Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak looks to his ceiling in return from injury

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Sam Mikulak wrote on a poster and attached it to his Colorado Springs bedroom ceiling, so that every time he wakes up, his eyes read a bucket list.

The U.S. Olympian said he wants to experience zero gravity, wingsuit fly and swim with sharks. All of those adventures sit below the poster’s No. 1 goal: become the world’s greatest all-around gymnast.

Mikulak, a chill, 23-year-old California native nicknamed “Hollywood” years ago, is already the best in his own country, winner of three straight U.S. all-around titles.

But he missed his chance to prove himself at the World Championships in October by partially tearing his left Achilles while training on floor exercise.

The tear was minor enough that he’s already entered in the American Cup on March 5, three months before the P&G Championships and Olympic trials.

(It’s not as serious but still reminiscent of 2011, when Mikulak broke both of his ankles on a tumbling pass one year before the London Games and, while at the University of Michigan, reportedly put the Olympic rings on a poster on his ceiling for motivation.)

So Mikulak watched on Oct. 30 as Japan’s Kohei Uchimura romped to his sixth straight World all-around title, with Cuban Manrique Larduet taking silver. A healthy Mikulak edged Larduet for the Pan American Games all-around title in July.

“I’m glad he didn’t get dethroned,” Mikulak said of Uchimura, “because I would love to do that at the 2016 Games.”

It’s certainly a tall order. Mikulak hoped he would have finished closer to Uchimura in the all-around at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships — taking sixth and 12th in those competitions.

Before the Achilles tear, Mikulak won his third national all-around title in August, by the largest margin of victory under the nine-year-old scoring system. He said he felt better than ever.

Uchimura looked equally relaxed Oct. 30, cruising to victory by 1.634 points as the other pre-meet favorites fell.

“I think Kohei just didn’t feel the pressure from anyone this competition,” Mikulak said, “because [Ukraine’s] Oleg [Verniaiev] was definitely the one who I thought could beat him out. And he made mistakes early on in the competition [and finished fourth]. Then Kohei’s like, all right, it’s kind of easy, breezy, like let me do what I do. So I notice when he does have the pressure, he kind of makes mistakes. I kind of want to apply the pressure and make him worry.”

After Mikulak broke his ankles in 2011, he worked constantly on pommel horse to be an asset for the U.S. on the team’s weakest event and boost his chances of making it to London.

With this Achilles setback, Mikulak zoned in on his worst apparatus, still rings, in an effort to chase Uchimura in total difficulty scores.

First, the gymnast who meditates daily for 15 minutes must focus on making the five-man Olympic team at the P&G Championships and Olympic trials, both in June.

One of Mikulak’s thoughts while watching Worlds was how deep the U.S. team has become in international experience.

Not only are his four 2012 Olympic teammates training for Rio, but also five more members of the World Championships team — Donnell Whittenburg, Alex Naddour, Brandon WynnChris Brooks and Paul Ruggeri III.

Many practice with Mikulak at an Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. Mikulak, who moved there from Ann Arbor in May, is now nicknamed “Sosa” by teammates in reference to retired baseball slugger Sammy Sosa.

The U.S. men finished a decent fifth at Worlds without Mikulak and fellow injured Olympians Jacob Dalton and John Orozco. At London 2012, the U.S. also finished fifth, though that was a disappointment.

Mikulak watched the World Championships team final with optimism. The U.S. was in second place behind Japan going into the final three routines of 18 total, but they plummeted on their last rotation on pommel horse, long a dreaded apparatus for American men.

“If we had put in a couple of different guys, I think we could’ve won,” Mikulak said. “Going into pommel horse, they had the silver medal. And then, all of a sudden, Japan had their two huge falls on high bar, the very last event, and if we had a much stronger horse team, we very well could’ve been passing them up because they counted a couple of 14s, where, you know, if we had the strong horse lineup that we would want, could’ve put up some 15s and pass them up.”

MORE: John Orozco eyes return to competition

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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