California-born Sam Mikulak, or “Hollywood,” as he’s better known to his Olympic teammates, took charge at the U.S. gymnastics championships in Hartford, Conn., on Friday.
Mikulak, 20, grabbed the lead in the second of six rotations and never relinquished it, finishing the first of two nights of competition with 91.65 points, nearly a three-point lead over Olympian Jake Dalton.
The scores Friday (full results below) will be combined with Sunday’s results to determine the national champion and which six men will be selected to compete at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, in October.
Dalton, who won the American Cup in March, started strong on his signature event, floor exercise, but struggled (as many would) on the dreaded pommel horse, falling off during his routine.
There was an eerie air floating around the pommel horse — perhaps blame it on the bat which somehow made it inside the XL Center and flew around the arena throughout the night. Only one all-around contender made it through the pommel horse (long the U.S.’ weakest event) cleanly, Mikulak, who aims to become the fourth different man in as many years to win the U.S. all-around title.
“This is something that I’ve wanted to check off,” said Mikulak, the NCAA all-around champion and rising senior at Michigan.
Mikulak lived up to his nickname, signing at least one cell phone and high-fiving with the crowd between routines. His smile seemed pasted on from first event to final interview.
The same couldn’t be said for 2011 national champion Danell Leyva. The Olympic all-around bronze medalist continued his post-London struggles with a rough start on the pommel horse and fell twice on the parallel bars, an event in which he’s the currrent world champion. Leyva came back strong on his last event, high bar, but the damage was done and he is in sixth place.
John Orozco was the surprise of Friday night. The defending U.S. champion came into Hartford planning to perform only four of six events, 10 months after surgery to repair a torn ACL. Determined, he changed his mind and did all six Friday, sporting a knee brace. Orozco is in eighth place.
Exhaustion appeared to hit Orozco on the final rotation, when he skipped warm-ups for floor exercise. He ended up performing and hit his routine, but the damage of a two-fall pommel horse performance kept him way back in the overall standings.
The specialists showed up big Friday. Olympic alternate Alex Naddour proved his World Championship capability on the pommel horse with a massive 15.45 to go along with his third-place standing in the all around. Steven Legendre leads on floor exercise with a 15.9, an event he made the world finals in two years ago.
Both men made early cases to be chosen for the World Championship team, but there’s more work left Sunday.
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 91.650
2. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 88.700
3. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 87.900
4. Joshua Dixon, Colorado Springs, Colo., 87.450
5. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 87.100
6. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 86.900
7. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 86.700
8. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 86.650
8. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 86.650
10. Donnell Whittenburg, Colorado Springs, Colo., 86.550
1. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 15.900
2. Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y., 15.800
3. Stacey Ervin, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.750
4. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 15.650
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.350
1. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 15.450
2. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.200
3. Michael Newburger, Columbus, Ohio, 14.900
4. Luke Stannard, Urbana, Ill., 14.600
5. Donothan Bailey, Berkeley, Calif., 14.300
1. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 15.750
2. Michael Squires, Edmond, Okla., 15.400
3. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 15.200
3. Steven Lacombe, Sunnyvale, Calif., 15.200
5. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 15.150
1. Sean Senters, Stanford, Calif., 15.350
1. Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y., 15.350
3. Neal Courter, Baton Rouge, La., 15.300
4. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 15.250
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.200
1. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 15.450
2. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.350
3. Sean Melton, Colorado Springs, Colo., 15.050
4. Brian Knott, New York, N.Y., 15.000
5. Adrian de los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Mich., 14.850
1. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 15.600
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.600
3. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 15.300
4. Joshua Dixon, Colorado Springs, Colo., 15.150
5. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 15.100