Laura Wilkinson

Catching up with Laura Wilkinson

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Laura Wilkinson pulled off one of the great stories of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, jumping from eighth place over five final-round dives to become the first U.S. woman in 36 years to win platform gold.

Wilkinson prevailed six months after breaking three middle bones in her right foot, banging it on a piece of plywood used for training. The U.S. would go 12 years before winning another Olympic diving medal.

The Texan competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics before retiring and giving birth to daughter Arella and son Zadok and adopting another baby, Zoe, from China in between.

She has stayed close to the sport, serving as an athlete representative for USA Diving through 2012 and doing some commentating. She won’t push her children into the sport — “Maybe they’ll be great piano players,” she says — but the opportunity will certainly be there to put those genes to use.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Wilkinson to look back on her career and discuss what it’s like to chase three young children around.

OlympicTalk: Does your gold medal remind you of any other Olympic come-from-behind victories?

Wilkinson: When they made that movie, “Miracle,” about the 1980 hockey team [in 2004], that really resonated with me. I was nowhere near that kind of level or had that number of people watching me, but the feelings and what they went through. Being the underdog, nobody felt like I had a chance. That movie makes me nostalgic about what we went through in Sydney. Maybe it was on a smaller scale, but it was big to me.

OlympicTalk: Any other interesting stories from Sydney?

Wilkinson: My mom managed to sneak home my [medal ceremony] bouquet. You’re not supposed to take plants across borders, but my mom gave the customs border agent a sad face.

OlympicTalk: Before the Olympics, you won the 1998 Goodwill Games platform title in New York. What was it like competing at an international competition in New York?

Wilkinson: It was kind of cool and unusual, one of my first international meets where there were more sports than just diving. I got a little taste of what the Olympics would be like. It was my first time diving on live TV and that many people in the stands watching. I was still dreaming about the Olympics at that point.

I thought it was awesome to be on our home turf. We were out on Long Island, but we got to go into town and see some things.

OlympicTalk: What was the worst dive of your career?

Wilkinson: A back armstand triple tuck off the 10-meter, in ’98, right before the Goodwill Games. I started throwing my head back on a takeoff in practice, and before I knew it I landed on my stomach. After that I started closing my eyes on dives. I’d never been so lost before. It was a really scary time. I would rather take a hit, break a bone, go through some type of pain, but that dive was all-encompassing. I closed my eyes [diving] for years after that. I finally admitted that to my coach [Kenny Armstrong] in 2001. We had to go back through the basics again of spotting my dives [looking for the water mid-dive to know when to kick out your feet and preparing for water entry].

OlympicTalk: Divers always have headphones on between dives. What did you listen to?

Wilkinson: It depended on what kind of mood I was in. If I was mellow, I wanted something upbeat to get me to jump around a lot. If I was nervous, something slower to calm me down. I liked Jeremy Camp, Tobymac and Natalie Grant.

OlympicTalk: What’s life like now as a mother of three?

Wilkinson: Very different. I get a little stir crazy some times. I’m not used to being at the house so much. It’s kind of a different Olympics. I call it the Momlympics [blogging about it here].

When I was diving and training full time, I still had breaks, rests, a full night’s sleep, massages and ice on things that hurt. When you’re a parent, especially with three kids under 3, there’s no down time, no rest for the weary. But it’s awesome. The rewards are way better than standing on top of a podium for a matter of seconds. They last a liftetime.

Catching up with: Bruce Jenner | Mark Henry | Shawn Johnson

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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