Sam Mikulak’s sixth all-around title reveals question for U.S. gymnastics

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sam Mikulak winning a sixth U.S. all-around title by the largest margin in history is fantastic for Sam Mikulak. But it might not be the best result for a U.S. men’s gymnastics program that’s in a team medal drought.

“It’s good and bad,” Mikulak said after tallying 174.15 points over two nights of competition, prevailing by a Simone Biles-like 5.55 points. “It is just a weird place for the U.S. right now. You could probably make the argument that, maybe, this is the easiest time period for USA Gymnastics for a guy like me, and so it doesn’t quite hold as much to it right now.

“It’s nice to have margin and to be scoring the way I do, but I guess, in my own mind, I try keeping the bar to where Sam wants the bar to be.”

That bar is out of reach for the rest of the country.

“Hopefully this young group can start getting on his level,” said Yul Moldauer, a distant runner-up to Mikulak a second straight year, “but Sam’s so much older than us.”

Mikulak was the only man in the field with Olympic experience. He watered-down routines on the opening night Thursday and still took a 2.75-point lead into Saturday’s final night of competition.

Mikulak broke his tie with retired, three-time Olympian Blaine Wilson for the most U.S. men’s all-around titles in the last 50 years. He broke his own record for margin of victory since the perfect 10 was replaced by an open-ended scoring system in 2006.

Mikulak, known for falling once or twice among 12 routines at a nationals, said he went 12 for 12 this week and that it felt the best of his six crowns. The gap to the rest of the field widened due to injuries. Full results are here.

VIDEO: Gymnast saves high bar routine with one hand catch

Moldauer, who earned the 2017 U.S. title while Mikulak was limited by an Achilles tear, took around a month off this spring due to elbow inflammation. Another 2018 World team member, Colin Van Wicklen, withdrew after sustaining a concussion in Thursday’s warm-ups.

Jonathan Horton, a retired, two-time Olympian who in September will help select the five-man team for October’s world championships, said it’s not ideal for Mikulak to dominate domestically year after year.

“It’s nice to see Sam leading the charge, but it would be good to see some guys on his tail,” he said.

The U.S. men last earned a world championships medal in 2014 (bronze), making this their longest major meet podium drought since the turn of the millennium. They were fifth at the last two Olympics despite placing first and second in qualifying. They were fourth at last year’s worlds behind powers China, Japan and Russia.

“The team collectively is doing a good job, but there’s a bit of a tentative feel to U.S. men’s gymnastics right now,” Horton said. “Being tentative is not going to get us on the podium, but we have a year [until the Olympics]. That’s enough time, but we need guys to start pushing.”

Mikulak is comparing himself only to foreign competitors.

At 2018 Worlds, he went into the last all-around rotation in third place but struggled on his best event, high bar, to drop to fifth. Mikulak finally earned his first career individual world medal a few days later, a bittersweet high bar bronze.

It’s clear that the U.S. is leaning on Mikulak more than ever in his eight years on the national team.

Last year, he was put on all six apparatuses in the team final, which no U.S. man had ever done since the format switched to three-up, three-count after the 2000 Olympics. But that kind of strategy could work out in the U.S.’ favor come the Tokyo Olympics, where team sizes drop from five gymnasts to four, and multiple countries will be putting their stars on every apparatus.

“Sam is creating very positive rhythm doing all six events that we want to continue to keep consistent,” U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure said. “If he makes it all six in the lineup, we’re not worried at all.”

McClure is optimistic, noting he has seen personal-best performances from other top Americans in the last year. His stated goal since moving into the leadership role post-Rio has been to get the team back on the podium.

“It only gives us a little bit more confidence knowing that, hey, maybe this is our year to sneak on the podium,” he said. “We feel good about our chances.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Gymnastics Championships TV, live stream schedule

Eddy Alvarez, Olympic short track medalist, to play for Miami Marlins

Eddy Alvarez
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Eddy Alvarez realized his MLB dream, six years after earning a Winter Olympic medal, and during a global pandemic that affected his club more than any other U.S. professional sports franchise.

Alvarez, a 2014 U.S. Olympic short track speed skating medalist, is being added to the Miami Marlins roster for Tuesday’s restart of their abbreviated season, president of baseball operations Mike Hill said Monday, according to Marlins beat reporters.

The 30-year-old was among a group added after as many as 18 Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus last week, forcing the club to cancel seven games.

Alvarez is believed to be the first U.S. Winter Olympian to become a Major League Baseball player.

He may be the second Olympic medalist in a sport other than baseball to make it to the majors, joining Jim Thorpe. (Michael Jordan tried to do so with the Chicago White Sox, playing Double-A in 1994, but returned to the Chicago Bulls in 1995.)

Alvarez, a Miami native, played baseball in high school and at Salt Lake Community College before focusing on short track in 2012 for a 2014 Olympic run.

He came back from missing the 2010 Olympic team and surgeries on both knees, reportedly leaving him immobile and bedpan dependent for four to six weeks, to make the Sochi Winter Games. Eddy the Jet earned a silver medal in the 5000m relay.

Then Alvarez returned to baseball after three years away. He signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox in June 2014. He worked his way through the minors between that franchise and the Marlins system.

Alvarez was a Kannapolis Intimidator, a New Orleans Baby Cake and a Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Now, he’s a big leaguer.

“It definitely was a chance, picking up a kid who hasn’t played in three years who is starting at the age of 24,” Alvarez said in 2014. “It’s not your typical story, but I play like a 17-year-old kid. I’m running around everywhere. I’m diving around everywhere. I’m full of life. I definitely see my progression moving at a rapid pace.”

MORE: What Olympic baseball, softball return looks like in 2021

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Katie Ledecky balances glass of chocolate milk on her head while swimming

Katie Ledecky
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Katie Ledecky will always remember Aug. 3 as the date she won her first Olympic gold medal, at age 15 in 2012.

Now, she can also associate it with the time she created another kind of buzz on social media.

The five-time Olympic champion posted video of her swimming the length of a pool while balancing a glass of chocolate milk on her head. Barely any, if any, milk spilled into the pool.

Ledecky swam as part of a new got milk? ad campaign.

“Hoooowww nervous were you when you did this?!” fellow Olympic champion and training partner Simone Manuel asked Ledecky on Instagram.

“I have never braced my core so hard,” Ledecky wrote. “It’s a great drill!”

“Try doing it breaststroke,” British Olympic 100m breaststroke champion and world-record holder Adam Peaty wrote.

“Is it wrong of me to think this is even more impressive than a few of your WR’s?!!!” wrote 1992 Olympic champion Summer Sanders.

MORE: The meet where Kathleen Ledecky became Katie Ledecky

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!