Sam Mikulak

Sam Mikulak takes national gymnastics title; will Danell Leyva, John Orozco make worlds team?

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Sam Mikulak, Big 10 all-around champion, NCAA all-around champion, is now United States all-around champion. The University of Michigan star cruised at the U.S. gymnastics championship, winning the the two-day event comfortably Sunday.

Mikulak seemed on auto-pilot early, turning in near carbon copies of his dominating performances from Friday’s opening night at the XL Center. Mikulak, 20, led the entire way and only stumbled on his final event, falling twice on the pommel horse. He totaled 181.4 points, beating second-place Alex Naddour by 2.9 points (full results below).

“It was a little bit of nerves (on the pommel horse),” Mikulak said.

Mikulak is a lock to lead the World Championships team in Antwerp, Belgium, from Sept. 30-Oct. 6. USA Gymnastics is expected to name the squad of up to six men by the end of Monday.

“I definitely think people should start watching out for me,” Mikulak said, according to The Associated Press.

He’ll look to challenge Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the three-time defending world all-around champion and 2012 Olympic champion.

The next seven men in the U.S. all-around standings, Naddour, Olympians Jake Dalton and John Orozco, Brandon Wynn, Steven Legendre, Olympic bronze medalist Danell Leyva and Paul Ruggeri are seemingly in the running for the remaining five spots.

Naddour, who just missed the 2012 Olympic team, proved to be the only confident pommel horse worker in the country, but he also showed up big in the all-around, hitting 11 of his 12 routines over two days. He actually outscored Mikulak (and everyone else) Sunday. This time when the team announcement is made, it’s doubtful the world “alternate” will be anywhere near his name.

Jake Dalton should also make plans for Belgium. He faltered on a few events through the two days but survived for third place after winning the American Cup in March. His case is boosted by his international experience from the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

Orozco left his struggles from night one in the chalk dust and with it put to rest lingering doubts about his return from a torn ACL and meniscus. Orozco was strong and steady from start to finish Sunday, including hitting pommel horse and parallel bars routines that could push him onto the worlds team.

Leyva’s struggles continued. He was shaky at best on pommel horse, fell on vault and had uncharacteristic form errors in his high bar routine. When it came down to his final event, parallel bars, where he holds the world title, Leyva needed to hit, or in all likelihood any shot at a place on the worlds team would be gone. He did and let out a big sigh of relief on the shoulder of his animated coach and stepfather, Yin Alvarez.

That sixth and final spot on the world team will likely be between Orozco and Leyva because Mikulak will be one of the two U.S. all-arounders in Antwerp and because of a trio of event specialists in the running for spots.

Wynn, who made the worlds team in 2010, appears to be living up to his potential, winning his signature event, still rings.

Also in contention is 2012 Olympic team alternate Steven Legendre, who topped the floor exercise standings.

Then there’s Ruggeri, a longtime national team member who won silver on floor and bronze on vault.

Back to Mikulak, who wore a camera during training to show just what it’s like competing on high bar.

Results

All-Around
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 181.400
2. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 178.500
3. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 177.650
4. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 177.050
5. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 175.250
6. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 175.100
7. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 174.450
8. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 173.450
8. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 173.450
10. Joshua Dixon, Colorado Springs, Colo., 172.950

Floor exercise
1. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 31.600
2. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 31.450
3. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 31.400
4. Stacey Ervin, Ann Arbor, Mich., 31.150
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.850

Pommel horse
1. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 31.050
2. Luke Stannard, Urbana, Ill., 30.300
3. Michael Newburger, Columbus, Ohio, 28.750
4. Chris Turner, Stanford, Calif., 28.450
5. Donothan Bailey, Berkeley, Calif., 28.400
5. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 28.400

Still rings
1. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 31.500
2. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 30.800
3. Michael Squires, Edmond, Okla., 30.400
4. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 30.150
5. Steven Lacombe, Sunnyvale, Calif., 30.050

Vault
1. Sean Senters, Stanford, Calif., 30.750
1. Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y., 30.750
3. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 30.550
4. Neal Courter, Baton Rouge, La., 30.500
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.350

Parallel bars
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.900
2. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 30.100
3. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 29.900
4. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 29.800
5. Stacey Ervin, Ann Arbor, Mich., 29.400
5. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 29.400

High bar
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 31.350
2. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 31.300
3. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 30.900
4. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 30.300
5. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 30.000

Men’s Senior National Team
Jake Dalton, Reno, Nev./Team Hilton HHonors (University of Oklahoma)
Stacey Ervin, Taylor, Mich./University of Michigan
Steven Legendre, Port Jefferson, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (Oklahoma)
Danell Leyva, Miami/Team Hilton HHonors (Universal Gymnastics)
Sam Mikulak, Newport Coast, Calif./University of Michigan
Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz./Team Hilton HHonors (USA Youth Fitness Center)
John Orozco, Bronx, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (U.S. Olympic Training Center)
Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (Stanford University)
Paul Ruggeri, Manlius, N.Y./Team Hilton Honors (U.S. Gymnastics Developmental Center II)
Brandon Wynn, Voorhees, N.J./Team Hilton HHonors (Ohio State University)

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

MORE: Meet Arnie the Terminator, Katie Ledecky’s top rival

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Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

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