The overarching theme of last week’s conference call with the 2018 men’s worlds competitors was team and the NCAA’s role in helping create a bond that will benefit the five gymnasts in Doha. If there’s one message the team is sending it’s that they are ready and that they believe they will be on the podium. Yul Moldauer was emphatic, “I know we will do it.”
Moldauer described the mental game as the team’s biggest challenge, not Russia, China, or Japan, but simply themselves. They plan to take each event one by one and to trust in each other and in their training. In his training, he praised his coach, Mark Williams, saying “I feel like I could do my routines with my eyes closed because I feel so prepared.”
Moldauer’s back is now healed and he feels no pain. Even though there is no discomfort, he plans on competing his lower difficulty floor routine which holds the same start value as Sam Mikulak’s (5.7); and if he make event finals, the plan is to compete the 6.0 routine.
Akash Modi spoke of that same team unity that Yul focused on. Though former rivals in the NCAA, they are teammates and one for TEAM USA. The perfect picture of that was demonstrated in 2017 at the American Cup when Yul and Akash competed as TEAM USA then as soon as the competition was over, they watched the Oklahoma/Stanford meet on TV as their NCAA teammates competed against each other. This competitive spirit and camaraderie means they have each other’s back. Akash views this as their main advantage. He knows that landings are a weakness for him and has been focusing hard during his 7 am trainings to stick. To give himself and his teammates and even better shot at success, he has taken a leave of absence from Stanford’s program and will continue pursuing his M.S. in engineering after the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Alec Yoder is looking to make his return to Doha this fall after having won a bronze medal on pommel horse earlier this year. He, like Yul, has two different routines to choose from, but his choice comes on pommel horse. He talked about his consistency, having hit 12/12 at nationals and at the selection camp. He has looked up to Sam for a long time and said what an incredible honor it was to be named to the team with him and the other three members. When asked about how he’s been preparing for the new Taishan equipment, he said that he had not had the opportunity to compete or train on it before, but knew the high bar would be tighter as well as some other small differences, but that the team would have a week to adjust in Doha.
Sam has changed an element on rings. He changed his honma cross to a back uprise cross to focus on better execution. He talked at length about how stressed he used to be before competition, but incorporating normal parts of life—like coming home to his puppy and his girlfriend, as well as being ok with eating a slice of pizza once in a while—have helped take the pressure off.
Sam feels he will contribute to the team most on high bar and feels he should be good enough not to fall. He has been working specifically on checkpoints in his routine, when to pace and when to be aggressive. He says he is ready. Both he and fellow world teammate, Colin Van Wicklen, who is currently residing at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), have been waking up early for their main practice in preparation for the qualifications in Doha.
Colin talked about his move from the University of Oklahoma to Cypress and the reasoning behind it. He left so that he could chase his dreams in his hometown where other Olympians like Jon Horton and Chris Brooks also trained. While no decision to make another move the OTC has been made, he has been training there in preparation for Doha and will make his decision after Worlds as to where he will continue training.
At the OTC, they have worked on playing stick games to bring more of a light atmosphere with a serious goal in mind, particularly on floor. Colin is on a redemption tour for both himself and for the team as they search for that first team medal since 2014.
Best of luck to Team USA.