© John Cheng

By Paul Logothetis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 6, 2017 – The U.S. men’s team has given coach Mark Williams encouraging signs at these World Championships. Now, with medals on the line, it’s about seeing if they can make them stick.

Williams boasts a tremendous track record at the collegiate level, but knows translating that success to the world stage doesn’t necessarily come easy. Williams, once again, received a firsthand look at the challenges on Thursday night in the men’s all-around final, where Yul Moldauer finished seventh.

Moldauer, a 21-year-old making his World Championships debut, is one of Williams’ charges at the University of Oklahoma, whose program he has transformed into the nation’s best. But the hall of fame coach recognizes the different challenges international elite gymnastics poses.

“Obviously, this is a bigger stage and the competition is a lot greater. Yul is going to have to get better. At the NCAA program, he has been at the top for awhile so we’re going to have to move beyond the expectations of just a college athlete and start to train the type of things that will make him successful on this stage.”

Moldauer was thrust into this leading role with four-time U.S. champion Sam Mikulak still recovering from an Achilles tendon tear in February. Williams’ challenge with Moldauer is the same facing his entire squad.

“The message is we need to be stronger as a team consistency-wise. We have potential and talent, we just have to draw it out of these guys so that it gets that they’re comfortable when they go out on the arena floor and do the same gymnastics they did in practice,” he said

Moldauer and Donnell Whittenburg compete in Saturday’s floor exercise final, while Alex Naddour will be performing for a medal on the pommel horse. Naddour, who won pommel horse bronze at the Olympics, looks like the closest thing to a lock for success.

“We’re a team with some great potential but we’re a little bit young after you get past Sam,” said Williams, who has guided the Sooners to seven NCAA titles since taking over in 2000. “We’re hoping we can handle that as we get into the next World Championships and set ourselves up for the Olympic Games.”

Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, Williams is keen to see the U.S. win its first team gold medal since 1984. Moldauer is confident Williams can help him be a part of what would be a historic moment.

“Mark has so many different plans for each section. He’s always there to help you, he talks about your routine construction, he talks about what you need to work on, and after the meet, he said we have to get back and work on your high bar,” said Moldauer. “It’s good having a coach like that who already knows what you need.”

Williams’ conviction is perhaps the team’s greatest asset. He rejected being pushed toward wrestling in high school and stuck with gymnastics despite his coach’s wishes. The rest, as they say, is history. And that bodes well for Team USA.