KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sam Mikulak won the all-around national title.
It’s a statement that’s now been iterated through countless mediums six times in the past seven years, or, every time he has competed all-around since 2013 – so often that minutes after accomplishing what, to most gymnasts, would be unimaginable, he admitted he’s ready for more.
“I do just see this competition as a steppingstone, not to really downplay how awesome it is, but I’ve done this a couple times; I’m ready for bigger aspirations,” Mikulak said, referring to world championships and Olympic medals.
But let’s not lose sight of how monumental his Saturday night victory was at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
The 26-year-old Mikulak became the first gymnast to win six all-around national titles in 49 years, joining Makoto Sakamoto (six: 1963-66, 1967-70) and Alfred Jochim (seven: 1925-30, 1933) as the only men to reach that milestone.
“He is by far one of, if not, the greatest male gymnast of all time,” Brett McClure, 2004 Olympic silver medalist and USA Gymnastics men’s high performance director, stated with confidence. “There is no doubt the accomplishments he has and the progress he continues to make is phenomenal. I can just sit back and enjoy the show because I don’t know if there’s going to be another gymnast like that to come around, you never really know. Let’s enjoy it while he’s competing.”
Mikulak also made additional personal history at the meet, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
This title marked his largest margin of victory yet – 5.55 points.
He won with a two-night total of 174.150, compared to runner-up and 2017 U.S. champion Yul Moldauer’s 168.600. 2016 Olympic alternate Akash Modi placed third with 168.250 points for his first top-three all-around performance at nationals.
The gap was a reminder of both how far ahead Mikulak is from the rest of the country and how far behind the rest of his countrymen are from where they could be.
“It’s nice to have the margin and be scoring the way I do, but in my own mind I try to keep pushing the bar where Sam wants the bar to be. Some of these guys are banged up, and it’s a tougher year than most,” Mikulak said, acknowledging that a few top players were missing from the competition and others are overcoming past injuries.
The gap hasn’t gone unnoticed from his competitors and teammates, though.
“Sam is Sam, he almost got a bronze or even a silver at a world championships, so knowing that Sam is on that level that just shows us that we need to get to his level if we want to be competitive as a team,” Moldauer said, referring to Mikulak’s fourth-place all-around finish at the 2018 world championships.
“It helps us to watch Sam, we get to see Sam in our country so we get to aim towards getting to that level, and hopefully this younger group can start getting on his level. But Sam is so much older than nus, we’re so much younger. We do have some room for improvement, but it’s great to have Sam in the field like this.”
For yet another personal milestone, Mikulak claimed four apparatus titles, more than at any past nationals. He successfully defended his crown on floor exercise (14.650, 14.650), parallel bars (15.350, 15.300) and high bar (14.200, 14.500), and won a pommel horse national title for the first time in five years (14.750, 14.400).
But no matter how many national titles he has – 18, for those keeping track – it’s the world medals he’s after, even mentioning that his medals from nationals (27 top-threes) are in his basement and his two career worlds medals are in a more prominent location.
The two-time Olympian earned bronze at the 2014 world championships in the team event, then continued a career of almosts, which includes fifth-place finishes on vault and in the team event at the Olympic Games London 2012, fourth on high bar at the 2013 worlds, fourth in all-around at both the 2015 and 2016 American Cup, and fourth on high bar and fifth in team at the 2016 Olympics.
Then 2018 appeared to be his year.
Mikulak was third in all-around qualification and earned a spot in four individual apparatus finals – the first American man to do so in 39 years.
But, again, his streak of almosts continued.
Third going into the sixth and final rotation of the all-around final, a missed grip on one of his high bar release moves meant Mikulak would drop to fifth there. Fifth-place finishes on pommel horse and parallel bars – and seventh on floor – followed.
His breakthrough would finally come on the final event of the meet – high bar – where he snagged bronze for the first individual medal of his career at a major international event.
It was something he had been talking about all season, and that he felt his life – which included moving from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, where he still trains, into a house with girlfriend Mia and now two dogs – had been leading toward. A year of no injuries for the first time in a while also helped.
“Back in the day I was working through a lot of tweaks and trying to figure out a lot with myself personally, and trying to get my head in the right state of mind personally,” Mikulak said. “Last year, I felt like I finally got a rhythm and this year I’ve been able to perfect it more, and I just feel like it’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Now, he’s ready to build upon the milestone from the 2018 worlds. His dominance at the 2019 U.S. championships, which also included upgraded skills on parallel bars, high bar and rings, shows he’s headed in the right direction.
Mikulak religiously watches every international meet he can, and keeps track of where his top competitors are and the scores they’re capable of hitting.
He’s ready for what his career has long been building toward – an all-around world medal.
“I’m not going to put that one out there quite yet,” he said when asked which medals he would ideally like to earn this fall in Stuttgart, Germany. “I’m just going to say that if I go out and hit the way I think I can hit, I just want to be on that podium. Who knows how crazy all-around finals tends to get. It could be the greatest day of my life and it could be the greatest day of a bunch of other people’s lives, so, you just do your best and I know my planning will get me there.”