It’s been a long year. It’s been a long career.
But former Oklahoma gymnast Yul Moldauer saw his lifelong dream come true on Saturday. He’s going to the Olympics.
Moldauer posted the second-best overall score among the athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, and finished in the top three in at least three individual events.
"I'm just thankful to everyone that helped me get here, especially my coaches, my family, my teammates at OU and my teammates this past year at 5280 (Gymnastics) pushing me and getting me through the year," Moldauer said.
"Just thinking about the Olympics, it's scary at times. I remember thinking today, this is what I've been thinking about every day as a child and this is my opportunity to go take it. I can't be thankful enough for everyone that helped me get to this spot."
After each routine Saturday, Moldauer punctuated his dismount with a thunderous clap and an emphatic “Let’s go!”
“I love to see the Yul that’s emotional come out in meets,” OU coach Mark Williams told SI Sooners minutes after the meet, “Because it’s fun to watch, it’s entertaining, and he just become a whole different person when he’s performing.”
U.S. Olympic Trials
- Brody Malone, 171.600
- Yul Moldauer, 168.600
- Shane Wiskus, 168.150
- Sam Mikulak, 166.750
Moldauer was painfully close to making the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, when he was just an OU freshman. He had been just the second freshman in NCAA history to win the national championship in the all-around and showed precocious championship mettle throughout his junior career and early on at OU — but was still left off the final Team USA roster.
Moldauer led Oklahoma to three straight NCAA team championships and won seven individual titles during his college days at OU. He also won the 2017 U.S. American Cup and the 2017 Winter Cup.
Then, four years later, having to wait and train and stay focused through the pandemic — and the one-year Olympic delay — was excruciating. But Moldauer kept himself in shape in more ways than one.
“The fact is he had the vision of being an Olympian,” Williams said, “and even though things got delayed, and even though there were times when he didn’t know that it was gonna actually happen, he kept himself physically and mentally and emotionally focused on the goal, and that is to stay ready when he had the opportunity to prove that he’s an Olympian, and today he proved it.”
Williams said sometimes Moldauer’s lower back tightens up, but it didn’t bother him Saturday. Neither did the pressure of trying to fulfill a lifelong dream. In fact, his biggest challenge, Williams said, was more waiting.
“It was just more getting to the competition day,” Williams said, “kind of that waiting game that you play.”
Moldauer finished second behind Brody Malone with a score of 168.600 — less than half a point ahead of Shane Wiskus, who scored a 168.150. The top score automatically qualifies for the Olympics, while the second-place score qualifies if the gymnast finishes top three in three events, and he went top three in four.
“There was just no doubt,” Williams said. “By the end of the meet, I knew he had made it.
“In fact, I actually told him after pommel horse, I said, ‘That’s the one you needed; you’re gonna be an Olympian.’ He kind of looked at me like, ‘You know there’s four more events?’ ”
Moldauer finished first on parallel bars (29.95 total, 14.4 Saturday), second on pommel horse (28.350, 14.1), third on floor (29.050, 14.25), third on rings (28.20, 14.050), ninth on vault (28.85, 14.40) and 13th on high bar (25.2, 12.45).
In his final event, the vault, he had a scary wobble but held his landing. A misstep there could have been a half-point deduction.
“I was really worried he wasn’t gonna make it around,” Williams said. “I told him, ‘That was a great fight to stay on your feet, let alone stick it.’ ”
Moldauer now represents 5280 Gymnastics in Littleton, CO, close to his home in Fort Collins. His success at OU helped direct his career to Tokyo. He even thanked “my university” among the litany of reasons why he made it.
"Mark has done so much for me," Moldauer said. "Especially throughout my gymnastics career, him and the OU guys. I know I'm at 5280 now and I'm gone from OU, but I still have that certain respect for everything that program (OU) has done for me.
"To be out on the floor with my 5280 coach, Sasha (Artemev), and Mark from OU, it was unreal. Both sides have done so much for me, I can't take all this (credit). We did it collectively. To share that moment with them was amazing."
For Williams, it was a gratifying day to send his sixth Olympian to compete against the world’s best.
Guard Young, who was a junior gymnast under Williams and coached for him at OU as well, made Team USA in 2004. Jonathan Horton, who competed for the Sooners under Williams, made it in 2008. And former Sooner Jake Dalton, arguably Williams’ most decorated gymnast so far, made the U.S. Olympic squad in 2012 and 2016. Alex Naddour was an alternate in 2012 and medaled in 2016, and Chris Brooks made the squad in 2016.
On Saturday, former Sooner Allan Bower, who finished seventh in St. Louis with a 165.450, made the team as an alternate.
Vitaliy Guimaraes (11th with a 162.450), Matt Wenske (14th with a 154.550) and Gage Dyer (16th with a 58.150 in two events) also competed this weekend.
Opening ceremonies for the Tokyo Games are set for Friday, July 23. When he gets there, Williams will have coached at every Olympiad since 2000, now six in a row.
“Yeah,” Williams said, “pretty amazing run.”