MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 2, 2017 – Strong individual performances helped a new-look Team USA come through qualifying for the 2017 World Championships on Monday feeling encouraged.
Yul Moldauer was seventh in the all-around competition with a new champion set to be crowned, while teammates Alex Naddour and Donnell Whittenberg were shoo-ins to reach finals in the pommel horse and floor exercise, respectively.
Eddie Penev and Marvin Kimble were left to wait it out in their individual events with one more round of qualifying to come on Tuesday, while Sam Mikulak’s Worlds were over.
Moldauer, the U.S. all-around champion, was nearly certain to reach Thursday’s final thanks to a score of 84.331. The 21-year-old showed his consistency in the all-around, despite a stumble on the pommel horse where he slipped off the apparatus after a one pommel sequence. The American all-around champion was consistent besides that, with his 14.700, the third-best on the floor, which helped him to seventh overall.
Cuba’s Manrique Larduet led on 86.699 with a new champion certain after Japan’s Kohei Uchimura scratched on the high bar. Uchimura has won six-straight World all-around titles and all-around gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Moldauer would have been the top American on the floor if not for Whittenberg’s ferocious turn, as the two-time World medalist rallied from a disappointing vault with strong performances in the parallel bars, rings and especially the floor, where he led Moldauer in an American 1-2 atop the leaderboard.
Moldauer wasn’t putting pressure on himself for Thursday’s all-around final where a field that includes Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev and Japan’s Kenzo Shirai will be hungry to claim a title that hasn’t been vacant since 2009.
“On the high bar, I’m going to do a triple-double and everything else is going to stay the same,” Moldauer said.
Whittenberg did well to shake off his miss on the vault, where he lost one point after failing to land a full twisting double somersault. With the parallel bars final also eluding him, he propelled himself into the floor final with an outstanding performance.
“It was quite hard because vault was my main priority, which I had the best chance at for a medal,” Whittenberg said. “I was definitely a little bit down after that but I was like ‘hey, I have nothing else to lose so I’m just going to go out there and compete.'”
Sensing the need to deliver, Whittenberg took a big, deep breath before stepping onto the mat where he electrified the Olympic Stadium crowd, closing with an Arabian double front half out and a well of adrenaline as he pounded his chest, as pointed to the crowd.
Whittenberg may find it difficult to advance in the rings where he was clinging to eighth – on the same score of 14.633 points but one spot behind Naddour. Olympic champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece was the leader through three rounds at 15.400.
Naddour was certain to advance to the pommel horse final after the Olympic bronze medalist sat third on 14.966. Naddour opened with scissors before a full Kehr helped cement his spot behind leader and Olympic champion Max Whitlock of Great Britain, who set the pace at 15.300. Ha Weng of China was second on 15.033.
Naddour promised to step up his routine, relishing the opportunity to go up against Whitlock in Saturday’s final.
“I’m glad (Whitlock) slayed down a good set, because I want a final against him. I’m looking forward to going out there like in Rio and battling it out and see where it lays,” Naddour said. “I’m sure he’s excited about the final too, because I know he’s a competitor.”
Penev, making his USA Worlds debut after previously competing for Bulgaria, was clinging to eighth place in the vault final after scoring 14.566 to trail leader Kenzo Shirai of Japan’s total of 14.949.
Missing out in the vault would leave Penev on the sidelines despite a strong performance on the floor that left him fifth with 14.633. Whittenberg and Moldauer’s higher finishes mean Penev cannot advance with only the top-two from each country advancing to the final.
“I had a pretty good routine but maybe just a few too many hops, especially on the dismount, which was unnecessary but it is what it is. I plan on upgrading if i make it to the final,” Penev said. “It’s just a testament to how strong the program is on floor. These guys are awesome. It’s an unfortunate rule but that’s how it goes in sport.”
Kimble was also in danger of missing out on a final after stumbling on his favored pommel horse, where he slipped off twice to fall out of contention. Kimble was clinging to eighth place (13.933) in the horizontal bar with one last round of qualifying left to play out on Tuesday.
Mikulak, who continues to recover from a serious Achilles injury, will have to provide support for his teammates after the Olympian failed to qualify on the horizontal bar, scoring 13.466.