Sam Mikulak looks to his ceiling in return from injury

Sam Mikulak
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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

12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell
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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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