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Paris 2024

U.S. Gymnasts no longer able to hide behind difficulty scores

US Olympic Team frontrunners and the Impact of the Domestic Rule Change

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By Kensley Behel  ND Editor-in-Chief

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January 1, 2024

Photo: Amy Sanderson/Gymnastics Now


As the clock turns to 2024, male gymnasts in the U.S. will no longer be able to hide behind the D score bonus system implemented by the men’s program in the previous two seasons. While the bonus system was effective in incentivizing athletes to increase difficulty and thus become more competitive for the podium, athletes must now show what they are capable of without relying on the cushion the difficulty bonus provided. In short, falls will hurt more. 


Last year, the U.S. men’s team, comprised exclusively of all-arounders, won their first World Championships team medal since 2014. Despite their success, there is no guarantee that any of the five athletes will become Olympians, though it's hard to imagine an Olympic Team without Khoi Young and Fred Richard. Young is the first American athlete since Olympic Champion, Paul Hamm, to bring home three medals from a single World Championships. A solid all-arounder with potential for several individual finals, I believe his chance for this Olympic team is higher than most.  Richard is the first American to win an all-around medal at the World Championships since Jonathan Horton in 2010; that success combined with his opportunity for a high bar medal also lends him to being a lock.


In truth, while specialists have made major international teams, the question should be asked if keeping the same (all-arounders only) strategy would be profitable for a program who hasn’t won an Olympic team medal in sixteen years. It’s a question the athletes themselves have also asked.  




Based on men’s program committee minutes, athletes have voiced that a team with only three athletes able to compete on one event in qualifications should be considered only if that team's score is half a point better than the next highest-scoring team. Meaning, that a team with multiple non-all-arounders that would potentially leave a team with only three athletes able to compete on floor should only be considered if it is far-superior to the next best option. 


While there are convincing arguments for an all-around only team, there are other team compositions that may provide a higher scoring team. With the return of World Champions Joe Fraser and Giarnni Regini-Moran, the British Team is likely to be stronger than they were at the 2023 World Championships, and a bigger threat to the United States’ return to the Olympic Podium. 


Who Will Make the Olympic Team?

Before choosing the next Olympic team, there are several key questions about athletes' upcoming performances that need to be answered including:


  • How many events will Brody Malone be able to compete? 

  • Will Stephen Nedoroscik and Curran Phillips be able to compete their key events consistently? 

  • Will Yul Moldauer, Fred Richard, Colt Walker, and Donnell Whittenburg be able to upgrade their vaults?

  • Will Shane Wiskus be able to compete at his usual level after having to withdraw from the Pan American Games?


However, based on existing information, and barring injury, the Olympic Team is likely to be comprised of five of the following ten athletes: Fred Richard, Khoi Young, Paul Juda, Colt Walker, Yul Moldauer, Asher Hong, Brody Malone, Curran Phillips, and Donnel Whittenburg, with a dark horse in Josh Karnes. Based on consistency issues, it is unlikely that a one-event specialist will be selected for the Olympics this year.


Though the Olympic selection procedures have not been finalized, a proposed draft has considered automatically allocating one Olympic spot to the top all-arounder following the Olympic Trials, with the condition that they are also top 3 on three events – a spot most likely to be earned by Fred Richard, Colt Walker, Yul Moldauer, or Asher Hong. In addition to the potential nominative all-around spot, I believe the U.S. will continue to prioritize athletes with usable 5.6 difficulty vaults. As vault incurs the fewest deductions of the six events, the men’s program would be leaving points on the table if they didn’t maximize difficulty on vault. 


Those on the Senior National Team with consistent 5.6 or higher difficulty vaults include Khoi Young, Paul Juda, Asher Hong and Riley Loos. Josh Karnes, Fred Richard, Donnell Whittenburg, and Colt Walker have demonstrated 5.6 vaults in competition within the past several years, however not consistently enough to be certain that they will choose to use those vaults in 2024. (Note: Yul Moldauer stated in an interview with Neutral Deductions that he is working on upgrading his Kas 1.5 to a Kas double which would also bump his vault difficulty to a 5.6).





Though I would be unsurprised if the Senion Selection Committee (SSC) chose a team exclusively of all all-arounders, should the SSC choose to allocate a spot to a non all-arounder, it is likely that the final spot will come down to best friends and teammates Malone and Phillips. Former National Champion, Brody Malone, once thought to be a shoo-in for the 2024 Olympic team, is still recovering from a leg injury sustained in March of 2023. He is expected to return to competition in February on pommel horse, still rings, and parallel bars. The 2022 High Bar World Champion plans to add high bar to his program later in the year. 


Curran Phillips won the Pan-American parallel bar title in Chile in 2023 with a 15.400 (the equivalent score Lukas Dauser won the world title with in Belgium). Both Malone and Phillips will need to not only show consistency on their key events throughout 2024, but will also need to demonstrate viability on their other events to be considered frontrunners for Paris. 


The future looks bright for this American team and while the selection committee will have a tough decision to make come July, these athletes have the potential to break the fifth place curse that the Americans have held from London to Tokyo.


Article by: Kensley Behel

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