The American Cup has traditionally been a throw-away, garbage meet at the start of the elite season to test the waters with new routines, gain international experience, and try new upgrades. However this year is very different. The American Cup will be an important step for countries looking to qualify additional nominative spots for the Olympics via the all-around world cup route, which starts with the American Cup, then Stuttgart World Cup, followed by Birmingham World Cup, and finishing with the Tokyo World Cup. The top three countries at the end of the circuit will earn a +1 spot for the Olympics. Because of the stakes, the field is much more competitive than years past. The Russians withdrew from the meet citing not the coronavirus as their excuse, but long flights and climate acclimation were reasons to not attend(???) This is significant because the reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy was on the nominative roster and was the heavy favorite to win the meet. This significantly opens the door for the rest of the field to grab some points and help their federations qualify additional spots to Tokyo. Let’s take a look at the major contenders:
With the absence of Nagornyy, it’s safe to say Sam Mikulak is the favorite to take the title this year. He won Winter Cup with an 86.8, debuting a few new upgrades. He’ll be looking to copy and paste his Winter Cup performance to help the U.S. men gain an additional spot for Tokyo. However this year’s particularly deep field means Mikulak MUST hit all six routines in order to win, and consistency hasn’t always been Mikulak’s strong point.
A potential threat to Mikulak is Oleg Verniaev, the current world all-around bronze medallist. Verniaev is also looking to help Ukraine qualify additional spots for Tokyo. Ukraine’s strategy for this world cup circuit is to send Verniaev to every single competition and pray he comes out alive. Depending on what kind of day Oleg has, he is very capable of taking this title considering he has very similar scoring potential to Sam Mikulak.
Newcomer Daiki Hashimoto will also be looking to finish among the top three. His breakout performance at the World Championships last year proved his ability to contend with the best in the world. He also won the All-Japan Championships with an 86.031 even placing ahead of Kazuma Kaya. Not only is this meet important for Japan’s chances of qualifying an additional spot for their home Olympics, but for Daiki, this is an important meet to prove why he should be on Japan’s Olympic team.
Also looking to finish among the top five is Lee Chih-Kai and James Hall. Lee is primarily known for his excellent pommel work after placing second at 2019 Worlds, however he’s also an extremely steady all-around gymnast. He qualified in seventh to the all-around final at those World Championships and helped qualify Taiwan grab a spot in the team final. Hall will be making his third consecutive American Cup appearance, finishing in the top three both in 2018 and 2019. He’ll be looking to finish in the top three again as long as he can stay in the 83-84 scoring range, which is very possible for him.
Shane Wiskus and Pablo Braegger are in contention to finish in the top five. Although Wiskus is the wildcard athlete for the United States and is ineligible to win points, he’ll be looking to have a clean, hit competition in order to prove to the Olympic selection committee that he’s ready to be on the four person team to Tokyo this summer. Pablo Braegger could fare very well in this meet barring
pommel horse any falls.
Also make sure to watch out for Braegger’s high bar, which should be the highlight of his competition.