INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Mikulak is clearly the best U.S. men’s gymnast for a third straight year. What’s left to be decided at the P&G Championships is which five men will join him on the World Championships team.
Mikulak, a 2012 Olympian, leads the P&G Championships all-around by a comfortable 2.35 points after six of 12 routines (full results here). He scored 92 points Friday night at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, bettering his first-day score from his 2013 and 2014 title runs.
“I would’ve liked a little more stuck landings, put the icing on the cake,” said Mikulak, whose only major error was putting his hands down on a faulty floor exercise tumbling pass. He could break the record for margin of victory — 3.4 points — under the Code of Points implemented in 2006 with a strong showing Sunday (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 3-4:30 p.m. ET).
Mikulak, who trailed by the same 2.35 points after the opening night last year, nailed his first five routines Friday, including a meet-record 16.25 on parallel bars. He’s en route to becoming the first man to win three straight U.S. all-around titles since Paul Hamm from 2002-04.
That Mikulak’s best score was on bars is notable because it was his lowest-scoring event at both the 2014 P&G Championships and the 2014 World Championships all-around. He scored in the 13s at those meets. He called the look of his new routine, which can be seen here, more international, polished and detail-oriented.
“It’s showing a level of professionalism,” said Mikulak, who was 12th in the all-around at the 2014 Worlds and is still looking for his first individual Olympic or Worlds medal. “I’m not just doing the skills; I’m showing off the skills to you. You want to make it look easy. That’s what gymnastics is all about.”
Mikulak’s coming from a different place as a professional gymnast. He stuffed his belongings in his car May 15 and drove from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Colorado Springs, Colo., moving into the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Mikulak, 22, won three NCAA all-around titles at Michigan, the first in 2011, but he had exhausted NCAA eligibility.
“I kind of needed to be training with guys who had a similar goal that wasn’t NCAA Championships,” he said.
The goal for everyone chasing Mikulak in the all-around standings is the same going into Sunday. Not so much to catch Mikulak, which may be impossible, but to impress a World Championships selection committee.
The six-man team for the World Championships, plus two replacement athletes, will be named within 24 hours of the meet ending and likely on Sunday night.
The biggest factor in deciding the roster will be maximizing the team final score at Worlds (three men on each apparatus for 18 total routines), U.S. national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said after Friday’s competition. The U.S. men won team bronze medals at the last two Worlds in 2011 and 2014, behind China and Japan.
The top Worlds team contenders are Donnell Whittenburg, who is second to Mikulak at the halfway point and made last year’s Worlds team, and third-place Paul Ruggeri III. The tattooed Ruggeri has never made a Worlds or Olympic team, but he has been a Worlds alternate three times.
Then there’s Olympian Jacob Dalton, who made the last three Worlds teams. Dalton pulled out of the P&G Championships earlier Friday with a small labrum tear in a shoulder and said he planned to petition for a spot on the Worlds team.
Mazeika made no guarantees that Dalton would be chosen, even though Dalton could be picked and later withdraw if his injury isn’t healed by Worlds in the last week of October.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the case of two-time Olympian Jonathan Horton, who at 29 hopes to become the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic or Worlds team since Blaine Wilson at the Athens 2004 Games.
Horton is in fourth place in the all-around despite a disastrous vault where momentum on his landing carried him past two mats, off the elevated competition floor and nearly into a camera stand (video here). He scored 14.0.
“I don’t know where I stand in the eyes of a lot of people at the moment,” said Horton, whose last global meet was the 2012 Olympics, two major surgeries ago. “I feel like I’ve kind of got a chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove. … I feel like I am close to being back in my old form. … I have a little bit of confidence [to make the Worlds team], not quite sure.”
Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva is in fifth place, followed by past Worlds team members Chris Brooks (sixth), Brandon Wynn (seventh), Alex Naddour (eighth) and Steven Legendre (10th). All erred on at least one apparatus Friday, counting scores in the 13s.
Key will be filling spots on potential weak events at Worlds. Pommel horse has long been a struggle for the Americans, and the leader in that event after the first night is Alec Yoder, the 18-year-old Youth Olympic all-around bronze medalist.
But Yoder is 20th in the all-around standings, just adding to the dilemma facing the Worlds team selectors.
The P&G Championships continue Saturday with the final night of women’s competition (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 8-10 p.m. ET). Simone Biles leads by 1.4 points with Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman in third and fourth place, respectively.