Sam Mikulak’s wait continues, at least until Friday.
The two-time Olympian and five-time U.S. champ came into his fourth world championships this year determined to win his first individual medal on the world stage.
On Tuesday, he just missed out again, dropping from third to fifth in his final rotation of the men’s all-around competition in Doha, Qatar. Mikulak, who had been in medal contention all day, missed a grip on one of his high bar release moves, a mistake that proved fatal in a highly competitive field.
Mikulak scored 85.273, trailing Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan, who won with a score of 87.598. Defending champion Xiao Ruoteng of China was second (87.598), followed by Russia’s Nikita Nagornyy (86.331) and China’s Sun Wei (85.898). U.S. teammate Yul Moldauer finished 12th.
Despite the sour ending, Mikulak’s result was the best for a U.S. man at the world championships since John Orozco was fifth in 2011. Jonathan Horton was the last American man to medal in the all-around at worlds, earning bronze in 2010; Danell Leyva won Olympic bronze in 2012. Mikulak was sixth at the 2013 worlds.
Mikulak, who finished fourth on the high bar at the 2013 worlds and 2016 Olympics, has four more opportunities to medal on individual events as the world championships continue through Saturday.
The 26-year-old Mikulak was confident coming into this year’s world championships, having returned from a torn Achilles tendon in early 2017 to win his fifth U.S. all-around title this summer. With both lifestyle and training changes back home, he told reporters that he believed this would be the year he finally broke through.
That appeared to be the case from the start of the world championships up until the final rotation on Wednesday. Mikulak posted the third-best all-around score in qualifying last week, then led a young U.S. team to a fourth-place finish on Monday.
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With the focus turning to individuals on Wednesday, Mikulak opened strong on floor exercise to score 14.00 and start the event in sixth place. From there he moved to pommel horse, where he hit an aggressive routine to score 14.300 and move into fourth place. Then it was on to still rings, where yet another solid performance earned him at 14.166.
In third place at the midway mark, the question now was whether Mikulak could keep it up.
He answered that with strong routines to score 14.600 on vault and 15.411 on parallel bars.
But on high bar, one of his strongest events, he could only grab the bar with one hand after a Tkatchev release move. The chain of events was reminiscent of Mikulak’s first world championships, in 2013, when he was in third place going into the final rotation but lost his momentum on high bar and fell to sixth.
“Sam Mikulak is the best gymnast in the world, but he’s certainly being tested,” Horton wrote on Twitter. “His time is coming, and when he finally wins it all, what a day it will be!”
Moldauer, meanwhile, saw his fortune rise and fall throughout the competition.
Opening on still rings, generally a lower-scoring event, he scored 13.433, before moving to vault, where he scored 14.400 on a Kasamatsu 1.5 with a small hop on the landing, putting him in 13th place. He followed that up with a strong performance on parallel bars to score 14.500, moving him up to eighth.
He dropped slightly to 11th after high bar, then moved to 10th following a strong effort on floor exercise. However, a fall off the pommel horse in the final rotation left him in 12th.
Moldauer, 22, finished seventh last year in his world championships debut.
The competition continues with the women’s all-around final on Thursday before moving into individual finals through Saturday. Mikulak and Moldauer will compete in the floor exercise finals on Friday, with Mikulak also in pommel horse finals. Then Mikulak will take part in parallel bars and high bar finals on 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.