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2015 Winter Cup: Catching up with the U.S. Men’s National Team

Team-USA-2014-Worlds

At the 2014 World Championships, the U.S. men won one silver and two bronze medals, including the team bronze. Sure, the Americans did not win as many medals as the Japanese men, who took home a total of 6 medals in Nanning. But, all in all, the 2014 World Championships were a successful competition.

Many of you, dear readers, probably recall a time when the American men weren’t on the podium at the World Championships. The 1990s were a bit of a rough patch for American men’s gymnastics. So, the fact that the American team won just as many medals as the Chinese team is quite impressive.

GymCastic had the opportunity to sit down and speak with three of the seven team members from the 2014 Worlds team. Here are a few of their notable quotes…

Paul Ruggeri

On the inspiration for his latest tattoo…

“Origin. My family’s origin. I really like the painting that I picked a lot of the images from. It’s a Renaissance painting with St. Stephen, who was the first martyr. It’s not all done yet.” (You can see a shot of it below.)

On being in first place after the first night of competition…

“I feel pretty good. It’s always an awkward time for everyone – just getting back into routines. We’ve been training pretty hard at the Olympic Training Center. It definitely was not a perfect day for anyone, including myself. But that’s competition, you know. That’s characteristic of the beast. I’m happy with my own performance. I had a few things that I fought through. I’ve never been in this position before, so I’m just grateful to be here.”

On hitting pommel horse on the first night of competition…

“I’ve been working on a harder routine. But last minute, I decided to change it back. I tried it out at HNI [Houston National Invitational], and it didn’t go so well. I’m glad that I had that opportunity to give it a test run and see if my nerves can handle a harder pommel routine.”

Why he chose to compete a Cassina over a Kolman…

“The Kolman was really touchy. It was hard for me to gauge my energy level in competition. I couldn’t replicate my training energy in a competitive environment. So, I would struggle anxiety-wise. I knew that, if I had too much power, I would be too far from the bar, and if I had too little power, I would be on top of the bar. I feel more comfortable with a Cassina. I train it much worse, but when I have that competitive edge, that little extra energy, I tend to figure out that skill more consistently. This is only the third time I’ve competed it. But I was nervous for the rest of the routine, and I missed one of my connections. I was a little bit bummed about that.”

What are Paul’s goals for the year?

“My goals are the same as always. My position isn’t going to really change on the team. I just said that I have to be that guy who is consistent and clean and is always ready in case something comes up. My goal is to be ready for Pan Ams, for Worlds, for an alternate position–whatever I’m able to pull out.  

Sam Mikulak

On his performance during prelims…

“It was rough. I sustained a little injury. It’s minor, but it was affecting me immediately. I hit my knee on the upright on parallel bars during warm-ups, right before competing. It kind of threw me off, so I had to drop out of floor, rings, and vault. I’m not upset because I am already on the team for next year, but it would have been nice to go out there and put on a show.”

There was some grumbling about the tightness of the equipment. Did that affect Sam’s performance on high bar?

“The one thing about gymnastics is that you have to handle everything. It’s not always going to go your way. It’s about the mindset you put on before competing. I just think that my mind was in a different spot. I’m very well prepared. My routines have been great in practice. I think that I just came here and wasn’t in competition mode. But that’s why I’m here – get back in competition mode and get ready for American Cup.”

How’s Sam feeling before the American Cup?

“I feel great. Like I said, practices are going well. I can’t wait to represent USA at the American Cup.”

Any upgrades since Worlds?

“On rings, I have a whip-it cross to upgrade me two tenths on that routine. Then, on high bar, I have a stalder-Rybalko, which is another upgrade for just one tenth on high bar. On p-bars, I just changed my dismount [from a double pike] to a double front, which is a one tenth upgrade. Minor things here and there. I don’t want to change things too drastically.”

On the transition from student-athlete to just athlete…

“I’m not quite done yet. I graduate in May. It’ll be nice once I graduate not to have the stress or worries of having to turn in a homework assignment or having a test.”

On training with the Michigan guys…

“I still train with the guys. Pretty much the only difference for me is, instead of competing every weekend on the Michigan team, I’m just pulling mats and coaching a little bit. I still have that team atmosphere. It’s still nice to have a bunch of guys still supporting me.”

Speaking of support, who are his sponsors? “You don’t make much right off the bat. But I have Team Hilton helping me out, and that’s actually it. It’s that and USA Gymnastics. Hopefully in the next couple of months and years, I’ll be able to pick up a couple more sponsors. For now, I’m just riding off of that and my scholarship check until I graduate.”  

Jake Dalton

On scratching from the meet…

“I was sick last week. I just wasn’t having some good training. I wasn’t able to get in the gym. Being qualified [for the National Team] through August, I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to come out and try to compete. Plus, I felt like I had put on a good show at the Houston National Invitational, and I was in a good spot. I just wanted to be safe.”

Any upgrades in the future?

“On floor, I have an idea for a 6.9 instead of a 6.7, but on our harder floors in the United States, it’s really hard to make my fifth pass a 2.5 to front double full. I’d be changing one of my side passes to a 1.5 punch double front. So, I may try that in Great Britain when we’re there for training. They have a bouncier floor.”

“On vault, I’m working on a 3.5 [Kasamatsu 5/2]. Overall, I think that I have some good start values. I just have to work on cleaning up my execution.”

Will he stick with the same two vaults?

“For now, I’m going to do the triple full [Kasamatsu 2/1] and a handspring randi – unless I’m able to figure something out on this 3.5 to make it a little easier. If I’m in a vault final where I may be last and everybody else did a really good 6.4, then, maybe I would try the 3.5.”

A video posted by Jake Dalton (@jake_dalton) on

At the 2014 Worlds, Jake was 0.100 away from medaling on floor. How did he feel about getting so close?

“It was a little disappointing. I did a 2.5 to a front full on floor, and I didn’t stick it, which I had done in the rest of the competition. So, I kind of knew that error had taken me out of it. But, you know, that’s what it is at Worlds. It’s such a close call in those competitions.”

“It’s hard. I had the lowest start value of anyone on the floor, but if I want to change my routine, I have to change two passes and make them a lot harder. And I only get two tenths. It’s hard to find the middle ground between a harder routine and a consistent routine.”

On not having the opportunity to compete all-around at Worlds, even though he is the 2013 American Cup champion…

“At Worlds, I was not disappointed. When it comes to Worlds, I know that it’s mainly about the team, and I knew that putting me on a horse in prelims is tricky. If someone else has a mistake, they may have to use my score [with a lower start value]. So, not doing all-around at Worlds wasn’t a big deal for me.”

“As far as not getting American Cup, that’s a little more disappointing. I understand that they selected the guys who did all-around at Worlds, but it is a little difficult because I wanted to do the best for the team at Worlds, which prevented me from competing at American Cup. You know, it is what it is. If I were better on horse, that would just change everything. But you know, we have two great all-arounders going into American Cup, and I think that they will dominate.”

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