Yul Moldauer and the US men’s World Cup assignment situation

By Patricia Duffy | February 27, 2020
Yul Moldauer and the US men's World Cup assignment situation

UPDATE: This article was originally published on Feb. 24. It was updated with statements from a media member and Yul Moldauer’s coach on Feb. 27.

It seems no one has had more of a roller coaster weekend than Team USA’s Yul Moldauer.

2020 Winter Cup all-around debacle

Moldauer started the weekend off competing at the 2020 Winter Cup Challenge and retaining his spot on the U.S. men’s senior national team with his fifth-place performance in the all-around.

It wasn’t a perfect weekend for the World floor exercise bronze medalist. He suffered a fall on high bar in prelims and debuted an upgraded floor routine that will need to be fine tuned in the coming weeks, but overall, Moldauer seemed to be right where he should be at the beginning of the elite season: having not yet peaked but still taking home some hardware (more on that in a minute).

Unfortunately, by Sunday, Moldauer was on the receiving end of multiple mistakes and faux pas.

First, he was named the Winter Cup all-around and vault champion, being awarded a plaque for the accomplishment, before USA Gymnastics issued a statement saying there was an error with the senior all-around awards. The retraction stated Sam Mikulak was actually the all-around winner since it is based only on night one performances at Winter Cup.

Indeed, the USA Gymnastics press release from Feb. 20, two days before finals, states the following:

For the senior division, all-around ranking is determined on the first day of competition and individual event champions will be determined via a combined two-day score. For the junior division, all-around ranking and individual event champions will be determined via a combined two-day score.

So, taking the mistake in stride, Moldauer responded to USAG’s tweet, tagging Mikulak and saying, “hey man where should I ship your award?”

Momma Moldauer joins Twitter

This seemed to be the end of the whole saga and a relatively calm end to the weekend. That was until Moldauer’s mom, Orsa Moldauer, joined Twitter on Sunday.

Her bio read (and still reads at time of publishing), “Yul’s Mom, and currently unimpressed by USAG.”

Momma Moldauer had this to say in her first tweet, replying to a post from @StickItMedia: “As of today, Yul has been stripped of all of his assignments. I am confused by this. I’d like to see USAG explain why this has happened. After the Rio debacle, it is hard to feel confident about decisions that are being made in the dark.”

Coming from an athlete’s mother, someone close to the situation, this news seemed all but confirmed. At the forefront of the issue, why would a consistent, talented, and respectable athlete such as Yul be stripped of all of his World Cup assignments? Including American Cup, where he is the three-time defending champion (’17, ’18, ’19), Birmingham, and Stuttgart.

Fast forward to Monday evening. In the past 24 or so hours, Twitter and other social media platforms have run rampant with speculation, gossip, and everyone trying to make sense of what is going on.

The biggest questions: Does Yul still have his World Cup assignments? If not, why? Will he be given the chance to defend his American Cup title?

(Side note: Orsa Moldauer tweeted the following, stating this happened before Yul’s tweet about sending the plaque to Mikulak and going against speculation that the stripping of assignments happened because of that tweet, specifically.)

USAG speaks out

Finally, gymnastics podcast GymCastic (@gymcastic) tweeted the following statement from USAG. (Read below for the full statement.)

“The Men’s Program Committee (MPC) – an elected committee of coaches, administrators, and athletes, from the men’s gymnastics community – chooses individual athletes for international assignments based on a variety of criteria, including recent camp and competition performances, rankings, international competition exposure, and Olympic qualification strategy. The High Performance Director (HPD) provides recommendations and input to the MPC for all international events where selection procedures or a qualification process are not used. The MPC reviews these recommendations and determines final assignments.

The MPC has not yet documented World Cup selection procedures. However, USAG has implemented certain guardrails for this selection process – including requiring an independent observer and protecting against conflicts of interest – that were included as part of this process.

Because USAG must often provide athlete names prior to certain competitions, we often share names of potential or likely competitors to FIG while awaiting results from upcoming competitions. The MPC ultimately assigns the athletes traveling closer to the event.

