Sam Mikulak enters final gymnastics season feeling fortunate that he can compete

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak has the same number of U.S. all-around titles as Simone Biles, but he’s not playing up the pursuit of a seventh crown in Fort Worth, Texas, this week.

Mikulak’s routine for months as he prepares for the final season of his gymnastics career: train, get set back by elbow or wrist problems, take one to three weeks off. Repeat.

“I can’t expect myself to exceed where I have been in previous years,” said Mikulak, a 28-year-old bidding to become the first U.S. gymnast to compete at three Olympics since Blaine Wilson in 1996, 2000 and 2004. “So I need to find gratitude with where I’m at now and the fact that I’m actually still able to compete.”

Performances at the U.S. Championships starting Thursday and, more importantly, the Olympic Trials in three weeks determine the team for Tokyo. Mikulak said last August that he plans to retire after this season, and he’s sticking to it.

“Don’t feel like you need to go and be the best in the world right now,” he told NBC Sports last week. “This meet is solely for the purpose of getting to Trials.”

MORE: U.S. Gymnastics Championships broadcast schedule

No athlete carried U.S. men’s gymnastics like Mikulak since 2013. He has been a consistent all-around medal threat — though never made the podium in that event at an Olympics or world championships — and was used on all six apparatuses in team finals at the last two worlds.

Mikulak missed significant time with left Achilles injuries in 2015 and 2017, but being forced out of the gym last year due to the coronavirus pandemic took its toll.

“WD-40 used to constantly run through me by always doing gymnastics. That went away,” he said. “All of a sudden, as I’m coming back, I’m creaking. I’m aching way more than I ever used to.”

Frequent stopping and starting exacerbated the problems. Mikulak has a bone chip floating in his right elbow that can get lodged in the joint. He treated it with cortisone injections and those intermittent breaks from training.

He estimated that he’s asked himself a dozen times why he continued to push through the pain this last year. He also waited and waited to be told he had done too much damage to his elbow to continue competing. That word never came.

So Mikulak endured with a new mindset sparked in part by the last Olympics.

In 2016 in Rio, he had the highest floor exercise score in qualifying. Mikulak was last to go in the eight-man event final. After mistakes from other medal contenders, all Mikulak needed to do was score within one tenth of his qualifying routine to win. If he scored within three tenths, he would still get a bronze, his first Olympic medal.

“This was my gold-medal moment. You couldn’t lob up a better opportunity than this,” he said. “All of a sudden, I was so close to accomplishing that goal. All the weight of the expectations of my happiness, my dreams, my little kid inside, all came crashing down on me. I panicked, and I started freaking out. And in a way, I couldn’t control my mind. I couldn’t control my heart. It was beating so fast. I blinked, and all of a sudden it was over and I had lost.

“That’s the weight that comes crashing down on you when you don’t have good self-awareness.”

Mikulak came to that realization about two months ago. He has since spoken openly about mental health, citing “a big breakdown” in 2016, feeling overwhelmed and consumed by gymnastics goals, and the fear of failing. He took part in a USA Gymnastics athlete-driven panel.

He now uses the words “rebirth” and “reinvent” and wants to continue making an impact in that space once he’s done competing.

“Something I’ve honed in on recently is not making gymnastics your identity,” said Mikulak, who met a career goal in 2018 when he won his first individual world championships medal, a high bar bronze. “Being able to say I am something else rather than I’m a gymnast is probably one of the biggest life lessons that I’ve taken through my whole mental health rediscovery.”

During the pandemic, Mikulak got engaged, with his fiancee chose Charlotte as their next home and welcomed two more dogs to the family.

“If there’s ever a time for me to finally figure out who I am without gymnastics, it’s now,” said Mikulak, the son of college gymnasts who started in the sport at age 2. “We’re going to see how that plays out for the rest of this year.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games


The 2030 Winter Olympic host, expected to be Salt Lake City or Sapporo, Japan, is no longer targeted to be decided before next fall, the IOC said in announcing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

The IOC Future Host Commission was granted more time to study factors, including climate change, that could impact which cities and regions host future Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 Winter Games host is not expected to be decided before or at an IOC session next September or October.

Hosts have traditionally been chosen by IOC members vote seven years before the Games, though recent reforms allow flexibility on the process and timeline. For example, the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded to Paris and Los Angeles in a historic double award in 2017. The 2032 Summer Games were awarded to Brisbane last year without a traditional bid race.

There are three interested parties for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the IOC said Tuesday without naming them. Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. All three cities are attractive as past Winter Games hosts with existing venues.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030, but could step in for 2030 if asked.

The future host commission outlined proposals for future Winter Olympics, which included rotating hosts within a pool of cities or regions and a requirement that hosts have an average minimum temperature below freezing (32 degrees) for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.

The IOC Executive Board gave the commission more time to study the proposals and other factors impacting winter sports.

The IOC board also discussed and will continue to explore a potential double awarding of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympic hosts.

Also Tuesday, the IOC board said that Afghanistan participation in the 2024 Olympics will depend on making progress in safe access to sports for women and young girls in the country.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to suspend Afghanistan until women and girls can play sport in the country.

In a press release, the IOC board expressed “serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.” It urged Afghanistan authorities to “take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls.”

The IOC board also announced that North Korea’s National Olympic Committee will be reinstated when its suspension is up at the end of the year.

In September 2021, the IOC banned the North Korean NOC through the end of 2022, including banning a North Korean delegation from participating in the Beijing Winter Games, after it chose not to participate in the Tokyo Games.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was the only one of 206 National Olympic Committees to withdraw from Tokyo. The country made its choice in late March 2021, citing a desire “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”

The IOC said in September 2021 that it “provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected by the PRK NOC.”

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Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe leaves moguls for another skiing discipline

Justine Dufour-Lapointe

Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the 2014 Olympic moguls champion, is leaving the event to compete in freeriding, a non-Olympic skiing discipline.

“After three Olympic cycles and 12 years on the World Cup circuit, I felt that I needed to find a new source of motivation and had to push my limits even more so I can reach my full potential as a skier,” the 28-year-old Montreal native said in a social media video, according to a translation from French. “Today, I am starting a new chapter in my career. … I want to perfect myself in another discipline. I want to connect with the mountain differently. Above all, I want to get out of my comfort zone in a way I’ve never done before.”

Dufour-Lapointe said she will compete on the Freeride World Tour, a series of judged competitions described as:

There‘s a start gate at the summit and a finish gate at the bottom. That’s it. Best run down wins. It truly is that simple. Think skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and nasty couloirs. Think progressive: big jumps, mach-speed turns and full-on attack. Think entertaining.

Dufour-Lapointe has retired from moguls skiing, according to a Freeride World Tour press release, though she did not explicitly say that in social media posts Tuesday.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Dufour-Lapointe denied American Hannah Kearney‘s bid to become the first freestyle skier to repeat as Olympic champion. Older sister Chloé took silver in a Canadian one-two.

Dufour-Lapointe also won the world title in 2015, then Olympic silver in 2018 behind Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont.

Chloé announced her retirement in September. A third Dufour-Lapointe Olympic moguls skier, Maxime, retired in 2018.

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