US Men’s Selection Camp Preview

The US men gather at the OTC this week for the final selection camp that will determine the team for world championships. They’ll compete twice, first on Thursday and then again on Saturday, with the team named following competition on Saturday.

Both days will stream on YouTube—September 5th at 11am MT, September 7th at 2:30pm MT.

The men’s program has already narrowed down the field for worlds selection down to 8 athletes who will compete this week:

Allan Bower
Trevor Howard
Sam Mikulak
Akash Modi
Yul Moldauer
Colin Van Wicklen
Donnell Whittenburg
Shane Wiskus

I take some issue with artificially limiting your selection options in this way because there are already some major gaps in this group of 8 that can’t be filled by any of them. (Why not expand the group and bring in a possible HB 14 just to see if it ends up fitting?) But, this small group will make selection camp wildly entertaining because all 8 of these athletes make for realistic team choices in their own way. There’s no filler athlete or obvious backup. You could see any 3 of them joining Mikulak and Moldauer on a worlds team of 5.

So…what are we looking for?

We can start by putting Mikulak and Moldauer in the team. Mikulak is the best gymnast in the US and is probably going to be tasked with doing all 6 events in the team final again (I can also put together a team where he’s not vaulting in the TF…so enjoy your 8 seconds of rest maybe?), but basically he’s going to have to do everything all the time.

Moldauer is the second-best all-arounder in the US. It was close enough at nationals that he’s still going to need to prove that at selection camp, but he is. Regardless, his floor, horse, and PBars are too vital to the US to even consider leaving him off a team. Overall, you’re happy to use Moldauer in a team final on any event except high bar, and honestly this group is weak enough on high bar overall that saying, “Eh, we’re just going to use Yul in the team final for HB and select a squad that maximizes the other events” would be a legitimate strategy.

So, with those two set, what you’re left needing from the remaining three team members (at minimum) is one strong score on every event, ideally with a second score on high bar and an additional score on vault and rings to bolster those events as well because those are the other potential soft spots.

And each of the remaining athletes has an argument to be part of that group.

Allan Bower – Bower has a top-3 pommel horse routine in this group of 8. Ideally, you’d want him first up on PH in a team final. The best scenario for him at selection camp would be to hit horse both days and have all the other contenders suck there (always possible) so that his routine looks truly irresistible. Bower can also provide a legitimate floor score and a possibility on vault and PBars.

Trevor Howard – Howard’s best event is rings, where he ups the US scoring potential quite a bit on what can be a weakness for this group. In some team permutations, he’s increasing the scoring potential by nearly a point just with his rings routine. Howard also broke 14 on PBars and FX one on occasion each at nationals, and I do think PBars is going to be nearly as important as rings for him at camp because he needs a second event. In the highest-scoring team permutations you can come up with using Howard as part of the 5, he’s doing PBars in the team final in addition to rings. If it’s just rings, then why not Whittenburg?

Akash Modi – Modi’s jack-of-all-trades status can help him in a selection process such as this one. Because he has the necessary difficulty to be a contributor on any event, he fits in well in many different team combinations with many different athletes, even if he’s not necessarily the obvious third best score on many of them. An exception to that is HB, where he really can be a third-best score because of his higher D. That’s why HB is his most important event on which to finish in the top 3 at selection, but he’s also going to need to reconfirm that he can be your third PH routine, your third PB routine, and a possible SR. His argument can’t just be based on having a higher D on high bar because the execution means his routine is not really a 14 score anyway.

Colin van Wicklen – After Mikulak and Moldauer, van Wicklen currently looks the most likely gymnast to make the team because he brings possible routines in areas where the US most needs help. He has a much-needed 5.6 D on vault and, as we saw last year, you can get a high bar routine out of him in a team final. The US desperately needs both of those things. But because we didn’t see him at nationals, there’s a bit more riding on his being gooooood on those events at selection because he doesn’t have other recent performances to lean on.

Donnell Whittenburg – Still the biggest question mark heading into camp, with the most to gain from a big performance. Whittenburg provides the US with a needed rings score, and he has been training his true difficulty on vault (after showing just a double front at nationals). If that vault is real as well, it could be a game changer because while he doesn’t help the US on HB, he could singlehandedly erase that potential secondary weakness on vault and rings.

Shane Wiskus – The most significant scores for Wiskus at nationals were floor and PBars, where he produced internationally usable numbers and could go on those events for the US. High bar is an interesting case because while Wiskus has a bit more difficulty than some of the others there, his scores weren’t super high at nationals, with no bonus awarded for one-arm Cassinas. In addition to hitting a consistent AA at camp (beating Modi for third-best AA status would do his argument a lot of good), it would be significant for him to put up a top-3 high bar score as well.

