Immediately following the naming of the 2021 U.S. Olympic men’s team, we got to speak to all of the athletes, a couple of the reserves, and high performance director Brett McClure about reactions to the team, what happened in the selection process, and what the goals will be for the U.S. in Tokyo.
Brody Malone, Olympic Team Member
Malone said there was so much going through his head when he finished his final event and knew he was going to secure the automatic team spot with his first-place all-around finish.
“I try to think about every meet as its own thing, and everything from the past doesn’t matter anymore,” he said on his state of mind coming into trials. “It’s a clean slate when I go to a new meet.”
According to Malone, all of the guys were happy and hugging before they walked out onto the floor to be introduced to the crowd. “Shane started crying. It’s everything we’ve ever dreamed of and it was awesome to share it with these guys.”
Malone, who said he first felt like he had a legit shot at making the Olympic team one day was after NCAA Championships his freshman year, told the press that it will be “very beneficial” for him to get the experience of traveling and training with someone like Sam Mikulak.
On whether the team can medal in Tokyo, Brody said: “I haven’t thought about that yet. First things first, we have to get there and compete well. I worry about my gymnastics, and let the scores fall where they fall.”
Yul Moldauer, Olympic Team Member
The first thing Moldauer told the press is that the goal for the U.S. is to get the team on the podium, so they can “get Sam some hardware before he leaves.”
“The team is same-goal oriented,” Moldauer said. “In previous years, the U.S. hasn’t done as well, but we’re all hungry. Shane and Brody are young guys, Sam has been through a lot of Olympics, we all bring a very positive energy and goal mindset. We’re all gonna be pushing each other in the gym and on the competition floor. We’ve gotten to see each other grow up and watch each other rise when the moment’s there, so we all know we can hit under pressure and move as a unit.”
One of Moldauer’s coaches from 5280 Gymnastics will travel with him to Tokyo, but Mark Williams – his coach at the University of Oklahoma – will be traveling with alternate Allan Bower, so Moldauer will still have both his club and college coaches with him, at least until the reserve athletes head home.
On his performance in St. Louis, Moldauer says that he did everything he could, thinking, “No matter what happens, I’m happy.”
He also said that yes, he does look at his scores throughout the competition, because feeling that pressure of seeing himself a tenth behind one athlete or a tenth ahead of another is good practice for when they get to the Olympics and have to see what they need to do if they want to catch up to the top countries.
“The more you can dance around and have fun, it puts out a certain energy that all of these guys feel,” Moldauer said about his celebrations on the floor. “We’re here to put on a show. People are coming to watch good gymnastics. If you think about the sports that celebrate and get the crowd involved, that’s fun for everyone. When you work so hard in the gym and you go out there and hit the routine, that’s full of emotions. Why hide them? Why not show these people how hard you’ve been working and get them involved? It gives you a boost as well.”
Finally, Moldauer confirmed that he won’t only be going for Paris 2024, but he also plans on hanging around another four years after.
“I don’t want to go for just one Olympics,” he said. “I’m trying to go to Los Angeles 2028. It would be pretty badass to compete at the Olympics in your own country.”
Sam Mikulak, Olympic Team Member
The one thing on Sam Mikulak’s mind right after the meet was his pommel horse routine, where he had a fall. “Was that the moment that blew it for me?” he wondered, so he was incredibly happy to find out he made it.
“It was a wave of relief, like, oh my god, I actually did it,” Mikulak said. “I’ve been living in the moment for so long, but once I finished competing I was replaying everything, which is the opposite of what I should have been doing. Then I found out I made it. I couldn’t believe it. This year is the one that felt the hardest, so for that reason, it means the most.
He added: “Coming through mental health struggles and feeling like everything I did to get to this moment was worth it. Confronting all of the hard battles, making it through the pandemic, my training has been up and down, injuries left and right, all of that weighed on me for so long. Waiting for 15 minutes to hear my name called, all of that was going through my head, and once my name was finally called, it was all worth it.”
Even though he had mistakes, he said “just being able to see it through” was everything he needed. “Once I was done, it was out of my hands, and I told myself I should be proud about whatever the outcome was.”
Mikulak also had advice for Brody Malone: “Be yourself. Dont’ be afraid of what everyone else is expecting of you. Go and just do what you know how to do, and do it with your own style. I wish I had been told that when I was in his shoes at that age.”
Shane Wiskus, Olympic Team Member
“I’ll definitely have to send Mr. Mark Coyle a message or two,” Wiskus said, referencing the athletics director at the University of Minnesota who cut the men’s gymnastics program last year.
Wiskus said he needed to have a good competition here after a rough year. “With the  season getting cut off, practicing in a yard and then at a local club, going back to campus, the program getting cut, moving [to the USOPTC in Colorado Springs], falling on high bar three times a few weeks back, I’ve been through enough and was just ready to show what I could do at this competition.”
“Mentally working and putting the puzzle back together in my head, the only thing on my mind was to calm things down, treat things like practice, and take it one step at a time,” Wiskus said on how he was able to put everything together here. “I tried not to overexcite myself after coming in second on Thursday so I could hang on through this day.”
