This is a place of honesty, so let’s be real. We’re coming up on one of the two weeks every year when you decide to start paying attention to men’s gymnastics again and suddenly have very strong opinions about it that are based on a whole lot.
It’s a gymternet tradition.
So, to get you up to speed after 12 months of not watching very much of the boys doing all the strongies and the flippies or whatever they do, here’s a little primer. We’ll all just pretend I’m not in the exact same situation as you. Suspension of disbelief!
Here’s the most important thing to know: Moldauer/Modi is the new Shawn/Nastia. Everyone will need to pick a favorite right this minute and then make a screen name about it and have internet fights.
Yul Moldauer has developed into a fairly obsession-worthy character because of execution. Be fully prepared for Moldauer to show up with a D-Score total that is not only well behind Modi’s but that gives away a solid 2 points to the best AAers in the world. Moldauer is nonetheless the tentative favorite to become national champion next weekend because he can make up difficulty gaps through execution and is a plausible bet to hit a 9.0 E, even on non-vault events.
On rings, for instance, Moldauer has managed to defy the odds and become quite the competitive scorer despite not looking like Bebop and Rocksteady, because he’s just so precise.
This shouldn’t necessarily be constructed as purely a battle of execution versus difficulty, however, because it’s not like Akash Modi is some D-chucking garbage monster. Still, Modi’s best opportunities to cultivate an advantage on Moldauer will come because of D and will come on the events where he begins with a significant advantage, like pommel horse.
Modi is an essential character for the US this quad because he is a competitive all-arounder who can contribute several events including a TF-worthy pommel horse routine. He’s basically a golden goose. And he must make horse matter. A significant reason Modi finished 1.5 behind Moldauer at American Cup was an error on horse that prevented him from taking advantage of his score on that piece. Modi’s most impressive moments, however, tend to come on PBars, on which that stuck dismount at American Cup was basically a career highlight.
Moldauer is no slouch on PBars either (that layout 1/2!), but Modi has the potential to gain (or gain back) some tenths there, tenths he will expect to lose to Moldauer’s superior execution on floor and rings despite similar difficulty scores.
Unfortunately, this thing may come down to high bar more than anything else. I say unfortunately because it’s not exactly a triumphant event for either (this is not a good HB year for the US—Paul Ruggeri where are you in my life?), but Modi does have a significant difficulty advantage, along with the highest score for the US on high bar so far this year. It doesn’t always happen, though, so he has to make sure it happens this time. Meanwhile, Moldauer is like, “Can I do a pretty DLO 1/1 and that’s all?” and the code’s like, “No…”
It has been a real tug-of-war so far this year. Moldauer and Modi exchanged victories in the major early-season events, Modi taking Winter Cup prelims and the NCAA Championship, and Moldauer taking Winter Cup finals and American Cup. Battle 5 coming up.
Of note, both of Modi’s victories in that span have come when Moldauer fell on horse and got a disastrous score. Watch that space to see if Moldauer gives Modi an opening.
Also, their mash-up couple name is Moldi. The end.
If Moldauer/Modi is the new Shawn/Nastia, then I suppose that makes Donnell Whittenburg the Memmel of the relationship, where you’re like, “You know actually him too…”
We all know the deal with Whittenburg. If there were four men’s events—floor, rings, vault, and PBars—he would be a favorite to win the national championship with best-in-the-nation ability on several of those pieces. The problem for him is that he has to do high bar and also look at the pommel horse. Terror. Even when he hits those events, he gets crushed on execution so much that it becomes difficult to pick up ground on the other pieces. Whittenburg enters AA competitions with his feet in two holes. Good thing he’s strong enough to pull himself out.
But, he cannot cannot cannot have that random floor fall on a pass he’s been doing since he was six like he sometimes does.
The mysterious, nameless marauder you don’t know who’s hoping to ride in and engineer an upset here in Allan Bower. Bower is an Oklahomie who beat Whittenburg at Winter Cup in February and has enough relatively competitive events to make up a reasonable total. I don’t actually expect him to challenge, but he could hang around with 14+ on most pieces. The trouble for Bower when it comes to thinking about worlds teams is that his AA score is more competitive than his individual events. He hasn’t really shown that standout event score that you’d take to worlds, except for pommel horse.
