Sam Mikulak

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

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World medalists Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer headline the five-man U.S. gymnastics team for next month’s world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

The roster, which also includes Akash ModiTrevor Howard and Shane Wiskus, was named after a selection camp. Mikulak automatically qualified via his combined scores from the U.S. Championships in August and the camp.

The other four gymnasts were chosen by a committee.

They will be tasked with ending the program’s longest global meet team medal drought of the millennium. The U.S. men last earned a world championships medal in 2014 (bronze). 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.

A look at the five men going to Stuttgart …

Sam Mikulak
Mikulak has been the top U.S. male gymnast since 2013, winning six U.S. all-around titles, the most in the last 50 years. He is the lone Olympian still competing these days and so valuable that, last year, he was tasked with performing on all six apparatuses in the world team final for the first time. Mikulak finally earned his first world medal last year (high bar bronze), but he yearns for more. A world all-around medal is not out of reach.

Yul Moldauer
The only other man on this team with a U.S. all-around title (from 2017, when Mikulak was injured) or a world medal (floor exercise bronze in 2017). The former NCAA all-around champion from Oklahoma is now embarking on his post-collegiate career, but injuries dogged him the last two summers. If Mikulak is the MVP of this program, Moldauer is its Scottie Pippen at the moment.

Akash Modi
The Rio Olympic alternate earned his place on the team by placing third in the all-around at nationals and second to Mikulak at last week’s selection camp. Modi, who debuted at worlds in 2018, can contribute across many events, which may boost his stock come next year when the teams for the Olympics are just four men.

Trevor Howard
Howard, at 26, is on the older end of gymnasts to make his first world team. He has been competing at the senior national level since 2011, but never better than fifth in the all-around. Why this year? Howard has established himself as a force on still rings, where the U.S. lost the most ground in the 2018 World team final.

Shane Wiskus
Wiskus, the youngest member of the team at 20, is the NCAA all-around silver medalist from Minnesota. He may be better known for this crazy high bar save at nationals. He may be needed on high bar, which in the last few years has gone from a strength to a concern for the U.S. Wiskus has the kind of difficulty to be an asset there, but can he execute at the biggest meet of his life?

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

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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.”

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Sam Mikulak halfway to record sixth U.S. all-around title

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Sam Mikulak is well on his way to a sixth U.S. men’s gymnastics title. He’s just not quite so sure that’s a good thing.

While the two-time Olympian was relatively pleased with his performance Thursday night, when his all-around score of 86.750 gave him a 2.750-point lead over 2017 national champion Yul Moldauer, Mikulak would prefer to have a little more heat on him heading into Saturday’s finals.

Mikulak intentionally watered down his routines to avoid the kind of big opening night mistakes that have plagued him in the past. It worked. Save for a step out of bounds on his vault, he was dominant. His score of 15.350 on parallel bars was the best of the night on any apparatus.

It means he won’t have to put together a big rally if he wants to tie Makoto Sakamoto for the second-most national championships in history and break the modern-era record he shares with Blaine Wilson

It also means, however, that nobody else in the field came close to matching him on a night when the 26-year-old mostly kept it in neutral. Not exactly the best development with the selection camp for the world championships team a month away.

“I do kind of wish there was a lot more nipping at my heels in a way,” Mikulak said. “Especially doing downgraded (routines) today. It is a bit of a struggle. I know all these guys and I kind of know what’s going on behind the scenes as well. It’s a lot of injuries.”

Colin Van Wicklen withdrew after sustaining a concussion during warm-ups. Matt Wenske placed eighth but was forced to withdraw after hurting his ankle on vault. Moldauer’s health issues over the last year have included a back injury and elbow problems. Donnell Whittenburg, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team who is attempting to get his career back on track, has myriad concerns, from his shoulder to his knees.

Whittenburg put together perhaps his best competition in well over a year until a shaky high bar set in which he nearly came flying off. Though he managed to save it, his score of 11.850 dropped him to seventh overall. Wearing an eye-catching white Jordan brand headband, Whittenburg still believes he took a positive step forward.

Asked if he began making a compelling case to receive an invitation to the world team selection camp in September, Whittenburg nodded even while allowing much work remains to be done.

“I definitely have,” Whittenburg said. “I know if I do my very best, there’s nothing they can say at this point. But for me I didn’t. So if I didn’t do as best as I can, I feel like that always gives (the committee) questions about like ‘What if? What if? what if?’ For me, I feel like for Saturday I need to try and hit all my routines the best as I can.”

He’s hardly the only one. Moldauer technically hit all six of his routines, but four of them contained wobbles or form breaks that cost him.

“I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself,” Moldauer said. “It’s knowing what you need to improve. Look at the score and look at it in a positive way even though it’s lower than usual, there’s always something you can do to make it better.”

The same goes for the rest of the group behind Mikulak that is hoping to make what will likely be a very young five-man world championship team.

“I do wish we had a lot more of the high-level difficulty that we had pre-2016 (Olympics) but we got what we got,” Mikulak said. “I’m just hoping everyone can catch a little bit more of a rhythm and get some more confidence going into Day 2.”

That won’t be a concern for Mikulak. Even with a massive lead, he has no plans on coasting to the finish. He picked up his first world championship medal last fall when he won a bronze on high bar. Now on the back half of a solid career that he admits hasn’t always lived up to its considerable potential, he is going to put together significant upgrades for Saturday, well aware that it will be required when the stage and the stakes get bigger in October.

“I have a little bit of leeway,” Mikulak said. “I proved to the committee, ‘Hey, consistent Sam can do these easy routines and still score well. Let’s see what event finalist Sam can do going into Saturday.’”

The rest of the field hopes it can put up a fight.

“Everyone wants to beat Sam,” Moldauer said. “He’s the top dog in the U.S. and you know, everyone is trying to get to his level and stuff. But you can’t blame him. He’s a veteran. He’s a pro. He’s been in multiple Olympics, you’ve got to give him respect and just kind of follow his steps.”

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