Sam Mikulak

Sam Mikulak rallies for repeat P&G Championships title (video)

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PITTSBURGH — Sam Mikulak lost his grip and his bag, but never his confidence, and rallied to win his second straight all-around title at the P&G Championships on Sunday.

The spiky-haired gymnast, usually California cool, paced around the Consol Energy Center, from the competition floor to drug testing, late Friday night.

Hours earlier, he fumbled on parallel bars without a proper mixture of honey and chalk to start the P&G Championships. Mikulak, the defending champion, was in 24th place in the all-around after the first of 12 rotations.

He rallied over the next five, leaping to fourth place at the end of the first night of competition. But he was still 2.35 points behind the leader and needing to pass three of his 2012 Olympic teammates for the all-around title Sunday.

He encountered another worry later Friday night, though.

“I lost my [gym] bag,” Mikulak said. “I went back to stretch, and I was like, oh gosh someone took my bag.”

The bag contained his grips and other necessities to rally up the leaderboard in 36 hours. After fruitless calls, he finally found it.

Which was a bigger concern, climbing back from that deficit or tracking down the lost gym bag?

“Definitely finding my bag,” Mikulak said Sunday afternoon, with the benefit of hindsight.

Mikulak never lost faith that he would retain his title. His coach at the University of Michigan, Kurt Golder, reassured him after the frustrating Friday.

“Just make sure [Sunday] you do it one [routine] at a time,” Golder said. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself that you’ve got defend your title or anything.”

“Yeah, I know,” was Mikulak’s what-me-worry response.

So Mikulak went out Sunday and chopped away at 2012 U.S. champion John Orozco’s lead. He was 1.9 behind after parallel bars, scoring 1.9 points higher than Friday. He cut another seven tenths off on high bar with a 15.8 and another .75 on floor exercise (15.65).

With three events to go, he just needed to pick up two tenths per apparatus.

“I don’t know if he was, but between the coaches, we were looking at [the scoreboard],” Golder said. “He’s chipped away half of it after two events. Then it kept chipping away, getting closer and closer. At the end he had to nail his vault.”

He did, landing a Kasamatsu (with a hop) that he’s been performing since he was in high school.

In all, Mikulak scored 92.25 points Sunday after 88.4 on Friday.

“I had one of the greatest days of my life,” said Mikulak, who might also count the day earlier this year when he went bungee jumping from 400 feet high in Europe while training with German veteran Fabian Hambuechen.

Mikulak’s combined score, 180.65, beat Orozco (180.2). Orozco performed a vault Sunday with 1.2 less in difficulty than he did Friday and scored 1.05 fewer points. That’s what did him in.

Another Olympian, Jacob Dalton, finished third (179.85) after leading by 1.05 going into the final rotation. Dalton went on the dreaded pommel horse last and scored a not-surprising 13.1.

Mikulak leads World Championships team; analysis

Mikulak became the first man to win back-to-back U.S. all-around titles since Jonathan Horton in 2009 and 2010.

Golder said he’s never seen Mikulak come through under tougher circumstances, even during a decorated college career with three NCAA all-around titles.

“This was his toughest climb,” Golder said.

Mikulak’s path to this year’s championship was nothing like 2013, when his biggest failure came on the 12th and final event, pommel horse.

“The last thing someone said to him [before pommel horse] was, you could fall two times and still win,” Golder said. “Then he went out there and fell two times. I know it was the nerves that time.”

Mikulak still won by 2.9 points, but then he went to Worlds and struggled again on his final event, high bar, to finish sixth in the all-around.

This year, Golder and Mikulak said they’ve upgraded their start values and have even more difficulty to be added on pommel horse and parallel bars before Worlds in China in six weeks.

Both coach and gymnast mentioned they’re working toward catching Japanese great Kohei Uchimura, the four-time reigning World champion and the Olympic champion.

“[Mikulak] probably could have finished in the all-around second in the world [last year without struggling on high bar],” Golder said. “That’s about where he stands right now. This guy from Japan, Uchimura, you know he’s fantastic. That’s the target. That’s the one we’re chasing.”

Simone Biles awes judges, U.S. legend to repeat at P&G Championships

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win World Series of Beach Volleyball

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Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross bounced back from an Olympic upset to win the biggest annual tournament in the U.S. on Sunday.

Walsh Jennings and Ross captured the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball title in Long Beach, Calif., for the second time in three years. They beat Spanish pair Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo 21-16, 21-16 in the final.

Absent from Long Beach were Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and silver medalists Ágatha and Bárbara of Brazil.

Walsh Jennings and Ross, who lost to Ágatha and Bárbara in the Olympic semifinals, dropped a total of two sets in seven undefeated matches this past week.

They earned their fifth international title of the year after winning none in 2015, last season shortened by Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.

Later, the top U.S. men’s pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena were scheduled to play Brazilians Pedro and Evandro in the men’s final in Long Beach.

The beach volleyball season continues with the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in two weeks.

MORE: Tough for Misty May-Treanor to watch Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
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NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

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