Back in 2011, Sam Mikulak completed a never-before-done skill on the parallel bars. That skill should have forever been known as the “Mikulak.”
Or so he thought.
Coincidentally, a Brazilian gymnast completed the same skill at the same meet in Puerto Rico. Then Sam learned the new skill had to be successful at an official International Gymnastics Federation meet in order to take on his name. Mikulak never got that chance. As he sat at home nursing two broken ankles suffered in Puerto Rico, Brazil’s Sergio Sasaki successfully completed the skill at the FIG World Championships that year in Tokyo.
It’s “technically called a Sasaki now,” Mikulak concedes, still sounding dejected.
He wasn’t about to let that happen again.
In September, Mikulak got official confirmation from the FIG that the “Mikulak” — a new pommel horse skill he completed twice at the London 2012 Olympic Games — officially had been added to the 2013–16 Code of Points, a book of all valued skills in the world.
Now, any time a gymnast does a double scissor forward with a hop from one end of the horse to the other, they will be doing the “Mikulak.”
“It’s somewhat of a relief,” said Mikulak, a junior at Michigan, “but just an excitement that my name is forever going to be remembered in the history books of gymnastics.”
Getting a namesake skill in the FIG’s Code of Points can be both a simple yet tricky process all at once. It’s simple in that the gymnast just had to be the first one to successfully complete the new skill at an FIG event, which includes the Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cups. It’s tricky in that there’s only so much room for new moves.
“Most gymnasts have it in their hearts and their minds that they want a skill named after them,” said Steve Butcher, a member of the FIG’s seven-person men’s technical committee that determined the “Mikulak” was worthy of the Code of Points, “but making it a reality is even more difficult.”
At the 2012 Olympic team finals, the “Fierce Five” U.S. women’s team famously began their gold-medal march with all three gymnasts nailing a difficult single flip with two and a half twists on vault. That skill, however, forever belongs to Simona Amanar, the Romanian gymnast who first performed it at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
“The window is closing,” Butcher says, noting that the best shot at finding new skills in upcoming years might come from future apparatus alterations.
“Any gymnast that gets a skill named after them in the Code of Points today is someone who is really trying to find a way to be creative and original,” Butcher said.
The “Mikulak” originated about a year ago when, bored at the gym one day, the Newport Coast, Calif., native took one element and “kind of amped it up.” Rather than hopping from one end of the horse to the middle on a double scissor forward, he hopped from one end to the other.
As it turned out, no one had done that before.
Mikulak used the new skill domestically, where he just missed out on defending his NCAA all-around title in 2012, but internationally, “it was more of a battle to make sure no one saw it and tried competing it on the world stage before me,” he said.
No one did. So upon submitting a request for a new skill prior to the Olympic Games, and then completing the skill in London, it was his. His skill is one of 15 named after U.S. men; the U.S. women have 21. Mikulak joins an elite list of U.S. men with moves named after them. Among others are Mitch Gaylord, Tim Daggett and Kurt Thomas. Some U.S. women with the honor are Shannon Miller, Carly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton.
At 19, Mikulak’s gymnastics future could still be long; before making the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad, Mikulak was mostly considered a prime candidate to make the 2016 Olympic team. For now, however, his present is in Ann Arbor.
On Oct. 13 at Michigan’s homecoming football game, Mikulak will be one of several Michigan Olympians honored on-field at the Big House during the game against Illinois. Then the 2013 college gymnastics season officially begins in December, with the Maize and Blue Intrasquad meet.
After recurring ankle injuries threatened to derail Mikulak’s Olympic hopes this summer, he said he is now healthy and no longer taping his ankles. That’s a good thing, because now his Michigan teammates are working on mastering the “Mikulak” as well.
“It’s been something you joke around with, with your club gymnasts, it’s like, ‘If I do this and get it named after you that would be so cool,’” he said. “Then it actually happened, and it was way cooler than I thought it was going to be.”