Several hours after the conclusion of yesterday’s trials—and exactly the millisecond I decided to stop waiting around for it—the US men announced their worlds team as Brody Malone, Donnell Whittenburg, Asher Hong, Colt Walker, and Stephen Nedoroscik, with Yul Moldauer as traveling alternate.
This is exactly what I would have done, and therefore it is smart and correct.
With Malone and Whittenburg already locked into the team based on their nationals results, this squad of five produced the highest 3-count team score based on average scores from nationals and selection camp. (The men’s selection procedures dictate that each of the four days is weighted at 25%, while the women’s selection procedures weigh 25% vibes, 25% shrug emoji, 35% the all-around standings I’m looking at right now, and 15% hair.)
This is a team with bigger D scores, the best available event final prospects in the group, and a very high ceiling, establishing a framework of routines and difficulty that can give the US a legitimate path toward contending for Olympic team medals in the future instead of just hoping for 4th at best.
But this is also a ri-i-isky team. There’s nothing “clean safe routines, guaranteed to stick” about this. Among the reasons this is the best-scoring team for the US is the upgrade on vault, with 6.0 D scores from Hong and Whittenburg and a 5.6 D from Walker—a drastic departure from the lineup of all 5.2s that the US was putting up last quad. But with Hong going 1-for-2 at selection camp and Whittenburg missing on vault in Paris, the idea of this lineup actually going to worlds and hitting to its capability is…up for interpretation.
There is every possibility that this US team goes to Liverpool and totally bombs, spoiling the best chance at a team medal that the US has had in a while (will have for a while?) given the absence of the Russian team. The blame and recriminations would be scorching, and the “Yul Moldauer should have been on the team!” of it all would be heavy.
There is a very solid argument for Yul Moldauer as part of this five instead. He was part of the highest-scoring team using only scores from selection camp (which is somewhat surprising because he didn’t have a great camp, but also…no one really did), and putting him in place of the locked Donnell Whittenburg on the overall average-score team would increase the total by about a half tenth. Of note, with no athletes locked, the highest-scoring team average would have come from Malone, Hong, Walker, Nedoroscik, and Juda. Talk about a risky game.
Yet, the named worlds team was not only the team that earned it with their scores based on the selection criteria laid down in advance, but it would also have been fairly hypocritical for the US men’s program to go with any other team. They’ve spent all year indicating that they want the difficulty scores to be pushed, and they imposed a comically massive bonus system in order to reward those who were pushing the difficulty, ensuring that they were still able to outscore those with normal difficulty even if they fell. The bonus system said, “We’d so much rather you fall while trying a 6.0 vault than hit a clean 5.2 vault.” The US couldn’t then turn around and say, “Actually, you fell on a 6.0 vault, so we’re going to take a clean 5.2 vault instead.”
Which leaves us with this very high-risk, high-reward team in which the US program got exactly what it was looking for. And now we’ll see how it goes.
As we waited for the US men’s team to be announced, Konnor McClain said, “You seem bored. Chew on this news” and officially announced her injury withdrawal from the worlds selection camp.
This certainly throws a wrench in the works and undermines the US women’s scoring potential at worlds, but it also clarifies some things in terms of the upcoming team selection.
With McClain out, the US is down to three athletes that seem like sure-thing choices for the worlds team in Shilese Jones, Jordan Chiles, and Jade Carey. You look at that three and say, “Well, first of all, vault and floor are done.” Really, there are only four other athletes who’ve shown the routines this year that could improve on that trio’s team total in an actual, meaningful way: Zoe Miller, Leanne Wong, Kayla DiCello, and Skye Blakely.
In a perfect world, Miller’s bars would be the absolute first choice to add to this team, but if she remains unable to do bars with the back injury that caused her to miss nationals, and Kayla DiCello indeed elects to opt out of worlds selection, then you’re left with two people for two spots in Wong and Blakely and you have the easiest worlds team decision there’s ever been (which is boring, so let’s hope it doesn’t happen). Wong, if healthy and present on at least two events, is the perfect supplement to the main three because she has bars and beam you’d put up in a team final, while Blakely at her best would be the natural next-in-line replacement to McClain’s beam. And if not at her best, well then she gets McCooled for TF.
Even though the performances from Jones and Carey in Paris allayed the beam fears on this team to some extent, it’s still not an extraordinary beam group without McClain, so if Blakely isn’t hitting for high beam scores at the selection camp or there are further injuries and absences, you’d still want to consider a Lexi Zeiss or an Elle Mueller—at minimum as traveling alternate—as they seem the most likely to put up a 13 there.
What I’m saying is, we’re going to need someone to yell “SURPRISE” and bring the drama to this camp.