By Michael Kinney
When the U.S, Olympic trials jump into action this week in St. Louis, it will definitely have an Oklahoma feel for those watching. That’s because on the men’s side six of the 21 male competitors vying for a spot on the US Olympic team are former or current University of Oklahoma men’s gymnasts.
“That just shows that the program is top-notch. It’s one of the best in the country, if not the best,” said Oklahoma senior Gage Dyer. “It’s Champ-U for a reason. We make champions here. Having all those guys going out there is kind of another statement for us to make. We’re ready to come and we’re ready to play.”
Along with Dyer, the Sooners will be represented at the trials by Yul Moldauer, Allan Bower, Vitaliy Guimaraes, Matt Wenske and Colin Van Wicklen. All but Moldauer and Van Wicklen were practicing in Norman a week before the trials and drove to St. Louis together along with coach Mark Williams.
“To me, these guys are like my family,” said Guimares, who is a junior at OU. “Having them be out there with me it’s just like we are there as a team even though it’s an individual competition. I’ve known some of these guys since I was a kid. It’s nice having them out there and supporting each other.”
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Gymnastics run June 24-27. By the end of the competition, four-member teams and one individual for both men and women will have punched their ticket to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. At trials, the top two women and top man receive automatic berths onto the team. The remaining spots will be filled by the selection committees.
Each of the competing Sooners is looking to snatch up one of those available five spots. But in order to do that they have to go through the toughest competition in the country that includes the likes of Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone.
Yet, even with the pressure so high, the gymnastics plan to keep the stress level low.
“I’ve been kind of putting that pressure on myself in the gym so that where I go to the competition, it’s going to be nothing different than what I have been doing in the gym,” Bowers said. “I am going to try and keep the same mindset and not change anything. Just go out and have fun.”
Using Oklahoma’s Sam Viersen Gymnastic Center to focus and keep the pressure under control seems to be the go-to move for all the Sooners.
“I try to keep it the same because I have learned over time that I typically do better when my nerves aren’t that high. I try to put myself in the gym, pretend we’re a mock competition, it just helps to calm me down,” Wenske said. “I just try to imagine myself in this gym whenever I am at a big competition like that. Typically it goes pretty well.”
During the men’s gymnastics competition, they compete on six apparatuses compared to the four for women. They include floor exercise, horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings and vault.
At the Olympics, gymnasts will compete for individual gold medals on each apparatus as well as the all-around, which combines scores from the six events. In the team competition, each country tallies three scores on each apparatus with the three up, three down format. That means three athletes compete on each apparatus and all three scores count.
Because of this, the U.S. Selection committee is expected to put emphasis on ability and consistency across all of the events.
“I think with being consistent, you need to keep a consistent mindset. So I am not going to go at this with a different mindset,” Dyer said. “Because what I have going on in my head right now has obviously been working for me. So I am going to continue to do that and treat it like another meet. Because there is no reason to add any extra pressure to myself and make myself a little more nervous. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing.”
The trials can be seen on NBCSN Thursday through Saturday. Sunday’s finale will appear on NBC from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Copy and Photo by Michael Kinney