His 6.1 D and 14.9 on horse at Winter Cup put him among the nation’s best, so to have any chance to make some noise in the AA standings and trundle into the worlds conversation, he’ll have to hit horse both days.
It has become an old adage that the US as a nation isn’t actually weak on horse; it’s just that the best US gymnasts tend to be weak on horse, which means they always show up to worlds with a sack of loose pineapples and go, “this is our lineup.” This year, we should see several competitive horseys at nationals, though unfortunately for the other horseys, Alex Naddour is sticking around, which kind of ends the conversation. Particularly in an individual year, his medal potential on horse is a near-unimpeachable argument.
Which sucks for someone like Donothan Bailey, who has spent basically your entire lifetime being there and sort of, almost pecking around teams because of horse. Though Bailey is someone who could find himself sneaking into a still-open worlds spot conversation if he has a day like that first day of Olympic Trials.
Then there are the babies like Alec Yoder, a treat, who was the Great New Horse Hope two years ago and can almost score to the level that Naddour can score.
The newest member of the horsey club is Brandon Ngai, a small child who’s also a college student at Illinois who qualified to nationals to do horse. The limited number of available spots at worlds means that if anyone is going for horse it will be Naddour, but we should see come competitive sets speckled around the entire competition.
Yeah, so, um, Sam Mikulak is also here. Six months on from a torn Achilles, Mikulak competed horse at the recent qualifier but otherwise hasn’t shown us anything yet.
Of course, a full-strength Mikulak would be a favorite for another national title, but that’s not what we have here. One of the significant questions to be answered at nationals is whether Mikulak’s appearance is just a Jimmy Dugan “You go out there, wave your little hat, give the people a thrill” kind of thing (like when Nastia competed in 2009 at her home-ish nationals), or whether he’s actually in for 2017 and trying for the worlds team on a few events, ones that he might have been able to spend some actual time training without putting too too much on the leg.
It’s a weak enough year on HB that if Mikulak were able to get some manner of dismount together in the next two months, he could go to worlds as a sixth team member and just do high bar or something like that.
The performances of the top two all-arounders will have significant implications for everyone in the meet because their competitiveness compared to the presumed international field will determine what distribution of roles the US elects to use at worlds and how many places are available on each event.
At men’s individual worlds, there are six members on each team but only three people may compete each event, so the opportunities are quite limited. If the US elects to use both Moldauer and Modi in the all-around, then there’s only one spot left on each piece.
This is significant for someone like Eddie Penev who, based on performances so far this year, has emerged as the US’s top-scoring floor worker.
Penev is also quite competitive on vault of course, though it depends on whether we’re talking about his gorgeous Y2.5 or his lightning-clap of a ro 1/2 on, layout 2/1. If both Moldauer and Modi prove themselves worthy of using in the AA, then you have circumstances like Penev and Whittenburg competing for one spot on floor (and vault), or Whittenburg and Naddour competing for one spot on rings.
That doesn’t mean it can’t work. It can. The format of this worlds is specifically designed for 1-2 event specialists. Something like this.
That’s only five team members, leaving room for someone else to do high bar. Hence the Mikulak argument above.
Because Whittenburg is legit on four events—if he’s not doing the all-around—he takes up the spaces on most of the other events, meaning the team fills itself out with one-eventers/maybe not even 6 whole people. If you slot Whittenburg into the AA, it opens things up a little bit for several two-eventers to find room.
The US may decide that the better chance for medals/getting people into finals comes with a single AAer, creating more spaces for the specialists to compete 2-3 events rather than 1. It prevents perhaps Modi from doing the AA but allows in Whittenburg on floor and Naddour on rings, if they feel that’s more important. And still with just five team members.
So…anyone up for high bar? If not, the US then has a sixth spot to use for another pommel horse specialist, or even one of the vaulters with a 5.6.
Marvin Kimble are you in our lives again? That team is sort of screaming out for a Marvin Kimble (good version) in it.