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Sam Mikulak, Team USA’s Top Men’s Gymnast, To Call It Quits After Tokyo

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 03, 2020, 11:53 a.m. (ET)

Sam Mikulak celebrates his win of the 2020 American Cup on March 7, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisc.

 

Enjoy Sam Mikulak’s gymnastics while you can. The two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. men’s all-around champion will compete through the rescheduled Olympic Games next summer in Tokyo, and then he’s moving on.

“This is going to be my final year of gymnastics,” he said in a YouTube video posted Sunday night.

The 27-year-old Mikulak, who has won every U.S. all-around title he’s competed for since 2013 and is the only U.S. Olympian actively competing on the men’s side, cited both physical and emotional reasons for his decision, as well as a desire simply to focus his energy on other things, such as new fiancee Mia Atkins and their growing family of dogs. He said he’ll document this coming year on YouTube.

The decision to step away, he explained, will allow him to savor the final year in the sport he’s been involved in since he was a toddler.

“I’m finally able to focus on gymnastics from here on out and make the most of this one year,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling to not have that stress but to also feel so wholesome and accomplished emotionally.”

All of those years in the sport have taken a toll on his body, including breaking both ankles in 2011, partially tearing an Achilles tendon in 2015 and then fully tearing an Achilles 2017. More recently, Mikulak experienced wrist inflammation last year. A cortisone shot in November helped, he said in the video, but his wrist didn’t improve further when he took time away from the sport during quarantine. A doctor advised he would need additional cortisone shots to control the inflammation throughout his career.

This is going to be my final year of gymnastics.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

The time away from the sport also brought his emotional wellbeing into focus, Mikulak said.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on it during quarantine, and it’s really showed me that I am much less stressed when I’m not doing gymnastics,” he said, citing all of the weddings and vacations and others life moments he’s missed out on to focus on training for the next big competition.

Among the weddings he’ll have to plan for coming up is his own after he proposed to Atkins last night at California’s Catalina Island.

A native of Southern California, Mikulak won the NCAA all-around title as a Michigan freshman in 2011, then came back from his broken ankles to make his first U.S. Olympic Team in 2012. Ever since he’s been nearly unbeatable domestically.

Since 2013, the only time he hasn’t won the U.S. all-around title was in 2017, when he was recovering from the Achilles injury and only competed at two events. In addition to his two Olympic appearances, Mikulak has also competed in five world championships, winning a team bronze medal in 2014.

For years the missing line on Mikulak’s resume was an individual medal at a global championship, something he finally achieved when he took bronze in high bar at the 2018 world championships. He’s finished fourth in an individual event four times at the Olympics or world championships, and has notched 13 top-eight finishes.

If that proves to be his final medal count, Mikulak said, the time away from the sport this year has helped him realize he’s OK with that.

“For so long I’ve felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal,” he said. “And during quarantine I had this full revelation where you know what? I am happier than I ever have been in my entire life and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals I am still going to be so damn happy.”

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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Sam Mikulak