© John Cheng

By Nick McCarvel

ST. LOUIS – Shane Wiskus and Matt Wenske weren’t competing against one another Saturday in the P&G Gymnastics Championships, but they fed off each other’s energy for junior men’s titles inside Chaifetz Arena.

Placed into the same group, Wiskus and Wenske won the 15-16 and 17-18 divisions, respectively. Wiskus scored a 170.450 in 15-16 and Wenske a 165.300 in 17-18, both with over five-point cushions.

“It’s good that we can push each other,” said Wenske, an 18-year-old Houston native. “We have been on national teams together since we were 10 or 11 and have been friends since then, too. It’s always been good to be in a group with this kid. He’s incredible. He pushes me.”

Wiskus and Wenske were named to the 13-member U.S. junior national team, which featured the top three finishers from the 17-18 division and the top 10 finishers from 15-16.

Bailey Perez was second (159.050) in the 17-18 division behind Wenske, while Jordan Kovach was third (158.850), holding off close challenges from Mitchell Brown and Andrew Brower (fourth and fifth).

Bennett Huang was second in 15-16 (164.450) behind Wiskus, followed by Alexei Vernyi (163.100), who claimed the bronze.

On the afternoon prior to the senior men’s Olympic team being named for Rio, it was a good glimpse into a future – and a strong one at that – for men’s gymnastics in the U.S.

“I see a bright future for these guys,” said 2008 Olympian Raj Bhavsar on the USA Gymnastics livestream.

“Leading into the 2020 Games – I know we’re far out – but this is a strong base for this next quad,” said Wiskus, a 17-year-old from Spring Park, Minn.

“These are the guys that are going to be there at that point,” added Wenske, speaking of 2020. “These guys out there, they’re all amazing. I’m pumped about it. We have a bright future for sure.”

The day didn’t start bright for Wenske, however, who suffered a fall on the opening element of his high bar.

“It’s never easy to come back from a fall,” Bhavsar noted on the livestream. “That’s not the start he wanted,” added co-host Evan Heiter.

But Wenske would recover, delivering strong routines on floor (where he finished first overall) and pommel horse (third). Wenske would then hit in his showcase event, the vault, where he had tied for first at the P&G Championships in the senior men’s division earlier this month.

He hit a triple full that Heiter explained plainly: “That is big gymnastics.” He would win the event by over one full point.

It was big for Wiskus, too who hit his vault and offered a delighted high five to coach Doug Price.

“I was very proud of that vault,” Wiskus said, smiling. “I’ve never stuck a big vault like that before in a major competition. That was pretty big for me.”

What was also big was his “beautiful triple full dismount” on floor (where he finished first), an element that Bhavsar described on the livestream as such: “I would call that as good as Sam Mikulak’s.”

That’s not a bad endorsement.

Wiskus won gold in four events, silver in another two, while Wenske had three golds and two bronzes to his name.

While these two junior men were no doubt the brightest stars of the day, it was a junior event that was full of promising performances.

That included Mitchell Brown’s high bar, as well as Bailey Perez, who earned a roar from the Chaifetz Arena crowd for his stuck landing on his dismount.

Vernyi’s floor routine was full of personality (he finished second behind Wiskus), while Kovach was nothing short of explosive in his floor (he ended fourth in the 17-18 division), as well.

Kyte Crigger was also strong on floor, earning bronze in 17-18.

Wiskus and Wenske, both the leaders after day one, were happy to have stayed on top as the pressure mounted throughout Saturday. Wenske said this will be his final junior competition.

“For me it was a fresh day starting from scratch,” Wenske said. “After my fall on high bar, I told myself I had to get back up and get at it. This was my last junior meet ever ; so I was trying to live in moment and see through the process. You have to stay humble.”

“I was happy to know I could work through being ahead but also staying in the moment,” Wiskus said. “You have to make sure you stay focused.”