Sam Mikulak desperately wants his first individual world championships medal. He has five chances next week.
The two-time Olympian and five-time U.S. all-around champion qualified for a handful of finals at worlds in Doha on Friday, the most for a U.S. man since 1979. Thirty-nine years ago, Kurt Thomas earned two golds and three silvers in arguably the greatest single-meet performance by an American man.
“This has been a year and a half of work,” said Mikulak, who was limited last year with a torn Achilles. “This is the most comfortable that I have ever been on this grand of a stage.”
The U.S. qualified in fourth place into Monday’s team final, where China, Japan and Russia are the medal favorites.
Chances are better that Mikulak makes an individual podium, beginning with Wednesday’s all-around final. Mikulak had the third-highest score in qualifying, less than a point behind defending champ Xiao Ruoteng of China and Russian Nikita Nagornyy.
The field lacks two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Kohei Uchimura, who is not doing all events this year due to an ankle injury. It’s also without the men who last year finished second (China’s Lin Chaopan), fourth (Russian David Belyavskiy), fifth (Cuban Manrique Larduet) and sixth (Brit Nile Wilson).
Mikulak also made next weekend’s apparatus finals on high bar (in second place), pommel horse (fifth), parallel bars (sixth) and floor exercise (eighth and last spot).
The other American to make individual finals was 2017 U.S. all-around champion Yul Moldauer, who fought a bruised bicep to qualify 17th into the 24-man all-around and sixth on floor, where he earned bronze in his worlds debut last year.
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.
Enter a new wave on the world team, including Rio Olympic alternate Akash Modi and fellow world championships rookies Alec Yoder and Colin Van Wicklen.
The U.S. men, under the direction of 2004 Olympic silver medalist Brett McClure are trying this Olympic cycle to reach a global podium for the first time since 2014 (a bronze, which happens to be Mikulak’s lone Olympic or world champs medal).
Though he doesn’t have the hardware, Mikulak is experienced among the world’s best.
He qualified second into the all-around final at his first world championships in 2013. He was in third place going into the last rotation of that final, but a high bar error dropped him to sixth place.
He has since finished fourth in Olympic and world high bar finals. He also qualified first into the Rio floor final but ended up eighth.
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