What makes this selection so difficult is that you can put together those six names in a ton of different combinations to make realistic-looking teams that are barely separated from each other in the scores at all.

Using peak scores—highest number across the 2 days—from nationals (and subbing in van Wicklen’s scores from Winter Cup because it’s the best we can do), your highest-scoring team would be Mikulak, Moldauer, Howard, Bower, and van Wicklen at 260.850.

So very far ahead of Miklulak, Moldauer, Modi, Whitteburg, and van Wicklen at 260.800.

So very far ahead of Mikulak, Moldauer, Modi, Howard, and van Wicklen at 260.750.

So very far ahead of Mikulak, Moldauer, Wiskus, Bower, and van Wicklen also at 260.750.

Using this approach of picking a team with the highest peak-scoring potential based on recent competitions—not ideal, but I don’t love using average scores because there are too few competitions and one fall is then given unnecessary significance—there’s not yet a convincing argument for any one of those teams over another. It’s a tenth. That’s why selection camp is going to be so important and determinative. Many, many possible teams are basically tied with each other right now, and we need a tiebreak.

You’ll note that van Wicklen is part of all those teams (the highest-scoring team you can come up with not using van Wicklen is at 260.400 for Mikulak, Moldauer, Howard, Modi, Whittenburg), which is why I say he’s the most likely to make it beyond the big two. But, that’s using scores from Winter Cup, which was forever ago. He still very much has to show up at selection, otherwise we’re going to be looking at some very different team possibilities. So even he is on the hot seat at camp.

7 thoughts on “US Men’s Selection Camp Preview”

  1. Whittenburg has all the talent needed to make this team. If he demonstrates his potential at camp, he should be a shoe-in.

    The difficulty with selecting the US men’s worlds team is that there are too many events and not enough gymnasts. A team of 5 with 6 events means that more than one event is going to have to put up a “hold on to your seat and pray” routine. High bar is definitely one of those events; pommel horse is always like that; and rings is potentially another event with serious gaps if neither Howard nor Whittenburg make the team. Hopefully, these 8 gymnasts show a lot of consistency at trials to assuage some of the concerns about events with very weak routines.

    The US does not appear to be in a position now to contend for a team medal. However, any permutation of those 8 that include Mikulak and Moldauer should be top 6 in the team final and an across-the-board hit could get them as high as 4th.

  2. That’s the other thing does the team score really matter all that much? The US is most likely not going to medal and would need a total meltdown to not qualify. Do you look for some potential EF routines instead of maximizing team. If so, there were maybe a few left off the 8 that should’ve gotten a second look.

    1. I would say that the opposite is true. There is no one other than Sam who has a good chance at a medal. Moldauer has a long-shot chance on floor and Van Wicklen has a very, very long-shot chance on vault, but that’s all I can think of. Howard’s or Whittenburg’s rings aren’t strong enough, and no one is at the 15 needed to get a pommel horse medal.

      The team score is pretty much the only thing the US men can go for at this point. A 4th or 5th place would be a big accomplishment and would provide good momentum going into 2020.

  3. The only person possibly walking away with a medal of any sort is Sam on AA, PB and HB. Well, unless there are serious disasters by many, many other athletes. And since they’ve already knocked off a couple of specialists that had a remote chance at medals in event finals with this camp selection, at this point, I don’t think any combination will make any difference for medals or qualifications.

    I just want these guys to hit their routines and gain confidence for something down the road. I think with consistent hits and a few upgrades, the US men’s team can medal in Tokyo as they actually benefit significantly with smaller team size. Without a “new Sam” on the horizon nor the smaller team size benefit, Tokyo really is a huge opportunity.

  4. I don’t think they need to bring more than these 8 to camp. Like you said, even with these 8, the teams combos all score about the same. I doubt the addition of another couple gymnasts would make a higher-potential score combo.
    I can see adding in a great high-bar worker to the mix…but who would that be? Does the U.S. have any 14-plus high bar workers other than Sam? No one but Sam scored over 14 on HB at Nationals, and most had trouble breaking 13.5, a score that Whittenburg, Modi, and Moldauer can already get to.
    So I don’t see any reason to have any more athletes in selection. This group is the best available, and I like having the field whittled down after Nationals. At some point, you have to make cuts and go from there.

  5. I hope Whittenburg does well and makes the team. I don’t have a particular reason but I always root for the guy.

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