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Sam Mikulak can be the busiest U.S. male gymnast at worlds in 39 years

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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.

GYM WORLDS: Men’s Qualifying Results | TV/Stream Schedule

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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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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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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