Whittenburg makes a final stand at US Gymnastics Trials | Sports news

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By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Donnell Whittenburg can see the end. It’s lurking out there somewhere. Probably this fall, whether he finds his way into the US men’s Olympic tournament team or not.

Seven years have come and gone in a flash. Whittenburg will be 27 years old in August. Hardly ancient, but the physical and mental demands of sport have taken their toll.

Whittenburg remains a mystery even in the last few months of an enigmatic career. Built like an NFL middle linebacker – albeit one only 5 feet 4 tall – Whittenburg struggles to keep the promise he made in his early years on the US national team when he helped the Americans, bronze at the 2014 World Championships and followed a year later with an individual bronze on the vault.

These are his only medals in major international competitions. Born in Baltimore, he was a substitute for the US Olympic team in 2016 and has not played in a World Cup since 2017.

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Yet there remain lightning bolts of what could have been and may still be.

Whittenburg, when healthy and fully committed, remains one of the most powerful vaulters in the world. He presented it on the opening night of the US Olympic Trials 2021 on Thursday and made it into the top 10 of SportsCenter by flying through the air with a full-spinning double-back flip, first performed in the competition by North Korea’s Ri Se Gwang has been.

The judges rewarded Whittenburg with a 15.05, one of two exercises that evening to break the 15.0 mark. But four of Whittenburg’s other five rotations were nowhere near his best. While remaining a force on standing rings – an event that lives up to his combination of strength and control – he finished outside of the top 10 on parallel bars, horizontal bars, floor and pommel horse.

With Brody Malone, Sam Mikulak, Shane Wiskus and Yul Moldauer in position to secure four places on the US Olympic team, Whittenburg only has one chance of getting to Tokyo if he makes his way to the plus-one spot that the Americans find in the Pan. deserved American Championships in Brazil earlier this month, a meeting Whittenburg watched from the stands as an alternative.

The “plus one” will compete as an individual in Japan. US men’s high-performance director Brett McClure says the decision of who gets it will depend entirely on the medal potential at the Games. Whittenburg’s first Vault score would likely put him in the mix, but the selection committee will have options. Alec Yoder was brilliant on the pommel horse. Alex Diab kept ringing the doorbell.

Whittenburg knows all of this, so he tries to stay in the moment. In what might be his last chance in the spotlight, he spent the warm-up hypeing as many of his competitors as possible.

“It’s these Olympic trials like we’re all boys here,” said Whittenburg. “I’m just trying to show as much love as I can because you know we’ve been fighting these guys for so long and you know new guys are popping up too. I feel like I and my place to be one of the vets here just want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome. That is the reason why I do this. “

Whittenburg didn’t have such a positive attitude in his senior years at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado. He spent most of a decade there but left in 2019 after failing to reach the World Cup team. He found the atmosphere suffocating.

“I just felt like a kid who was on campus and had to follow rules and stuff and got all the attention on me,” he said.

He moved to a new gym in Wisconsin and worked out with Marvin Kimble, who retired this spring. A hand injury limited Whittenburg earlier this year, but he has moved on. If he can put together two solid vaults in the final on Saturday evening, he will present convincing arguments to the selection committee. After his long and complicated journey, he will take it.

“I already know exactly where I’m stacking. It’s just about doing exactly what I have to do when I’m on the ground, ”he said. “I know that I can compete with the best specialists in the world. If I just do my job, I feel like the rest will take care of itself. “

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