Winter Cup Features A Bevy Of Oklahoma Gymnasts

Colin Van Wicklen has been before. In fact, the former Oklahoma Sooner has made five previous trips to the Winter Cup Challenge dating back to his prep years in Magnolia, Texas.

But this year’s competition should feel like home for Van Wicklen. Of the 36 juniors and 48 seniors expected to compete, 13 will be current, former and future Sooners.

“It's going to be incredible because ... at least 25% of the field is an Oklahoma Sooner, so it’s almost going to feel like a team competition,” Van Wicklen said. “We’re going to have guys in two different groups from OU cheering for each other. We're going to have parents and family in the stands, so it’s going to almost be like an away meet for Oklahoma. It's going to be a really cool experience just to show the talent that we have here in Norman.”

What makes the Winter Cup Challenge such a special event is the bearing it has on selecting the U.S. Men’s National Team. Following the first day of competition, the top six all-around athletes will automatically qualify for the 2019 senior national team.

Using scores from both days of competition, the Men’s Program Committee will select six more gymnasts from the participants at the Winter Cup Challenge.

“It’s an opportunity to have these guys compete to be on the national team and have opportunities to be out internationally representing the United States,” OU coach Mark Williams said. “We’ve got guys who have been on the National Team and expect to make it again. We’re getting close to another Olympic cycle. One year away, they kind of want to be in that mix of the top group and hopefully have a chance to be at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.”

The Oklahoma contingent joining Van Wicklen at the Winter Cup includes Yul Moldauer, who was part of the national team that competed at the World Championships. Other Sooners heading to Las Vegas include senior national teamer Genki Suzuki, Levi Anderson, Gage Dyer, Spencer Goodell, (current junior national teamer), Vitaliy Guimaraes, Tanner Justus, Alexei Vernyi and former Sooners Kanji Oyama and Allan Bower, who are both U.S. National Team members. 

Anderson, who is a senior at Oklahoma, will be making his third trip to the Winter Cup Challenge. He remembers the first time when he was still in high school.

“The first time was honestly kind of surreal because I was actually in a group with Jonathan Horton, who’s a great Sooner alumni,” Anderson said. “But he was training with me back at Cypress. So it was kind of cool to go out there on the floor and be in the same rotation group as a veteran like Jonathan Horton and watch what he did and just learn from the best, so to speak. That was probably my favorite thing about the first time I went.”

For Gage Dyer, he is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to Winter Cup experience. He is making his debut at the event, but feels he is ready to be on the big stage.

“I'm excited to go out there and show off all my hard work. I think it’s about time for me to get out there and give it all I’ve got,” Dyer said. “What makes it special is I want to get the opportunity to see if I can make the national team. I think all the guys that are going to the Winter Cup have that ability, so I think that’s a good motivation for us to do well.”

That seems to be the mindset Williams has instilled in the athletes who come to Oklahoma. They are looking to test themselves against the best, which is why they have a large group at competitions like the Winter Cup.

“This is what OU does,” Van Wicklen said. “Championships and champions are made in this building, but it’s still definitely a huge accomplishment to have that many guys compete at one of the biggest meets for the U.S. It’s going to be really cool to go out and compete with my teammates and, you know, family.”

That family atmosphere extends to the gymnasts who have yet to wear the Crimson and Cream uniforms yet. But, according to Anderson, the Winter Cup is almost like a rite of passage for 2019 signees Lazarus Barnhill (current U.S. Junior National Team member) and Jack Freeman

“The guys that are going to be here next year that are going to be wearing Crimson and Cream, it’s kind of like ‘Welcome to the family’ kind of thing,” Anderson said. “But it’s really, really special to go out there and see the amount of guys that we have because it just goes to speak for the program. We’re the only school out there that’s got that kind of numbers. I think we have 13 guys that are either future, former or present Sooners. That to me is unreal, but really, it’s just kind of like seeing other family members out there.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance content provider who handles sports, news, entertainment, culture, and lifestyles. You can find him on TwitterInstagram, and on his blog.

What To Watch On FloGymnastics This Weekend: March 22-24

With NCGA gymnasts competing at championships this weekend and other parts of the gymnastics world heating up, FloGymnastics has many competitions this weekend for you to enjoy. Here are the four big competitions we are streaming this weekend—try not to get whiplash attempting to watch them all!

Riley McCusker Kicks Off 2019 Season At Birmingham World Cup

Riley McCusker's 2019 season is set to begin the same way her 2017 season did: at a World Cup. About six months after competing at her first major international competition, McCusker is set to make her 2019 debut at the Birmingham World Cup. In 2017, she made her senior elite debut at the American Cup. Hopefully, that's as far as the parallels will go for McCusker's 2019 competition season.

Previewing The Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC & Big 12 Conference Championships

College gymnastics conference championships are coming up this weekend, and every single conference has a lot of talent to watch! Here is a breakdown of the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 conferences to give a closer look at what to expect in these competitions. 

Freshman Feature: Oklahoma's Olivia Trautman

In this ongoing series, FloGymnastics showcases college gymnasts competing in their freshman seasons. This freshman feature highlights Olivia Trautman from the University of Oklahoma. 

Senior Spotlight: Illinois Sixth-Year Gymnast Mary Jane Otto

In the return of this ongoing series, FloGymnastics features a gymnast in her final collegiate season. The next Big Ten gymnast to be featured is Illinois' Mary Jane Otto.

Biles Easily Wins 2019 Debut At Stuttgart World Cup

Ahead of the 2019 World Championships to be held in Stuttgart in October, Simone Biles won all-around gold at her first meet of the year at the DTB Pokal World Cup in Stuttgart by more than 3.500 points. Canada's Ana Padurariu and Germany's Elisabeth Seitz earned silver and bronze, respectively.

UNC Grad Student Megan Ruzicka Has Walked An Unconventional Path

It is no secret that gymnastics is a hard sport to stay in. It’s extremely wearing on the body, tough mentally—honestly it can just be downright scary. Many gymnasts’ careers are marred by injuries, and the higher you progress in the sport, the more of your teammates start dropping out for one reason or another. Only a lucky few ever make it to the elite or college levels.

Simone Biles Ready To Dominate 2019 Debut At Stuttgart World Cup

After returning to international competition for the first time since the 2016 Olympics, Simone Biles was nothing short of dominant at the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. The reigning Olympic all-around champion came home with gold for team, all-around, vault and floor. She also claimed silver on bars and bronze on beam, making her the first American gymnast to medal on every event at Worlds. So it's safe to say she had a strong comeback.

Senior Spotlight: Boise State Gymnastics' Shani Remme

In the return of this ongoing series, FloGymnastics features a gymnast in her final collegiate season. Next up is Boise State's Shani Remme. 

Individual Medals Awarded At 2019 City Of Jesolo Trophy

The City of Jesolo Trophy was a weekend full of new seniors, international debuts, surprises and, most importantly, amazing gymnastics. On Saturday, we watched the U.S. senior team take gold and Sunisa Lee win the senior all-around title, while Russia won the junior competition and the U.S. came in second as a team, with Konnor McClain winning the junior all-around title.