BOSTON — Sam Mikulak‘s record-tying fifth U.S. all-around title came by his largest margin of victory. What he’s really yearning for is a first individual world championships medal.
Mikulak, the only Olympian in the field, added to his lead from Thursday and easily won by 4.75 points at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Saturday. Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. champion in Mikulak’s absence, improved from sixth to finish second.
“This is my favorite national championship that I’ve won so far,” Mikulak told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I finally feel like I’m in peak shape.”
Mikulak, 25, joined Blaine Wilson as the only men to win five U.S. all-around titles. He also became the oldest champ since David Durante in 2007.
But Mikulak is no longer satisfied with gold medals at nationals. He is one of the best American gymnasts to never earn an individual Olympic or world medal (Wilson is also on this list). He called this title “a stepping stone.”
Mikulak is sure to be named to the five-man team for October’s world championships, his next chance for that first individual global podium. Tokyo 2020 would be his third and likely final shot at an Olympic medal (Wilson won his only Olympic medal at his third and final Games in 2004).
“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more, and if this [national] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top,” Mikulak said before the meet. “Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire.”
Mikulak hit all six routines Saturday, including a 15.25 on parallel bars that was the highest score of the two-day meet. He totaled 87.75 points. That’s 2.6 more than Thursday, when Mikulak fell twice and still had the best all-around score thanks to major mistakes from the other favorites.
“If I can go out and do this [repeat Saturday’s routines at worlds], I think I can make a very strong case for [a world medal],” said Mikulak, who didn’t do the all-around at worlds and nationals last year coming back from a torn Achilles.
Nationals end Sunday with the last day of women’s competition live on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app from 8-10 p.m. ET. Simone Biles carries a huge lead, eyeing a record fifth U.S. women’s all-around title as the first non-teen winner since 1971.
GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?
Next for the U.S. men? World championships in Doha in October. Usually, the world team would be named right after nationals, but this year a September selection camp has been added. Up to eight men will be invited to that camp, after which the five-man world team will be named.
It could be a very new-look squad aside from the likely leaders Mikulak and Moldauer. Allan Bower and Donothan Bailey, who were third and fourth Saturday, have never been to a worlds. Neither has Alec Yoder, who won the national title on pommel horse, making him valuable.
All but one of Mikulak’s teammates from the last two Olympics have retired. The one who hasn’t — Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour — has been suspended since June for unspecified reasons.
Another top American, Marvin Kimble, withdrew before nationals due to injury but is training at his Wisconsin gym. He is petitioning for a spot on the national team to get into the worlds selection camp.
Yet another, Eddie Penev, is out with a torn ACL. Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg, competed here, but only on parallel bars and still rings, not fully back from November torn rotator cuff surgery.
Kimble, Mikulak, Moldauer, Naddour, Penev and Whittenburg were the U.S. entries at the 2017 Worlds, which only had individual events. Only Moldauer came back with a medal, a floor exercise bronze.
U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure has team medal aspirations but said before nationals that China, Japan and Russia are in a different league in terms of routine difficulty.
The U.S. men were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. That marked the first back-to-back global championships without a medal since 2006 and 2007.
Mikulak has been a part of recent U.S. teams that underwhelmed. He hopes that what happened at nationals — everybody struggling on the first day but nailing routines on the second, will portend success.
“Usually we do well in qualifications and then choke in team finals,” at the Olympics and worlds, Mikulak said. “So if we do the opposite, I’m totally cool with that.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
MORE: Laurie Hernandez faces big decisions before comebackFollow @nzaccardi