Samuel Mikulak competes on rings at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO — On a running track, there are marks painted 20 meters apart in each lane to create a changeover zone. It is here that teammates, both running at full speed, must seamlessly pass the baton from one to the other during the 4x100-meter relay.
The retiring U.S. gymnastics star Sam Mikulak arrived in his own figurative changeover zone in June when, for the first time in nine years, he entered the all-around competition at the national championships and left without the win.
On Wednesday, in the men’s all-around final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the veteran completed the handoff right on time, sending 21-year-old teammate Brody Malone into the future as the newest standard bearer for the U.S. men’s program.
“This guy’s got it,” Mikulak, 28, said. “Hands down, take it all right now, cause it’s going to be a bright future, and it starts right now.”
Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto secured the gold medal with a thrilling final routine on high bar to bring his score to 88.465. China’s Xiao Ruoteng was second with 88.065 points, followed by Nikita Nagornyy of the Russian Olympic Committee with 88.031.
A little further down the list were the Americans, with Malone scoring 84.465 in his Olympic debut to finish 10th, two spots ahead of Mikulak, who came in at 83.164. Each has an apparatus final remaining next week. After this all-around final, though, the Brody Malone Era of U.S. men’s gymnastics has officially taken over.
“This guy’s been rock solid, and I know he’s gonna throw in some big upgrades soon too,” Mikulak said. “He’s really going to be a big force in the future.”
For the better part of the last decade, Mikulak has been that guy.
Some great gymnasts have come through the program. Others won more medals at the Olympics and world championships. But since Mikulak made his first Olympic team in 2012, no American man has been as consistently good as the charismatic Southern Californian.
After making the London Games while still in college at Michigan, he won his first U.S. title in 2013, and then won every one other through through 2019 — save for the one year he was injured and didn't do the all-around.
Following the lost year due to the pandemic, all appeared set for national title No. 7 this summer before he rode into the sunset in Tokyo.