The first of two days of Olympic men’s gymnastics trials is in the books, and Donnell Whittenburg ended it roughly where he started.
After a late push to finish Thursday’s competition in St. Louis, the Baltimore native is fifth out of 18 U.S. national team members. The U.S. will send five gymnasts to the Rio Olympics in August.
The selections are based on the results from four days of events: June 3 and 5 at the U.S. Championships in Hartford, Conn.; and Thursday and Saturday’s Olympic trials.
Entering Thursday, Whittenburg was tied with Yul Moldauer for fifth place at 177.550 points. He rose to fourth following the first rotation — after he scored 15.700 on parallel bars, a relative strength — but then bounced between fifth and sixth the rest of the night.
Finally, he snuck back into fifth on the final rotation, scoring 15.150 on vault to reach a total of 265.875 and overtake Moldauer, who is in sixth.
Sam Mikulak led the field with 181.500 points at the U.S. Championships, and he led for the duration of Thursday evening as well. He’ll head into Saturday with 272.150 points as a near-lock to make the Olympic team. Beyond him, the margin between competitors was small across the board.
All 18 team members competed in each of the six events — floor exercise, parallel bars, vault, still rings, high bar and pommel horse — and will do so once more Saturday. Shortly after competition, the U.S. Olympic Selection Committee will choose the five-athlete team.
The final results will play a significant role in the choices, but the committee won’t necessarily choose the top five scorers. Since three Americans will compete in each of the six events in Rio, and all three scores will count in each, the U.S. will seek the most well-rounded lineup.
Saturday’s competition begins at 8 p.m. NBC will start televising it at 9.