By Steve Virgen
9:43 PM PDT, June 21, 2012
A year ago, Sam Mikulak was dealt a major setback in his quest to reach the London Olympics as a gymnast.
He always had dreams of reaching the Olympics while growing up in Newport Beach and training at SCATS Gymnastics in Huntington Beach.
But that dream seemed out of reach, at least for 2012, when he broke both ankles on a floor dismount during the Puerto Rico Cup last August.
The floor apparatus is the first event of the competition, but Mikulak continued to compete. It wasn't until after the competition when he was told both ankles were broken.
Mikulak said the injury forced him to focus on the pommel horse and rings, two skills that had been his weaknesses. It wasn't until December when his ankles started to feel stronger. But he said he did suffer a few sprains on dismounts, which led him to heavily tape his ankles.
Now he's on the brink of making the U.S. Olympics men's gymnastics team. In a breakout-type performance, he finished third at the Visa Men's Senior U.S. Championships, completed June 9 in St. Louis, Mo.
"[The ankle fractures] made my weakest events stronger," Mikulak said during a phone interview Thursday. "I broke both ankles and I still competed through that whole competition. They were amazed that I still kept going. It makes for a good story now."
The story will only become better if he makes the Olympic team after competing in the Olympic Trials June 28 through July 1 in San Jose.
The son of two gymnasts who competed at UC Berkeley, Mikulak was introduced to the sport at the young age of 2. The Olympic dreams began not too long after that. He played soccer and baseball, but stopped competitively when he reached middle school at Corona del Mar after finishing up at Newport Coast Elementary.
His devotion paid off for a full-ride scholarship at the University of Michigan. He was the NCAA champion his freshman year, last year.
Now he realizes how close he is to making his dreams come true.
"I'm anxious for it all to happen," Mikulak said. "I've been dreaming for this moment for so long. I just want to go out there and get it done. I want to stay focused and keep a level head and put on a show at Olympic Trials."
Mikulak answered a few questions from the Daily Pilot during a break from his training Thursday.
Question: A story in the Los Angeles Times said you had several friend requests on Facebook. What's that been like? How many friends did you add?
Answer: I kind of had my friend requests blowing up. It was like everyone wanted me to add them. People were sending me messages. I had a bunch of encouragement. It's been really great. I remember we signed autographs after the [national championships]. It was just a real cool moment to be in the spotlight. I hope I can continue that and make everyone proud.
I did add some people who were from mutual friends. I had some people send me messages and tell me that they were big fans. I would say, 'you seem down to earth," and I would add them.
Question: What about Twitter? Do you use Twitter?
Answer: Yes, I'm on Twitter and I've gotten so many followers. There have been girls fighting over me, and it gets pretty brutal on there. It's just funny to see. The attention is pretty nice. I'm not going to go hunting them down for a girlfriend. But I feel like a little kid again.
Question: Do you have a girlfriend?
Answer: Right now, it's in a complicated kind of a stage. Maybe things will change a little later.
Question: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Answer: I'm still a young gymnast [19 years old]. I want to try for the 2016 Olympics. I'm trying to see where my degree [psychology] will take me and see how it opens up. I want to end up back in Cali. Maybe do some acting. I enjoy stuff like that.
Question: Do you have any nicknames?
Answer: Chris Brooks on the national team gave me one. He calls me, "Hollywood."
Question: What's your training been like leading up to the Olympic Trials?
Answer: It's been consistent for the past month. Just a bunch of rehab and I go to the gym. Some days I do all the routines, some days I do half. At Michigan, their facility is amazing.
Question: Why did you choose Michigan?
Answer: Michigan was the school that stood out in academics. The team, facility and coaches they were more than what I expected. They had everything to offer me. It's just been a great time for me. It's just going great right now. I just finished my sophomore year. I'm studying psychology. I live in a house with some teammates. It's all about the grill on Sundays. We try to get as tan as we can. We try to keep it like SoCal as close as possible.
Question: What are your thoughts on the U.S. men's team and the Olympics?
Answer: This is a great group and the youngest group of contenders for the Olympic team that they've had in a long time. There's me, John Orozco (19, who won the national championships), Danell Leyva (20) and Jake Dalton (20). I think it's going to be good for years to come. We're such a young team. This could be the beginning of a dynasty. A bunch of good gymnasts won't make the Olympic team.
Question: What are your chances of making the team?
Answer: They take five for the team. In the past, they would take 6. They are cutting it down and it makes it harder.
I'm ranked third in all-around. But they don't take the top guys in all-around. Sometimes they want someone for a specific skill. My chances are looking pretty good. I just have to go out and do just as good I did at Visas or better and I think that would make it very difficult on them to leave me off the team.