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.
Throughout the history of the University of Michigan Athletic Department, student-athletes, alumni and fans have been blessed with an abundance of memorable performances.
The first Rose Bowl victory in 1902 and the first NCAA softball championship by a team east of the Mississippi River in 2005 are just two the many magical moments delivered by Wolverines.
On Sunday (Aug. 24) at the Procter & Gamble Championships in Pittsburgh (better known as the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships), another magical Michigan moment came together. Former U-M All-America gymnast Sam Mikulak and Wolverine head coach Kurt Golder combined to do something that has never been done in Michigan athletic history: Mikulak won his second consecutive U.S. all-around championship and Golder became the first U-M coach to be honored as the USA Gymnastics Senior Coach of the Year.
It probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone that Mikulak and Golder pulled off this amazing double. Mikulak was the odds-on favorite to repeat going into the championships and Golder knew he was going to be honored. But a surprise it was, especially for Sam. Amazingly, it turned into an afternoon that will live in gymnastics and U-M lore for a long time.
Mikulak had put himself in a tough spot after Friday's first day of competition. A miscue on the parallel bars and a slip on one of his landings during the floor routine put the former Wolverine in fourth place, a distant 2.3 points behind leader John Orozco, a former champion. Those mistakes alone are approximately a 2.5-point deduction, and very few people could believe a comeback was possible against the best in the country.
Golder was one of the few who were on the optimistic side. He knows Sam. He knows how he thinks and how he reacts to almost every situation. And Sam did what everyone but Kurt thought was impossible, winning the U.S. all-around title again with a remarkable final-day performance.
Sam is one of the most respected gymnasts in the world, and now he has his sights on being the best gymnast in the world.
Four-time world champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan is considered to be the best ever in the sport, and just a few weeks ago a Japanese television network travelled to Ann Arbor to interview Sam and Kurt because many believe Sam can topple Uchimura, and that is what they are shooting for.
Sam will continue to train with the Michigan coaching staff with his sights set on the 2016 Summer Olympics. And while the coaching staff feels he could become Michigan's first three-time Olympian and perform in the 2020 Olympics, they cannot let the cart get ahead of the horse. Knocking off Uchimura is the first step.
Sam Mikulak is U-M's most accomplished gymnast of all-time. Kurt has had the opportunity to coach individuals like Daniel Diaz-Long, Scott Vetere, Justin Toman and Chris Zimmerman -- all who became national team members.
But Sam is special. He is a three-time NCAA all-around champion, winner of the Nissen-Emery Award, an Olympian and, of course, now back-to-back U.S. National title holder. Championships and recognition like that are not easy to achieve.
What makes Sam special? As Kurt puts it, "Sam is Sam. He is such a unique individual that nothing gets him down."
At the P&G Championships, Kurt told Sam on Sunday that he didn't need to win the championship. He was on the U.S. team and all he needed to do was to take one event at a time. Sam smiled back and laughed, saying "I know that."
Sam has no super highs and no super lows.
Even when he broke both ankles during a meet in Puerto Rico a few summers back, he came back to Ann Arbor and talked about using this setback that restricted his ability to work on events requiring the use of his legs as an opportunity to work on gaining more upper-body strength so he could develop a better routine on the rings, which at the time was his weakest event. Someone who describes two broken ankles as a "blessing in disguise" is a remarkable competitor!
Maybe the only time Sam let himself get a little pumped up in public was back in April on the Crisler Center floor. He stuck his floor dismount, cementing his NCAA all-around title and sealing the Wolverines' NCAA team title, and that moment will be replayed and enjoyed by followers of Michigan gymnastics for decades to come.
If there was ever a time for Sam Mikulak to show his emotions, what better time to do it than at Crisler Center in front of one the largest crowds in NCAA Championships history.
The unflappable Sam Mikulak is not a Michigan student-athlete anymore. He will continue to perform, and we will continue to follow his career in gymnastics. It will be exciting to see how Kurt Golder and the U-M coaching staff will work with Sam to make him the best in the world for the Red, White and Blue -- and, of course, create another magical Michigan moment for the Maize and Blue.
Congratulations to Sam on the U.S. championship and to Kurt for his coaching honor.
Note: Michigan's Nissen-Emery honorees include Sam Mikulak (2014), Justin Toman (2002), Dave Thor (1968) and James Curzi (1966). The honor is awarded to the top NCAA male collegiate gymnast and reflects admirable scholarship and moral characteristics as well as sporting success.