© John Cheng

By Paul Logothetis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 2, 2017 – USA Gymnastics’ new kid on the block looked mighty cool on his World Championships debut.

Yul Moldauer trusted his talent and it looks set to propel him into the all-around final as he sat in third-place halfway through Monday’s qualifying for the international event.

Under the enormous dome of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the 21-year-old rookie looked unfazed as he dove headlong into qualifying at his debut worlds.

“It’s definitely what I expected with the arena, the loudness, the gymnasts. You look around there’s so many great guys and all hitting their routines,” the current U.S. all-around champion said. “The worlds is where you have to hit the routine of your life – (so) I try not to look around as much.”

The only blip on a solid performance was a slip on the penultimate event of his set – the pommel horse. Despite the slip-up, the Colorado-native notched a combine score of 84.331 points to trail Cuba’s Manrique Larduet lead on 86.699 points. Olympic all-around silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev of the Ukraine was second at 84.531 with half the field still to perform.

The solid start allowed Moldauer to maintain his humble, and perhaps, realistic expectations.

“I would like to be in the top five but I’m not going to focus on what place I get, but just focus on my gymnastics and what I’ve been training for,” Moldauer said.

Moldauer’s teammates were playing a key role in keeping the youngster focused on his routines, making nerves a non-factor.

“Yul was anxious and excited about the meet, which he should be, and I just wanted to reassure him to just go out there and do his gymnastics, he is one of the best out there right now,” said roommate Alex Naddour, who delivered a confidence-boosting pep talk. “Hopefully, it helped him. Overall, [he did] a great job.”

Mauldauer started off well, sticking a Kasamatsu one-and-a-half en route to a 14.566 score on the vault to match teammate Eddie Panev’s third-place average score.

A great set on the parallel bars (14.633) was set back by performance on the horizontal bar, his weakest event (13.066), however.

But the University of Oklohama athlete bounced back with the second best floor routine (14.700) of the rotation – trailing only teammate Donnell Whittenberg (15.033).

Unfortunately, the pommel horse proved a setback as Mauldauer slipped after one pommel sequence.

“I definitely just got a little ahead of my routine. I have to calm down and take a step back and just remember my circle and not get too rushed,” said Moldauer, who stays focused ahead of each routine by taking 10 deep breaths. He never closes his eyes to picture a routine since he admits it just provides an image of him falling.

“There are a lot of things you can work on in controlling your nerves, and I think I have a pretty good system of breathing and just trusting yourself,” he said.

That proved true as Moldauer bounced back to finish solidly on the rings to stay in touch with the leaders.

“He just needs to keep the mentality he had on all the other events going into horse. I think he built it up a little more than he usually does,” teammate Sam Mikulak said. “It’s a learning experience. He got one done and now it’s off to the next one. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with going into the finals.”

Moldauer was not placing any undue expectations on his shoulders following his positive start, taking the competition step-by-step.

“I just want to go out there and hit six for six and present myself as an upcoming gymnast to look out for. I want to use this worlds to get some experience under my wing for the next worlds.”