic Trials (in addition to placing top 3 on at least 3 events), it wasn’t even a question if Moldauer would be headed to Tokyo, it was a guarantee.
“It was very emotional for me,” Moldauer said of locking in his Olympian status. “It was just an unreal moment because it shows no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, you can make anything happen as long as you work hard.”
On July 15, Moldauer and the rest of the men’s Olympic team will leave for Tokyo. The mission is to bring home some hardware – a team medal – which the U.S. men have not done since 2008. Moldauer wants to do it not only for his country, but for his teammate and friend Sam Mikulak, who will be competing in his third and final Olympics in Tokyo.
“I think we can do it,” Moldauer said. “Every time I close my eyes, I can see myself hugging Sam and saying ‘Congrats we did it!’ To feel that moment is the most important to me because Sam has done so much not only for the gymnastics community but for my career.”
The team comes first. Individual medals come second. Moldauer hopes that by keeping the team goal at the forefront of his mind, individual success will happen organically.
“I know if I focus on the team, all the individual aspects can come later,” Moldauer said. “And on the day of qualifications if I give it my all, I can maybe get into a few event finals and All-Around finals.”
As the clock continues to tick, Moldauer said the team is focused, energized, and ready to go. After three days of training and a team intrasquad at the USOPTC, the message Moldauer told his teammates is to compete as if they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That’s the mindset they hope to maintain in Tokyo as they face off against the world’s best.
“The crazy thing about gymnastics is it doesn’t matter if you’re the best guy in the world or you have the highest difficulty–anything can happen,” Moldauer said. “It’s literally going to be who wants it more. I think that’s what gymnastics is all about. From the beginning of the meet, you fight until the end.”
For a first time Olympian like Moldauer, Tokyo will be a unique experience–not quite like anything he dreamt about as a kid. On July 8, just weeks before the Games begin, Tokyo entered a state of emergency for the third time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, no fans will be allowed to attend any sporting events.
Team USA will be staying in a nearby hotel, rather than the Olympic Village, and will not be able to sightsee, mingle with other athletes, or attend other sporting events. Athletes are also required to leave Tokyo within 48 hours of their final competition. Nevertheless, Moldauer is approaching the experience with a grateful mind and optimistic attitude.
“It’s just a part of this year,” Moldauer said. “You have to understand that certain things aren’t going to go as planned. At the end of the day, it just makes for a greater story. You get to say you were a part of the Olympics at such a crazy time of everyone’s life. And to say that you did it, you should be proud. It doesn’t matter if it’s not normal because there’s so many other things you can be positive about. At least you’re going to the Olympics and get to compete for the USA.”
Competing with no fans is something that Moldauer doesn’t expect to bother him or affect his performance. Afterall, he competed at the 2018 World Championships in Doha where the stands were nowhere close to full.
If anything, Molduaer said the experience will motivate him to continue to Paris 2024, but for now his focus remains on Tokyo and being the “hype man” for team USA–a role he is more than capable of filling.
“I’ll definitely be the crowd for Team USA,” Moldauer said. “There’s no greater feeling than giving energy to your teammates so they can go and hit a good set. All these guys know what that’s about because we’ve all been through the NCAA, so we all have that character inside of us. So I’ll finish my routine, politely salute the judges and I’ll get hype for my team for sure.”
No matter what, Tokyo will be an experience to remember and Moldauer plans to embrace it, just as he has embraced every moment of his career so far. It’s the biggest piece of advice he has to offer anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps.
“Embrace the grind,” Moldauer said. “If you think about every athlete in the world and every top athlete, there’s a difference in their training and their mindset. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s up to you to take that challenge head on. If you do, when you look back on the whole journey and the grind, you’ll have the biggest smile on your face when it all pays off.”
For Moldauer, that’s exactly what happened.
Photos by Grace Chiu and Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics
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