© John Cheng

By Blythe Lawrence

The much-desired team medal may have eluded them, but the U.S. men found plenty to cheer about in their fourth-place finish Monday evening at the 2018 World Championships in Doha.

Sure, some might see it as a disappointment. Yet following an intense team final in which the Americans turned in an almost perfect competition, Sam Mikulak, Akash Modi, Yul Moldauer, Colin Van Wicklen and Alec Yoder couldn’t stop naming silver linings.

“Everybody said we’d be sixth or below, or not even make team finals. And you know what? We didn’t reach our ultimate goal of a medal, but we definitely did prove that we are a contender in the gymnastics world,” said Van Wicklen, whose 14.733 for his Dragulescu vault was the USA’s top score on the event. “We’re really proud of ourselves. We’re a little disappointed we came up short, but we know that in 365 days were going to run it back and we’ll give it another go.”

The U.S. flirted with the leading teams throughout the final, even after Mikulak popped off the pommel horse during the first rotation. Mikulak’s miscue on a handstand pirouetting skill proved the only fall of the American’s evening. The team drilled through the next five events in a flurry of hit routines, stuck dismounts and ever more elaborate fist pumps. They finished with 251.994 points, less than two points behind bronze-medalist Japan, which tallied a 253.744.

“We really had a shot at a medal there, and we did an awesome job, we really did,” said pommel-horse specialist Yoder, who contributed 14.033 of those points on his best event and loudly provided cheering support for the rest of the night. “I was raging for these guys, and to be able to see these guys perform the way they did was amazing. I’m so proud. I’m so proud to be on this team.”

As expected, the title battle played out between China, Russia and Japan, the big three in men’s gymnastics. China, which lost the title in 2015 after having won 10 of the past 11 World team titles, returned in force to take the gold over Russia, which came within 0.49 of winning its first-ever World men’s title. Brilliant performances from Kohei Uchimura and Kenzo Shirai kept Olympic team champion Japan in sight of the podium after uncharacteristic errors took them out of contention for first place.

Still, perfection was needed if the Americans were to wind up on the podium, and no one had any illusions about scraping by with errors.

“We knew we needed to go 18 for 18 to get on the podium, and the results showed that we were 1.8 behind, so [without mistakes] we would have been right up there,” said Modi. “I’m feeling pretty great, but definitely not settling.”

Mikulak, for one, declared himself pleased with the way the team rose to the occasion, as well as his 14.500 on high bar, the top score of the night on the event.

“Perfect practice has kind of been our motto for the whole training cycle leading up to this, and you do it long enough and those routines start coming out in these pressure situations,” he said. “I think these guys got a lot of great experience. The depth of the U.S. is growing just based off this day. I think a lot of people weren’t expecting us to do very well or get really close to the podium at all. The fact is that we were, we had a lot of people watching us, and we were turning some heads and definitely changing the perception of where Team USA on the men’s side is.”

Mikulak and Moldauer will get another crack at medals during Wednesday’s all-around final, and between them will take part in five individual apparatus finals on Friday and Saturday. Every time they go out onto the floor, they’re better, Mikulak noted.

“We gained a lot from this competition,” Moldauer echoed. “I’m just excited for what’s next.”