Sam Mikulak claps his hands at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 18, 2018 in Boston.
Sam Mikulak ranked third in the all-around while the U.S. men’s team ranked fourth in the team competition following the qualifying round of the gymnastics world championships in Doha, Qatar.
Mikulak’s score of 86.598 over his six events highlighted the U.S. performances on Friday, sending the two-time Olympian into Wednesday’s all-around final, as well as individual apparatus finals on four events: floor exercise, high bar, parallel bars, pommel horse. The last U.S. man to qualify for that many event finals at worlds was Kurt Thomas, who won six total medals in 1979.
Yul Moldauer also qualified for the all-around final with a score of 80.365, which ranked 19th, as well as the floor exercise final.
First, though the U.S. team will compete for both a team medal and a berth in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Monday. The top three finishers earn berths to Tokyo (more teams qualify at next year’s world championships). A medal would also be the first for the U.S. men at the world championships since 2014, when they finished third.
Seen as a dark horse rather than favorite to win a medal, the young U.S. team scored 250.362 in qualifying, behind Russia (258.402), China (257.836) and defending Olympic champions Japan (253.312). Scores reset for the final, though the pressure is heightened as each team uses three athletes per apparatus with all three counting. In qualifying, four athletes compete on each event with the lowest score being dropped.
The result for Mikulak is particularly promising. The Southern California native, who won his fifth U.S. all-around title this summer, is still seeking his first individual medal on the world stage. His best finish in three previous world championships was fourth, which he did on high bar in 2013. He also finished fourth on the event at the 2016 Olympics.
The gymnast, now 26, told TeamUSA.org earlier this month that he feels like this is his year to break through.
“I’ve been able to put scores out there and been able to refine my routines to a point where I’m confident heading into world championships,” he said.
That showed in qualifying, where his score trailed only the defending world champion, Ruoteng Xiao of China, at 87.332, and Russia’s Nikita Nagornyy, who scored 87.098. In addition to the all-around final, Mikulak qualified second on high bar (14.566), fifth on pommel horse (14.133), tied for sixth on parallel pars (15.033) and tied for eighth on floor exercise (14.433).
Moldauer was the only other American to qualify for event finals. The 2017 U.S. all-around champ goes into the floor final ranked sixth (14.433). The Oklahoma Sooner finished third on the event at his world championships debut last year.
The world championships continue with women’s qualifying on Saturday and Sunday. The U.S. women, winners of the past four world championships team titles, come into the competition as heavy favorites. The women’s team final is Tuesday and women’s all-around final Thursday. Individual event finals are next Friday and Saturday.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009, including the gymnastics national championships and Olympic trials every year since 2011, on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.