Consequently, we submitted a nominative registration with Yul Moldauer for American Cup, Stuttgart, and Birmingham. And, with the results of Winter Cup now in, the MPC will finalize its assignments. Although it has not yet confirmed, we anticipate that the MPC will assign Brody Malone for Birmingham World Cup, Shane Wiskus for American Cup, and Yul Moldauer for Stuttgart World Cup.

Although the nominative registration process makes this confusing (and, candidly, we have made it more confusing with our own communications), we do want to stress that this was not the removal of one incredible athlete from the World Cup roster, but instead the addition of deserving athletes that also demonstrate world caliber competitiveness amongst the field. Ultimately, this illustrates an increase in the depth and competitiveness of Team USA heading into Tokyo.

We recognize there is significant opportunity to improve the clarity of the communication around the selection procedures and nominative registration process in the future. We are reviewing our current policies to identify changes we can implement. This includes ensuring that Jason Woodnick, vice president for men’s gymnastics, and Brett McClure, men’s program high performance director, both verify results before announced to the public, as well as developing a technical packet outlining the selection procedures to eliminate confusion and support the entire men’s program. Throughout this process, we will continue to solicit input from athletes as we’ve done at our national team camps.

USA Gymnastics

USAG also commented on the its decision to name Melbourne World Cup pommel horse gold medalist Stephen Nedoroscik to the national team instead of pommel horse specialist and 2018 World team member Alec Yoder.

Nedoroscik earned a 14.6 (6.2/8.4) in qualifying and a 15.4 (6.7/8.7) in the final to secure gold for Team USA. Yoder won the pommel horse event title at Winter Cup with a two-day combined score of 30.000, including a 14.7 (6.1/8.6) and a 15.3 (6.5/8.8).

Regarding Stephen Nedoroscik and Alec Yoder, both have shown to be top individual event athletes and do have the potential of occupying a team spot or an individual spot if earned. We are assuming your question is about MPC’s naming of the national team, which they do based on the same criteria described above (for athletes finishing outside of the top six in the All Around from Day 1 of Winter Cup).

USAG’s statement seems to be a candid admission of miscommunication and error on their part in regard to this entire situation, stating these were nominative assignments and nothing official.

The World Cup announcements

However, British Gymanstics (@britishgymnasticsofficial) seemingly announced the “official” field for the Birmingham World Cup, including Yul, on Feb. 7.

The Stuttgart World Cup made their field announcement, also including Yul, a week prior on Jan. 31.

USAG’s American Cup field announcement said the following, “Representing the United States at the 2020 American Cup, scheduled for March 7 at Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., are Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World All-Around Champion and the 2018 American Cup winner; Kayla DiCello, the 2019 U.S. junior champion, who is making her senior international debut; Sam Mikulak, Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Olympic Training Center; and Yul Moldauer of Arvada, Colo./University of Oklahoma, the 2017 World Floor bronze medalist and three-time defending American Cup champion.”

In the past, for American Cup, World Championships, and other competitions, statements like this have served as the definitive announcement of official assignments not nominative spot announcements. That, along with the other two official World Cup accounts having already announced Yul as a participant, makes it seem like USAG was intending on sending Yul to all three World Cups but backtracked.

Either way, hopefully this statement will provide some clarity on the matter to all parties involved and allow Yul and the rest of the national team athletes to return to practice and focus on the overarching task at hand: making the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics.

Official assignments to the All-Around and Individual Apparatus World Cups (based off results from the Winter Cup Challenge) should be finalized and announced in the coming days.

UPDATES from Feb. 26:

Two days after USAG’s statement, Yul’s coach, Mark Williams, made the following statement.

Williams’ official statement reads:

Deeply disappointed in the decision by USA Gymnastics and the Men’s Program Committee to remove Yul from event assignments we were told were already his. Yul and I were aware that he needed to make the National Team and show readiness to represent the USA, but we were never advised that already-designated spots might be given to someone else even if Yul made the National Team, topped the two-day all-around standings, won vault and finished second in the overall 10-point standings.

