Who is... Sam Mikulak
After competing at the 2012 London Olympics as a fresh-faced nineteen-year-old, Sam Mikulak has grown into the U.S.' strongest and most consistent male gymnast. The proof is his four consecutive all-around national championships titles (2013 to 2016). The laidback Mikulak, who earns fans with his ever-present smile and tendency to turn the gym floor into a dance party, also helped the American men win a team bronze medal at the 2014 World Championships.
Mikulak jokes that his parents, two gymnasts who met while competing for the University of California, Berkeley, were trying to "create some super baby for gymnastics" when they had him. Growing up in the Southern California town of Corona del Mar, Mikulak started Mommy & Me gymnastics classes when he was two years old. While young Mikulak played other sports, including baseball, soccer, hockey and basketball, he loved the daredevil aspect of gymnastics and picked flying through the air over chasing a ball. Mikulak left the West Coast for college at the University of Michigan, and during his freshman season he won the all-around title at the 2011 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships.
Mikulak was already an NCAA champion and Olympian when he competed at the 2013 National Championships, but it wasn't until this competition that he became the new face of U.S. men's gymnastics. Outperforming his teammates from London--including 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva and 2012 national champion John Orozco--Mikulak claimed his first national champion title by nearly 3 points. He also won gold medals on the parallel bars and high bar, showcasing a combination of top difficulty and clean execution.
Mikulak further made a name for himself internationally at the 2013 World Championships. While he finished off the podium in the all-around and high bar final (sixth and fourth, respectively), he won viral fame for his dance moves in between events. A video of Mikulak grooving to the arena's music during the qualification round was viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube.
Along with collecting national championship titles in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Mikulak won his first Worlds medal, a team bronze, in 2014. He shone again on the international stage a year later, at the 2015 Pan American Games. Mikulak dominated this competition, which is open to athletes from North and South America, collecting four medals. First, he led his teammates to gold in the team competition; it was the first time since 1995 that the U.S. men won the team title at the Pan Am Games. Two days later he earned another gold medal and set another record when he finished first in the all-around competition, becoming the first U.S. man to win the title in 28 years. He wrapped up the meet by winning bronze medals in the floor exercise and parallel bars finals.
Mikulak was the first male gymnast to be the U.S. national all-around champion in four consecutive years since Blaine Wilson, who won five titles from 1996 to 2000. He also was the first male gymnast from University of Michigan to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.
The "Mikulak" is a move on pommel horse that Mikulak first performed at the London Olympics. It consists of hopping from one end of the pommel horse to the other, without touching the area between the two handles, while scissoring legs twice. Since he was the first to successfully complete the skill in an approved international competition, it was officially named after him in the gymnastics Code of Points.
"I think in 2012 I was more of a, you know, 'Wow, like I can't believe this is the Olympic games. This is the stage where all these crazy things happen.' And now I've kind of matured a little bit. I've graduated [from college] and I'm goal-oriented. I think now it's like I'm not going to be in so much of an awe as I was in 2012. But a little more focused and determined."
--Mikulak on how he's changed from the London Olympics to the Rio Games.
Mikulak was considered a long shot for the 2012 Olympic team, especially after he broke both his ankles on a bad vault landing in 2011. But Mikulak wisely took that recovery time to get stronger on pommel horse, which tends to be the U.S. men's weakest event. Mikulak returned to competition in 2012 ready to contribute in the team event, and was named as an Olympian despite another ankle injury during the Olympic Trials.
At the Games, Mikulak competed in the qualification round, team final and vault final. In qualifications Mikulak started strongly, posting the fourth-highest score on vault with his Kasamatsu double. He went on to fall on the full-twisting Tkatchev release on high bar, but still posted a score high enough to help his team qualify first for the team final. The American squad faltered, however, in the final and finished a disappointing fifth. Mikulak himself put up four solid performances.
In the vault final Mikulak finished fifth, just 0.267 points away from a medal. But he had a smile on his face the whole time, kissing the vaulting table after landing his two vaults safely and then giving a bear hug to the gold medalist, Yang Hak-Seon of South Korea.
Outside the Gym
Mikulak returned to the University of Michigan after the London Olympics and captured the NCAA Championships title with his team in 2013 and 2014. He finished his four years of NCAA eligiblity, then stayed at Michigan to work as the assistant undergraduate coach for the men's gymnastics team. But after graduating with a degree in psychology in 2015, Mikulak decided he needed to renew his commitment to elite gymnastics. He left the collegiate atmosphere, and moved to Colorado Springs to live at the Olympic Training Center. Now he lives and trains alongside other members of the men's gymnastics national team, and is roommates with fellow gymnast Marvin Kimble.
Mikulak started pursuing his interests in business in 2014. Mikulak joined with two high school friends to form MateBros, a company that sells yerba mate--a tea-like natural energy drink that Mikulak says helps him train and perform better. Mikulak hopes that their start-up business can make the drink as popular in the U.S. as it is in South America, where yerba mate is one of Argentina's official national drinks.
You can watch Sam Mikulak at the 2016 Rio Olympics starting Saturday, August 6th at 1:30pm ET in the men’s qualification session.
The team final will take place on Monday, August 8th at 3pm ET.
If Mikulak qualifies for the all-around final, he will compete on Wednesday, August 10th at 3pm ET.
If Mikulak qualifies for the event finals, the men’s floor and pommel horse finals will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 1pm ET, the men's rings and vault finals will be held on Monday, August 15th and the men's parallel bars and horizontal bars finals will be held on Tuesday, August 16th.