No one is certain what the Tokyo Olympic Games will look like this summer — or, indeed, if the Games will happen for sure — or what will happen before then at the U.S. Championships or the U.S. Olympic Trials.
But it’s a solid bet that Oklahoma will have a presence on the team.
Five current or former OU gymnasts have now landed a spot on the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team this week.
OU junior Vitaliy Guimaraes, former Sooners Genki Suzuki, Yul Moldauer and current Sooner volunteer assistant coach Allan Bower all made the senior team over the weekend from their results at the Winter Cup in Indianapolis — and former Sooner Colin Van Wicklin, landed a spot on the roster Wednesday when additional Team USA-funded spots were announced.
There’s still a lot that must happen before the Olympic team is chosen, such as the national championships and the trials.
Other World Cup events have already been cancelled as the pandemic continues. Some gymnasts, such as Van Wicklin, couldn’t compete in Indianapolis because of power outages in Texas and other states.
But OU coach Mark Williams said the Winter Cup — the first official national gymnastics event since last year’s Winter Cup — was a welcome sight, regardless of the outcomes.
“It’s hard to make any general judgment when you haven’t done it for a year,” Williams told SI Sooners. “We were all just happy to be having a meet.”
Williams said the field in Indy usually consists of 48 gymnasts, but this year only 27 competed.
“Because of the circumstances around COVID,” Williams said, “it just made it a different event than any that we’ve had before.”
Which fits, really, because of everything these gymnasts have been through over the last 12 months. Guimaraes and Bower, for instance, are at OU and so have a consistent and adequate place to train. But the others, those who have already competed for and graduated from OU, can’t train in Norman because of university COVID protocol. Van Wicklin and Moldauer are working with their junior club teams and Suzuki is working out in Oklahoma City.
“When we weren’t allowed into he facility and we really hadn’t figured out a way to go anywhere, my guys asked me, ‘Can we take some weights? Can we take some pararlletes? Can we grab a few things from the gym and just put it in our garage?’ “ Williams said. “And pretty soon, Yul’s asking an equipment company, ‘Can we borrow a pommel horse? Would you sponsor us with a blow-up tumbling floor?’
“So pretty soon, they’ve got rings over there, they’ve got a pommel horse, they’ve got a tumbling mat. And they’re doing all this in their yard. And Genki was there, and Yul was there and Colin was there and Vitaliy would show up. This was in the early days when they didn’t know anything about the virus. But they knew that gymnastics was about timing, gymnastics was about strength and conditioning. They had nowhere to go so they were kind of doing it in their garage and in their driveway and on their front lawn.
“Yul told me, ‘I got to know my neighbors pretty well finally, because they all saw us working out in the front yard.’ ”
The myriad training disruptions manifested at times in Indianapolis, Williams said. How could they not?
“It’s been such a challenging year just to have guys have consistent training,” he said, “and to finally get a chance to go out there, I think the first day was difficult — a lot of nerves, a lot of anxiety. I think my guys certainly felt the intensity of not having done this in a long time. Kind of a weird pressure of just not being very familiar with it anymore.”
Moldauer won the Parallel Bars and took third on the Floor Exercise and third in the All-Around, and Suzuki won the Horizontal Bar. Moldauer and Bower qualified for the national team in Saturday’s action, the others on Sunday.
Williams said the goal now is for the team to continue competing in the Sooners’ spring season while those who have graduated refine their skills given whatever training opportunities they get.
The Championships are scheduled for June 3-6 in Fort Worth (42 gymnasts will compete there), and the Olympic Trials are set for June 24-27 in St. Louis (only 18 get to go). The XXXII Olympiad — postponed from last summer — are on the docket for July 23-Aug. 8 and could include anywhere from 4-7 gymnasts, depending on what’s decided between now and then.
Williams said he’s optimistic the Games will happen, even if it comes off as something straight out of the NBA bubble. But yes, there has been whispers about cancelling the Olympics altogether.
“You hear reports that the people in Japan don’t want to do it,” he said. “That’s concerning. But from our (board of directors), USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, so far they’re still feeling like they know it’s possible. It just may end up being a much leaner version of the Olympics than we’re used to, where teams come in for a much shorter time period, compete and get out of Tokyo quickly.
“There’s obviously gonna be a lot of protocols and limitations in the (athlete) villages and all those things. So they’re frantically working on the logistics of how to make that work and still be safe. So I’m somewhat optimistic that there’s gonna be an Olympics. It just may not be the Olympics that we’re used to.”