July 2, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
He is smart, he is talented, he is unflappable, and he is now an Olympian. He is Wolverine gymnast Sam Mikulak, and he will represent the University of Michigan and the United States at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. He received the good news yesterday (Sunday, July 1) after his performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose.
U-M representation at the Summer Olympics is not unique. In fact, Wolverine students have won 132 Summer Olympic medals since 1900. But through all those years, never has an American-born male gymnast from U-M qualified for the Olympics.
If that isn't special enough, the storyline of Mikulak's recent success is incredible.
After becoming the first freshman to win the NCAA all-around title in 2011, this U-M Athletic Academic Achievement Award recipient broke both of his ankles at the Puerto Rico Cup in Mayaguez last July, landing short on the final pass of the floor exercise. The snap was so loud fellow competitors and fans could hear the break, but trainers told him his ankle bones hit each other creating the noise.
The trainers taped his badly swollen ankles and Mikulak completed his remaining events, posting his best score of the day on the final event, the parallel bars. As the day came to a close and his father, Dr. Stephen Mikulak, an orthopedic surgeon, examined his son's ankles, the diagnosis was made. The broken left ankle would need six weeks to heal, while the right ankle would need two weeks.
Instead of wallowing in self pity, Mikulak used the 'injury time' to focus on two of his weaker events, the pommel horse and still rings. There he could work on routines without having to use his ankles.
After another outstanding collegiate season that culminated in an NCAA high bar championship, a second-place finish in the NCAA all-around, and his second consecutive Big Ten all-around title, Mikulak was ready to go after the biggest dream in his life -- making the United States Olympic team.
To qualify for the Olympic Trials, he needed to have an excellent performance at the Visa Championship in St. Louis during the second week of June. And once again, he had to overcome a problem -- this time during his routine.
On the parallel bars, one of Sam's signature events, another oddity occurred. As he prepared for this event, Sam and his coaches (along with Adrian de los Angeles, a teammate who was also competing in St. Louis) were helping Mikulak during his allotted 50-second preparation.
U-M head coach Kurt Golder was in charge of setting the springboard, while U-M assistant coach Geoff Corrigan adjusted the bars. Adrian was preparing the bars (cleaning and chalking), and Geoff noticed he needed some help. With all the scurrying back and forth, the one bar was not adjusted properly.
As soon as Sam started his routine, he knew something was wrong and so did Corrigan. Without hesitation, Geoff immediately ran to the bar. Sam could see him racing toward the apparatus from the corner of his eye. Corrigan adjusted the bar in rapid fashion while Mikulak calmly held his handstand for a few extra seconds waiting for Geoff to finish.
The concentration and the teamwork were amazing, the result even more so. Sam's score on the parallel bars gave him third place and a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials.
At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Mikulak started off strong, seemingly over his run of bad luck. He finished the first day with the top all-around score. But it happened again. During the preliminaries on the vault, he landed awkwardly, spraining his left ankle. On Friday, even after aggressive treatment from the medical team, Mikulak discussed his options with Golder and decided to limit his Saturday competition to only the pommel horse, an event in which the ankle is needed only during the dismount, and it is the same event he worked to perfect through the summer of 2011.
Mikulak posted a modest score on the pommel horse on Saturday, but his flawless performance on Thursday along with his determination, courage and consistent performances over the past year made the Olympic gymnastics selectors take notice -- eventually. Mikulak is going to London as one of five members of the USA Olympic Gymnastics team, but it wasn't easy. The toughest part may have been sitting through the selection process on Sunday.
"The meeting just seemed to take forever, and I was like the last one to have my name called," said Mikulak. "When my name came up I started welling up, shaking and choking up and was overcome with emotion. Now that it is all happening, it's just a dream come true."
Through all these trials and tribulations, Mikulak remained unfazed through the injuries, setbacks and competition. He credits his family, teammates, athletic trainers, doctors and especially his coaches for this success. And instead of talking about the run of bad luck and injuries, he talks about those who support him and how he works to get into his 'mental zone,' a mental attitude that will keep him focused on his goals and his ultimate dream -- the Olympic Games.
Mikulak always refers to a saying the Michigan coaches placed on the wall of the Newt Loken Training Center:
Blame No One,
To Handle Everything.
Sam Mikulak has indeed handled everything that has come his way.
Good luck to Sam and all the U-M representatives who will be competing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.