Mikulak Returns With Excellent Winter Cup

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Sam Mikulak

The first U.S. men’s competition of the year is always the Winter Cup Challenge, which determines the national team for the first half of the 2020 and determines crucial international assignments that happen in the spring, like the world cups.

Sam Mikulak, consistently the top men’s competitor in the country as a two-time Olympian, world bronze medalist, and six-time national all-around champion, had a great competition, which is incredible at this time of the year. He took home the gold medal as expected, posting an 86.800 with strong routines on all six events, putting up an especially promising 14.500 on pommel horse, in addition to a huge 15.350 on parallel bars, which to me were his standout events, but he was overall solid across the board.

On the second day of competition, Mikulak opted to compete in four finals, placing in the top three on each in the two-day combined score format. He won the gold on parallel bars despite mistakes on day two, and he got the bronze on pommel horse with another hit routine.

On floor, he upgraded compared to prelims, and though he went out of bounds and wasn’t quite as clean, he still had a pretty solid set to earn the silver, and his biggest mistake was in the high bar final, where he had a fall, but he again got the silver thanks to a solid combined total.

Last year’s biggest up-and-comer, Shane Wiskus, continued his upward trajectory here with an 84.550 in the all-around to take the silver medal, while Brody Malone won the bronze with an 83.950. Both Wiskus and Malone had great performances, as did Grant Breckenridge, who finished fourth with an 83.900, and they all surprised to upset Yul Moldauer and Allan Bower, who tied in fifth with an 82.350.

After his great all-around performance, Wiskus competed in three apparatus finals, winning the silver on vault, and though he wasn’t quite at his best on either floor or high bar, it was still an incredibly successful competition for him, resulting in him taking over the American Cup wildcard spot from Moldauer. It was a bit of a controversial decision, as it was made based solely on the all-around competition, which Moldauer apparently didn’t realize, and so he didn’t do his full difficulty in the first stage of the competition, which – on top of his high bar fall – contributed to him not finishing in a higher ranking.

Moldauer did come back from his all-around performance to compete mostly well in all six apparatus finals, with especially solid work on pommels and parallel bars, and he was also incredibly strong on vault, winning the gold thanks to an excellent kaz 1½ in both stages of competition. Despite not having the most difficult vault in the field, Moldauer is proof that execution matters. It’s a shame that he didn’t get the chance to truly prove himself here, and that this resulted in the loss of an expected international assignment, but with his history in the sport over the past few years and his downright gorgeous execution on every event, I doubt his Olympic potential is even remotely  in question.

Malone and Breckenridge, both of whom performed incredibly well at last summer’s Pan American Games, looked strong here overall, and I’d love to see both factor into the future of men’s gymnastics in the United States. Malone chose to compete only in the pommels final here, finishing 12th, while Breckenridge won the silver on p-bars with beautiful routines, and he finished fifth on high bar, despite falling in his upgraded finals routine.

Though Bower was a bit hit-or-miss in the all-around competition, he came back with some improvements on day two, upping his floor score by a point to finish 13th on that event and winning the silver medal on pommels, though a mistake in high bar held him back to 11th there.

Rounding out the top eight were Colin Van Wicklen in seventh with an 81.700, hitting every event but pommels, and Paul Juda in eighth with an 81.650.

Van Wicklen had solid work on floor both days to finish ninth, and he also pulled off clean rings routines to finish fourth there, though a fall on vault in prelims held him back to seventh there, and he also struggled on pommels and p-bars. The huge win for Van Wicklen, though, came on high bar, where he turned out two hit routines in a row to upset Mikulak for the win after Mikulak fell on day two. It’s gotta be a huge confidence booster for Van Wicklen, wh ois trying to prove that he can be a top-three contender on multiple events to ensure his Olympic team spot this summer, and I think even though he’s held back a bit too much on pommels to be a consistent top-four all-arounder, I think what he contributes on his other events when he’s “on” could be reason enough to consider him.

We also saw a great high bar set from Juda, a University of Michigan Gymnast who had a simple but incredibly clean routine that earned the bronze medal. He competed in all six apparatus finals, and did pretty well overall, with some of the highest execution scores in the competition, but his difficulty on all events is just a bit too far back to make him a serious threat at the moment.

Gage Dyer, 12th all-around, won the gold on floor with two sets rated at a 6.0 start value, Alec Yoder won the pommels title with a 30.000 combined total after crushing a 6.1 D score set on day one and then an upgraded 6.5 set on day two, where he earned a 15.300 total, and Alex Diab won rings with two super well-executed routines. Eddie Penev competed every event but rings, and finished with the silver on vault in addition to fifth on floor, Cameron Bock won the bronze on floor, and on rings, Marvin Kimble won the silver while Sean Melton won the bronze.

The senior men’s national team based on the Winter Cup performances now includes Bower, Breckenridge, Trevor Howard (who did not compete here but qualified based on his performance at world championships last year), Juda, Malone, Mikulak, Akash Modi (who finished 15th here after a bit of a rough day), Moldauer, Stephen Nedoroscik (who did not compete here but qualified based on this weekend’s performance at the Melbourne World Cup, where he won the pommel horse title with a 15.400), Van Wicklen, Donnell Whittenburg (who petitioned onto the team due to an injury), and Wiskus.

In the junior field, which included two days of all-around competition, Fuzzy Benas won the gold in the all-around with a 157.850 combined score. His highest score came in finals with a 79.050, and he also won the gold on rings, silver on vault, and bronze on floor. Asher Hong won silver in the all-around and on pommels in addition to the bronze on rings, and Fred Richard won the all-around bronze in addition to taking the high bar title and the silver on rings. Richard actually had the highest junior all-around total of the competition with a 79.450 in finals, but his prelims performance was rough, holding him back from taking the title.

Rounding out the top eight in the junior competition were Matt Cormier in fourth in addition to winning the floor title, Ian Lasic-Ellis in fifth, Brandon Nguyen in sixth in addition to taking the vault title, Zachary Nunez in seventh also with the titles on pommels and p-bars, and Logan Myers in eighth.

The full results are available here.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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