When he found out he made the team, Shane says: “I dropped to the floor, hugged my coach, and then they pretty quickly threw us in these uniforms and shoved us out the door. I haven’t had time to process it. I’m generally overwhelmed and I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”
Wiskus is also excited to get to compete with Sam Mikulak. “I’ve been looking up to Sam since he started his national champ running streak back in 2011 or 2012,” Wiskus said. “We went to a clinic together after that, and then progressively over the years we became teammates, and when I moved to the training center, that kicked off our friendship. We click in a lot of ways in the competition. It’s important to have someone who is there for you and has your back.”
Alec Yoder, Individual Olympic Athlete
On waiting for his name to be called, Yoder said he was really scared. “Day two was wobbly, so I was pretty nervous. Alex [Diab] and Stephen [Nedoroscik] had good sets, so I was just crossing my fingers and ignoring the text messages from everyone asking if I made the team.”
“The next step is winning a pommels medal [at the Olympic Games],” Yoder said. “This is the step I needed to take to reach that goal. Making the Olympic Games is a good start. This means the world to me. I don’t think it’s set in just yet. It feels like everything is a little foggy, but I’m over the moon. I worked for this opportunity and I’m excited to keep going.”
Yoder’s club coach, Gene Watson, was posthumously inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame tonight, with the ceremony held just prior to the team being named. “He would have given me a big hug,” Yoder said. “He was a man of very few words, so I’m sure he would say ‘good job.’ He didn’t say that very often, but when he did, I knew he meant it.” He added that making the team on the same night Watson was honored “was meant to be.”
When asked if he felt the pressure here, Yoder said: “Pressure is what you feel when you’re unprepared. I don’t look at these moments as pressure. I look at them as opportunity. If I’m sitting there overcome by the pressure, it means I haven’t done my job preparing. If you grind and do the work, a moment like this is never too big.”
Brandon Briones, Alternate
“It’s a little surreal right now and hasn’t fully sunk in,” Briones said about getting an alternate role for Tokyo. “It’s gonna take some time for sure, but I’m really looking forward to gaining the experience. Going to Tokyo is gonna be a big step forward.”
Paris 2024 is the big goal for Briones, though. “This is a great setup for Paris. I figured my biggest shot would be 2024, growing up and starting to get better and better. With the extra year I had a little bit of time and it turned out that’s what I needed to push to the next level. Getting an alternate position is a perfect setup, and I’ll be able to learn and build from it, which will set me up really well for training the next three years going into Paris.”
Briones also talked about how his favorite part of the weekend was simply competing all of his events as well as he did with this group of guys at this level.
Alex Diab, Alternate
Diab got close to securing the individual berth for Tokyo thanks to his performances on rings, and will step in for Alec Yoder if needed.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I hit both of my routines and had a great performance. I would have liked to have been picked for the real team, but I’m excited to see what happens. I thought I did two great routines. I couldn’t expect to do much better. It’s not up to me, all I can do is the best routines I can, and that’s what I did.”
He added: “I’m a little disappointed with how it turned out, but there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s out of my control.”
Diab also confirmed that he and the other alternates will travel to Japan with the team to train for a couple of weeks, but he wouldn’t learn all of the details until Sunday’s Olympic team meeting.
Brett McClure, High Performance Director
“It was a fun discussion for sure,” McClure said about selecting the individual competitor. “All the guys did the best they could, all had mistakes, all had a best ever performance…ultimately, Yoder’s start value and first place finish separated him from the rest of the guys.”
McClure added that the separating factor for deciding between Alec Yoder and Alex Diab was that Yoder’s difficulty score was a bit stronger and more internationally competitive at a 6.4-6.5, compared to Diab’s 6.0.
“What a statement for Shane [Wiskus] coming from a program on a shoestring budget to go out there and make the team,” McClure said, adding that Minnesota doesn’t even have a full-sized floor, but rather a couple of strips to practice tumbling. According to McClure, Shane making the team “sends a message that if NCAA programs are thinking about adding sports, men’s gymnastics is thrilling. It breeds excellence and Olympians.”
He then spoke about Brody Malone, saying that he “competed with ice in his veins.” He added: “He is unshakeable. I was about to fall out of my seat on every single release, but he caught them all perfectly. He let it all go and went after it and it was awesome. You can say that about all of his events.”
McClure also confirmed that there was some discussion about whether to take Sam Mikulak or Brandon Briones, noting that he was worried about Mikulak’s pommels fall and impressed with Briones’ consistency. “Sam is still on the upswing, so it was scary to see a fall…and it was exciting to see Brandon hit 12 for 12.”
On the future of the U.S. men’s program and whether it can become more internationally competitive, McClure said: “Every Olympics has been a different scenario, whether it’s been that the difficulty is there but consistency isn’t, or the consistency is there but we have no difficulty. We need to align all the stars to match the difficulty and execution of the rest of the world.”
“That’s long-term planning,” McClure said. “We’re starting with our juniors. We’re tired, and these guys are tired, of playing catch-up, but we’re all ready to take that next step and focus on pushing difficulty. We have what we have right now, so we’re gonna go out there and try to be 100% at team finals like we did at world championships and see where the chips fall, but after that it’s done playing catch-up. Let’s get those skills in the routines early.”
Article by Lauren Hopkins