Occasionally an Oleg Verniaiev or a Ryohei Kato or a Fabian Hambuechen pops in to take the crown, but for the better part of 20 years, the American Cup has been dominated by American men.
Will history repeat itself this year? Maybe not. Bolstered by out-of-this-world difficulty on floor, 2017 World all-around bronze medalist Kenzo Shirai of Japan, along with 2018 American Cup runner up James Hall, a silent assassin from Great Britain, pose a viable threat to Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer for this year’s American Cup title.
Make no mistake, the American men are strong. With two Olympics under his belt and several top five finishes at last fall’s Doha World Championships, Mikulak proved he’s just entering his zenith, and he competes especially well inside the country. That being said, the 26-year-old flashed a fair amount of his old inconsistency at Winter Cup two weeks ago in finishing second to Moldauer, who coasted to the title.
Moldauer comes in as the two-time defending American Cup champ and the first guy to potentially three-peat it since Blaine Wilson did it from 1997-99. Moldauer is a deeply talented competitor who doesn’t wilt in the spotlight, but he trails Mikulak in difficulty on pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar.
At last year’s world championships, Moldauer’s total difficulty score was in the low 32s, and he remains competitive because his execution is way above average when he’s on his game. Mikulak, meanwhile, was up around 35 for combined difficulty. Shirai, who nonetheless finished seventh below Mikulak’s fifth, carries around a whopping 35.9, the highest potential difficulty in this year’s American Cup field, and about seven points of that comes from floor alone. Hall carries in a respectable 34.5, priming him to play spoiler.
Ukraine’s Petro Pakhniuk, the Netherlands’s Bart Deurloo, China’s 2014 Youth Olympian Ma Yue and Switzerland’s Christian Baumann will all also be jostling for place. (Marcel Nguyen, originally scheduled to be there for Germany, dropped out a couple days ago.)
Shirai’s incredible difficulty on floor and vault ups his stock as an all-arounder, but execution-wise, the charismatic 22-year-old is weaker than average on rings and pommel horse. Pakhnuik, meanwhile is exceptionally good on pommel horse and parallel bars, and showed it in his bronze medal finish at last year’s cup. Ma is something of a question mark, though he does have a world cup title on rings under his belt.
Bottom line: if Mikulak does what he’s capable of, he’ll win his second American Cup title. But if he does something to take himself out of contention, the title is likely to be a fight between Moldauer, Shirai and Hall.