Mikulak wins seventh individual title, ties NCAA record

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By Carolyn Kodis, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 12, 2014

After repeating as National Champions the night before, one thing hung in the air for Michigan senior Sam Mikulak: the possibility of becoming the most decorated gymnast in NCAA history.

All he needed was one more individual title on Saturday to have his name in the history books next to Nebraska’s Jim Hartung and Illinois’ Joe Giallombardo. One more first-place finish to earn seven titles. And after a long night of underwhelming routines, Mikulak finally earned his place in history.

“It feels good,” Mikulak said. “That’s a great class of men to be a part of, and I’m honored to be one of those gymnasts who will forever be remembered.”

Mikulak’s night started on pommel horse, but his usually tight routine fell apart at the seams with a couple of failed moves. He would finish with a 13.250 for 10th place out of 10.

With an opportunity to make up for his mistakes on floor, Mikulak couldn’t stick dismounts to earn a final score of 15.125 — good enough for fourth place, just ahead of his teammate, Stacey Ervin, who took fifth.

On his next attempt, the vault, Mikulak’s dismount doomed him once again, and he finished eighth. Even freshman Tristan Perez-Rivera finished ahead of him in seventh.

So with one final event remaining, the parallel bars, Mikulak found himself in a pressure-packed situation. He had one shot for the history books, so he had to feel some anxiousness, right?

“You know what they say: nope,” Mikulak said with a laugh.

And perhaps there shouldn’t have been. Just two weeks ago, Mikulak set a new NCAA record in the event. The night before, he was just .05 points away from tying it. If anything, a strong parallel bars routine was expected of him.

As Mikulak released the bars to enter his dismount, Crisler Center held its breath. The crowd didn’t know what to expect after his first three routines.

Mikulak stuck the dismount. The green flag — the sign for an added stick bonus — flew in the air. Crisler filled with deafening sound. He had done it. He had gone down in history.

“It was really special for Sam to finish last night with a stuck dismount for the team and to win the NCAA Championship,” said Michigan gymnastics coach Kurt Golder. “And then he finished the individual final with a stuck dismount and a National Championship, it’s like you couldn’t have written the script any better.”

But across the gym, a whole other plotline played out for graduate student Syque Caesar. The walk-on-turned-captain went into his two events — high bar and parallel bars — just hoping to hit his routines.

On the parallel bars, Caesar stuck his dismount and earned a 15.385. He finished third in the event.

He was then rushed to the high bar, where he had no time to put on his protective grips. It didn’t seem to faze him. He received a 14.975 for his strong routine and an almost-stuck dismount, good enough for fifth place.

Michigan’s four gymnasts, who competed on Saturday had endured three tough days of competition, a repeated title, little-to-no-sleep, and body fatigue, and still managed to take home more hardware along with seven All-American certificates.

The night ended with the two standing together on the podium: the David and Goliath of collegiate gymnastics. Two different stories that ended with Mikulak on the highest podium and Caesar just to his left. Together, they made history.