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

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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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.”

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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.

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