Play it Again, Sam
Love, because c'mon. The dude is gorgeous, AND he attended the University of Michigan and helped their gymnastics squad win two NCAA titles. He always has a smile on his face, and is very upbeat and supportive of his teammates.
Hate, because when it comes to international competition, Mikulak fades. At least, that's what I've always thought.
Last week was the artistic gymnastics world championships, and while the world was talking about Simone Biles (as they rightly should), I decided to take a different spin by looking at the only US male gymnast to get a medal. He had to wait until the very last event to get it, but he did.
This is a time of peak performances in the male gymnast world. It is absolutely incredible the things that they are able to do with their massive muscles and tumbling skills. It is an entirely different sport compared to women's gymnastics, and doesn't get the publicity that maybe it deserves - especially in the past six years. (I've been writing an article about the difference between men's and women's gymnastics in my head for about three years - someday it will be ready!)
Maybe that's why I magnetize to Sam Mikulak. He has been America's best hope for a medal since Jonathan Horton retired, and I'm expecting him to be able to compete with the likes of Kohei Uchimura from Japan or Artur Dalaloyan from Russia.
Unfortunately, maybe the incredible competitiveness of the male gymnasts of today means that he can't quite meet those insanely high expectations. I had all the faith in the world that he would medal in Rio, and event after event Mikulak flubbed in some way or didn't have the beginning difficulty score to be level with the elites. I ended my Rio Olympics pretty sore when it came to Sam Mikulak.
I did think that was his last chance, honestly, and it surprised me to see that he was still training at the USOTC in Colorado Springs and planning to compete in this year's world championships. We as Americans can sometimes gain a false sense of eliteness when watching a national championship, because when those same amazing athletes go up against the world's best, they tend to be knocked down a peg. Mikulak fit that mold for a long time; he was clearly the best in the States, but was not nearly as good as the rest of the world.
This year, it looked like things might change. Going into the final round of the individual all-around, Mikulak was in third place - bronze medal position. But then he made a costly mistake in (arguably) his best event - the high bar - and finished in fifth instead.
During the event finals, Mikulak did almost every discipline, but was always barely out of the medal positions. He even started the parallel bars competition but had to watch as three gymnasts passed him for the podium.
Finally, in the event that took him off the all-around podium, he knocked it out of the park and only lost to insane high bar specialist Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands (look up his stuff - it's incredible) and King Kohei himself. Can't argue with that!
Will Mikulak ever be atop a men's gymnastics podium? I know he still has another Olympics in him, barring any injuries. But it is going to be really hard to catch up to those amazing elite gymnasts. However, this week made me feel a little better about rooting for him. He'll keep working hard - there's no doubt about that - and hard work yields results. Let's make those results global!
Olympic Channel Video of the Week
If you have half an hour, watch this mini doc about the women's handball team from Montenegro, who took silver in 2012 in London, giving the country its only medal ever. It covers the aftermath of the competition, and how it has positively affected the country:
Tokyo 2020 Prep
If I get to see any gymnastics, it's going to be an event finals night for sure. Forget the all-arounds! I want to see the men and women compete, and I don't want to be distracted by four or five athletes going at the same time.
Ugh, what am I talking about. I'll never be able to get a ticket for gymnastics!
- The Japanese gymnastics teams mirrored their Tokyo 2020 logo on their singlets, but they made it black instead of blue to match their country colors. In the end, it looked like a checkerboard across their chests.
- I am all about women gymnasts competing who aren't teenagers. Aliia Mustafina, who won the Olympic gold in uneven bars the past two Games, had a baby and still qualified for the Russian world championship team at age 24. And then there's Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who qualified for the vault final at age 43 and placed fourth! I think Simone Biles would heartily disagree, but I want her to be the next Chusovitina and compete for longer than her competitors have been alive.
- This is the magical time of year where summer and winter sports are going on together. While Biles is competing in Doha, Qatar, Yuzuru Hanyu is winning the men's figure skating competition in Helsinki, Finland. While Shalane Flanagain won bronze in today's NYC Marathon, Abzal Azhgaliyev is winning the men's short track speed skating 500 meters for Kazakhstan. Just a beautiful time!
- Finally got to catch NBC Sports' Curling Night in America on Friday evening, and liked the setup, even though the actual match was recorded back in July, I believe, and they are milking it for all it's worth. Check it out if you're curious next Friday!
- Instead of NBC airing the NYC Marathon, the honor went to ESPN, though a few of the normal commentators and journalists switched allegiances for one event. Tim Hutchings, who announces many NBC Sports Gold track events, also analyzed this event, and they should have just let him do the whole thing - he is my favorite track announcer by far!
- Speaking of ESPN, their coverage of the marathon basically sucked. They didn't show any of the wheelchair competition (which ended up being quite exciting) and threw in some puff pieces during the race. DON'T DO THAT, ESPN. JUST SHOW THE RACE. Or at least keep the men's and women's elite events in the corner of the screen! When Mary Keitany pulled away, guess which cameras didn't show it? When Shalane Flanagan overtook several athletes to finish in third (after winning the whole thing last year), guess who didn't show it? I never thought I'd say this, but I missed the NBC Sports coverage. No, ESPN, I don't need to see a touch-screen feature about steps per mile for some runner I don't know.
- My guest sting on the Olympic Fever podcast aired on Thursday - you can catch it here! (And regardless of the title, we were not running for our lives - that's the title of the book we covered.)
Weekly Cauldron Check