When the U.S. Olympic trials jump into action this week in St. Louis, it will have an Oklahoma feel for those watching.
That’s because on the men’s side, six of the 21 male competitors vying for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team are former or current University of Oklahoma men’s gymnasts. Including one man who hails from none other than Yukon itself.
“That just shows that the program is top-notch. It’s one of the best in the country, if not the best,” said OU senior and Yukon native Gage Dyer. “It’s Champ-U for a reason. We make champions here. Having all those guys going out there is kind of another statement for us to make. We’re ready to come and we’re ready to play.”
In 2016, Oklahoma had three of its gymnasts and coach Mark Williams make it to the Rio Olympic Games. They hope to send more this year.
Along with Dyer, the Sooners will be represented at the trials by Yul Moldauer, Allan Bower, Vitaliy Guimaraes, Matt Wenske and Colin Van Wicklen.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Gymnastics run June 24-27. By the end of the competition, four-member teams and one individual for both men and women will have punched their ticket to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. At trials, the top two women and top man receive automatic berths onto the team. The remaining spots will be filled by the selection committees.
Each of the competing Sooners is looking to snatch up one of those available five spots. But to do that they have to go through the toughest competition in the country that includes the likes of Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone.
Yet, even with the pressure so high, the gymnastics plan to keep the stress level low.
“I’ve been kind of putting that pressure on myself in the gym so that where I go to the competition, it’s going to be nothing different than what I have been doing in the gym,” Bowers said. “I am going to try and keep the same mindset and not change anything. Just go out and have fun.”
Using Oklahoma’s Sam Viersen Gymnastic Center to focus and keep the pressure under control seems to be the go-to move for all the Sooners.
“I just want to be able to revert back to my training. Kind of just put myself in the gym so I am fully confident and be able to show the world what I am capable of doing for the U.S. Team,” Dyer said. “Just really making a statement for myself.”
During the men’s gymnastics competition, they compete on six apparatuses compared to the four for women. They include floor exercise, horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings and vault.
At the Olympics, gymnasts will compete for individual gold medals on each apparatus as well as the all-around, which combines scores from the six events. In the team competition, each country tallies three scores on each apparatus with the three up, three down format. That means three athletes compete on each apparatus and all three scores count.
Because of this the U.S. Selection committee is expected to put emphasis on ability and consistency across all of the events.
“I think with being consistent, you need to keep a consistent mindset. So I am really not going to go at this with a different mindset,” Dyer said. “Because what I have going on in my head right now has obviously been working for me. So I am going to continue to do that and treat like another meet. Because there is no reason to add any extra pressure to myself and make myself a little more nervous. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing.”
Making the Olympic team for Dyer would be a dream come true for the Yukon native who didn’t start gymnastics until he was 13 years old. Walking around his hometown with the U.S.A. Olympic jacket is something he has already envisioned.
“It would be a complete blessing,” Dyer said. “I’m living blessed right now as it is having that opportunity. But if I am able to get that, it would be such an honor to have that title. Thank the small city that I came from and thank all the people that helped me get to my dream.” The trials can be seen on NBCSN through Saturday. Sunday’s finale will appear on NBC from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.