Our understanding, through months of conversations with both myself and Yul directly, is he would be competing as the American Cup wild card, as well as in the Birmingham and Stuttgart World Cups, and his training plan was designed towards peaking for those events. I have been coaching at this level for 30 years and that’s always been the standard–show readiness to retain your nominative spot. It is extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, to replace an athlete for reasons other than illness, injury or voluntary withdrawal.

Yul’s name was submitted by USA Gymnastics for all three competitions, and travel arrangements were made/in the works. It was not until after Yul had earned his spot on the National Team that I was advised by the MPC that these positions could be reassigned by “rank order”. In other words, no one ever told Yul, or myself, what we needed to do to retain those spots, until after we hadn’t done it.

On day one at Winter Cup, Yul performed upgrades on five of six events, and would be the first to admit he didn’t look as sharp as usual, yet still finished fifth in the field, even with errors. On day two, Yul had not originally planned to do the all-around, but after competing strong on three events decided to go for it, as we were told in warm-ups by High Performance Director Brett McClure that all-around performance for that night “would matter”. Yul performed much better than on day one, and ended up winning the night, as well as the combined, two-day total, even being awarded the all-around championship plaque at meet’s end.

Prior to competition, there was never notice that Yul’s World Cup spots were contingent on him finishing a particular rank at Winter Cup. Instead, our understanding was that Yul had already earned these spots as the No. 2 American at both 2019 USAs and the World Championships, and his Winter Cup performance was a formality to confirm National Team status.

There was even less ambiguity about the American Cup position, which was offered to Yul late last year, then formally announced, in writing, by USA Gymnastics in January, without any caveats.

Only four gymnasts have won the [American] Cup three times in a row: Kurt Thomas, Mary Lou Retton, Blaine Wilson and Yul. None have done so four times consecutively. While we knew, as the wild card, that his performance wouldn’t count towards Olympic selection, Yul very much wanted the opportunity to defend his title.

If the criteria was all-around rank at Winter Cup from day one, all athletes should have been officially advised of that long BEFORE the competition, and we should never have been told the assignments were Yul’s. While I’ve always been, and will continue to be, a proponent of rank order selection, reassigning events based on unwritten standards, and inconsistent with past process, is by no definition “fair”.

If this is going to be a new policy going forward, I can understand, and even support it, but it should never have been applied retroactively. We aren’t dealing with theory; Real athletes (on all sides), with real emotions, are involved, and this feels like the opposite of USA Gymnastics’ stated, new era goal of providing a “positive and encouraging environment where athletes and professional members alike can thrive.”

Clearly articulated criteria that is as objective as possible, and widely published, must be made WELL in advance of selection, not used as reasoning after the fact. Giving an athlete an event, having them train and prepare for it, and then taking it away for reasons beyond injury or illness is unnecessary, and does not strengthen our National Team.

While we are distressed and disheartened by this decision, I have been impressed and inspired by Yul’s graciousness, and he remains committed to continuing to work hard with the goal of representing Team USA to the very best of his abilities.

Mark Williams

Yul Moldauer made a statement on the situation for the first time since Winter Cup.

“What’s crazy is no one would know who’s competing where and when without social media. No official from @USAGym has even tried to contact me.”

And Orsa Moldauer updated her Twitter bio.

UPDATES from Feb. 27:

USAG uploaded the following Men’s Program Committee (MPC) meeting minutes at an unknown date and time.

Feb. 21, 2020

Feb. 22, 2020

Kensley Behel addressed the published minutes, and Mark Williams commented on them as well in the following tweets.

Behel said, “So… I wish this was over & there was a consensus, but these minutes cannot be fully accurate. I had confirmation from Brett that Shane had American Cup on Saturday BEFORE the meet started. Brody was confirmed to me Sunday morning as is consistent with these MPC minutes.”

Williams quote tweeted Behel, stating, “I was informed by Brett McClure that Yul had been removed from American Cup during 2:21 AM phone call on Sunday morning. So, the USA Gymnastics High Performance Director was telling members of the media before he informed either Yul or I? #Unacceptable.”

At noon on Thursday, Feb. 27, USAG published a press release officially announcing the final lineup for the 2020 American Cup. Shane Wiskus is now listed as the U.S. men’s wild card representative.

This is a developing story. If there are any updates, we will be sure to add them here.