Sam Mikulak hopes he’s closing gap on Kohei Uchimura

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak entered the sixth and last rotation of the 2013 World Championships all-around final in third place, looking to win the first U.S. men’s all-around medal since 2010.

Mikulak, at his first Worlds, would finish his night on high bar, arguably his strongest event. If every gymnast repeated his qualifying score from his last event in the all-around final, Mikulak would win the silver medal.

No U.S. man had won an Olympic or World all-around silver or gold medal since Paul Hamm‘s Olympic title at Athens 2004.

Mikulak likely wasn’t thinking of such feats — he said he felt no nerves — but he erred on high bar and plummeted to sixth place. Mikulak had made the 2012 Olympic team as a rising University of Michigan junior and won his first P&G Championships all-around title the following year.

He was second to Japan’s Kohei Uchimura in 2013 Worlds all-around qualifying and was set to be the closest man to Uchimura again before that last rotation in the final in Antwerp, Belgium. Uchimura won his record fourth straight World all-around title, earning more of an argument for greatest-ever status.

Even if he hit high bar, Mikulak would have finished more than one full point behind Uchimura, continuing the great divide in men’s gymnastics. Mikulak was asked that night what he lacked to be competitive with Uchimura.

“Start value,” he told reporters in Antwerp. “I think that’s all I’m missing.”

Mikulak gets his second chance to win an all-around medal and challenge Uchimura at the World Championships in Nanning, China, over the next week. The U.S. men go through qualifying Saturday. The all-around final is Thursday (full broadcast schedule here).

Start value, or difficulty score, is one of two parts that make up a gymnast’s total score on each apparatus. The other is the execution score, based out of 10 per event.

In Antwerp, Uchimura had a combined start value total of 38.2 points over all six events. Mikulak’s start value was 36.4 (36.9 in qualifying). Mikulak went into the sixth and last rotation 1.675 points behind Uchimura and finished 3.442 behind after that high bar mistake.

Mikulak averaged a combined start value of 37.35 at the 2013 P&G Championships, before 2013 Worlds. At this year’s P&G Championships, Mikulak had a combined start value of 38 on the second day, when he came from fourth place back to win.

On top of that, Mikulak promised additional difficulty for Worlds after the P&G Championships in Pittsburgh last month. He showed that in training in Nanning this week, performing a vault with four tenths more difficulty than he did at P&Gs or in 2013.

In other words, Mikulak appears to be closing the gap in difficulty, the caveat being it’s not known exactly what Uchimura plans to unleash in Nanning.

“[Mikulak] probably could have finished in the all-around second in the world [in 2013],” Mikulak’s coach, Kurt Golder, said at the P&G Championships. “That’s right about where he stands right now.

“This guy from Japan, Uchimura, he’s fantastic. That’s the target. That’s the one we’re chasing.”

Mikulak is seen as one of the biggest threats to Uchimura’s dominance. The Japanese won silver at the 2008 Olympics and has won every annual global title since. He is the only gymnast, male or female, to win four World all-around titles.

The other top all-around gymnasts in Nanning include Japan’s Ryohei Kato, Great Britain’s Max Whitlock and Germany’s Fabian Hambuechen. Mikulak trained with the three-time Olympian Hambuechen earlier this year.

“I’m chipping away at it, making sure my start values are getting higher and higher as the years go on,” Mikulak, who is four years younger than Uchimura, said at the P&G Championships. “Hopefully, when it comes Rio time, I’ll be up there with his start values.”

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
Ironman
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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