There was, perhaps, no clearer sign that there’s a new generation in U.S. men’s gymnastics ready to take the mantel at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships Thursday evening (24 August 2023) than that the last two men to claim the national all-around crown – Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone – were moving mats and cheering from the stands.
Mikulak, a six-time U.S. champion, retired after a third Olympic appearance at Tokyo 2020 and now coaches a contingent of six gymnasts taking part at the event in San Jose, California.
2021 and 2022 U.S. champ Malone is still eying a return trip to the Games at Paris 2024 but found himself circling the arena in an army green baseball cap, cheering for his Stanford University teammates as he recovers from devastating leg injury suffered earlier this year.
In his absence, teenager Asher Hong, 19, (85.615) leads over the 2017 winner Yul Molduaer (85.548). Fred Richard, another 19-year-old, (85.469) rounded out the top three.
“Overall, happy with how I did. You know, today is kind of just hit the sets, get a feel for everything,” Hong said afterward. “And then Saturday, you know, do the tweaks here and there… So overall I really happy.”
Hong delivered a massive 15.455 score on the vault early in the competition to pull away, performing a full-twisting double Tsukahara. He opened the door slightly for challengers in the fifth rotation with his only major error of the day as he came up short on a front double pike on the floor exercise.
The U.S. men are using the U.S. championships to select their squad for the upcoming World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, where they’ll look to obtain a team quota for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Competition concludes in the men’s event Saturday (26 August).
For Moldauer, it’s World trials
Moldauer, a Tokyo 2020 Olympian, has fueled his 2023 campaign with the disappointment of missing out on last year’s World Championships squad where he served as an alternate.
His approach Friday? It’s do or die, and for him, this event isn’t just the U.S. championships, it’s the World trials.
“At the end of day, I don’t want to be left out, so I’m gonna make sure that I’m putting myself in a position to be talked about,” Moldauer said afterward. “I want to make the world team, that’s my main focus. I’m calling this World trials, not U.S. championships.”
He finds himself in good standing for a trip to the global event next month in Antwerp, Belgium, after earning top five scores on three events: pommel horse (14.229); still rings (14.414); parallel bars (15.805).
A missing uniform
For Richard, the reigning NCAA all-around champion, his biggest issue of the day came before the competition even got underway: he forgot to bring his uniform to the arena, something he didn’t realize until near the end of the pre-competition warm-up session.
“I’m the type of person who only puts the uniform on last event,” explained Richard to Olympics.com afterward. “So, I warmed up all five events, went to sixth event to put my uniform on… didn’t see it. Then, there’s kind of 20 minutes from when the meet starts and that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, shoot.’”
Michigan assistant coach Jordan Gaarenstroom was dispatched back to Richard’s hotel to retrieve his uniform. In the interim, Richard and teammate Javier Alfonso had devised a plan: they would switch off wearing Alfonso’s uniform. Gaarenstroom arrived in the nick of time as the one-touch warmup for the first event was ending.
“Sometimes the athletes are just focused on the gymnastics and that’s their job, so these things happen,” Gaarenstroom said. “These things happen and, you know, obviously, his performance today was not affected by that.”
Uniform secured, Richard put on a solid display across the six events, highlighted by 15.105 on the horizontal bar.