Before Thursday, the last time Michigan gymnast Anthony McCallum competed in the vault was on April 16, 2016, when he won the national championship.
The time before that was two weeks earlier, when he won the Big Ten championship.
Then, this weekend at the Winter Cup Challenge, vaulting for the first time in 10 months, McCallum picked up another title in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The Wolverines sent four gymnasts to the Winter Cup — McCallum, freshman Mitchell Brown, sophomore Emyre Cole and junior Dmitri Belanovski — and McCallum, Brown and Cole made the finals. They faced some of the nation’s best talent, including 2016 Olympians Chris Brooks and Alex Naddour as well as Oklahoma’s Yul Moldauer, who won the all-around.
The 11th-ranked Wolverines entered this weekend coming off back-to-back matchups with No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 6 Ohio State, and their next three meets will be against No. 8 California, No. 3 Illinois and No. 2 Stanford. In their latest test, the top gymnasts in the country converged with spots on the U.S. national team at stake.
The highlight for Michigan was, again, McCallum’s vault routine. The sophomore took the lead Saturday with a 14.900 on his first vault and bettered that with a 14.950 to outpace Moldauer by four tenths of a point.
“It’s hard to put into perspective,” Golder said of McCallum’s first vault since last spring. “He’s out there on the floor with Olympians and world team members, and the vault that he does is just incredibly difficult. There’s one other person in the U.S. doing it, but last year he was the only one able to do that vault. There’s only a couple in the world.”
Cole finished third in the vault, five hundredths behind Moldauer. He was also the only Wolverine to perform all six disciplines, finishing in 16th place in the all-around competition with a 156.600.
Most of the night, though, belonged to stars such as Moldauer, Brooks, Naddour and Eddie Penev, who combined to win the other five events. The vault gave Michigan its only top-10 finishes. McCallum’s 12th-place mark on the floor was the closest outside of that event.
“They got in that big-time competition, and they competed very well,” Golder said. “They didn’t place high in every event, but they basically got the job done. … We haven’t been on track, but we’re getting on track with our consistency.”
In addition, the weekend was supposed to be a reunion for Michigan and Sam Mikulak, the decorated alumnus who won the all-around NCAA championship in 2014. But when Golder texted Mikulak on Friday en route to Las Vegas, he heard bad news: Mikulak had torn his Achilles and was heading home to undergo surgery. It was a devastating injury for the 2016 Olympian, though Golder said his former athlete has kept his spirits up.
“His attitude is just like it’s been in the past when he’s hit some adversity,” Golder said. “Just very upbeat.”
Golder’s team returns home to face California on Saturday at Cliff Keen Arena. They have lost both of their dual meets of the season to Oklahoma and Ohio State, and the fact that they sent four underclassmen to Las Vegas proves that this is still an inexperienced team.
But that won’t keep them from matchups against the best opposition — their next competition is a Spring Break trip to face the Puerto Rican national team — and their national champion McCallum gives them a chance to create a highlight against anyone.