ANAHEIM — Sam Mikulak’s run as the U.S. all-around champion ended on Thursday. Actually it ended in February, when the Orange County native tore his Achilles tendon.
The first day of the P&G Championships at Honda Center was when he officially removed himself from the running by competing in just two of the six events at the U.S. national championship event.
Four consecutive years as the all-around champ was a good run, to put it lightly. He was the first to accomplish the feat since Blaine Wilson won five in a row more than two decades ago.
Making his return from the worst in a series of Achilles injuries, Mikulak strategically avoided the events that put more emphasis on the lower body. He was only cleared to compete in the high bar on Friday, but he made it count.
His 14.050 in the high bar was tied for the second-highest score in the event on Thursday behind a 14.200 by Stanford’s Akash Modi. His 14.750 on the pommel horse, the third-highest score in the event, prompted an emphatic fist pump from the 2016 Olympian.
“The surgeon said there was no way I was going to be able to do any other events (besides pommel horse),” Mikulak said. “So to be able to do high bar, it’s just like the cherry on top. I wanted to focus on the events that will help me make this world team most, so I was working a lot more on my high bar landing instead of focusing on tumbling, which won’t be fully complete until October.”
Mikulak, 24, and Alex Naddor, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the pommel horse, are expected to make up the core of the team the U.S. sends to the World Championships in Montreal Oct. 2-8. The rest of the field was trying to impress at the P&G Championships in an effort to fill out the roster.
Naddor posted Thursday’s top score in the pommel horse, registering a 15.300 in his first event of the night.
The University of Oklahoma’s Yul Moldauer led the all-around competition after the first day of competition with a cumulative score of 86.650. The up and coming gymnast from one of the nation’s best collegiate programs entered the competition with plenty expecting to see him near the top of the leaderboard.
“What I imagined was an empty arena and just me on the event and that took all my nerves away because I was definitely feeling them shocking the bars,” Moldauer said. “I could feel myself getting jittery, but I just took a deep breath and imagined just myself in this arena.”
One can only wonder where Mikulak, 24, would rank had he not torn his Achilles at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas.
Mikulak, who was born in Huntington Beach, raised in Newport Coast and is a Corona Del Mar High graduate, is perhaps the best American male gymnast of the past decade. He arrived at the 2016 Olympics a contender for multiple medals, but his best performance in Rio De Janeiro was a fourth-place finish on the high bar, likely a hop on the landing away from a silver medal.
He placed seventh in the all-around, eighth in the floor exercise and was part of the Americans’ fifth-place team finish in Rio.
The seven-time NCAA champion at Michigan, including three all-around crowns, didn’t complete his first event at the Winter Cup on Feb. 16 before suffering the injury that kept him out of competition until Thursday. The P&G Championships are only his second competition since the Olympics.
“It’s nice to get back out there. It’s been a while since my last competition,” Mikulak said. “It’s just good to come to this hometown crowd and hit my sets.”
The women’s competition begins Friday with the juniors competing at 1 p.m. and the seniors at 7:30. The men conclude their competition on Saturday and the women on Sunday.
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