For the first time this season, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team had someone competing in all six events, trying to claim the all-around title at Cliff Keen Arena. On Saturday, freshman Sam Mikulak and senior Thomas Kelley both made a run at the all-around title, and while they lost to Oklahoma’s Steven Legendre, they made one of the best gymnasts in the country sweat for his crown.
Before the Wolverines 357.750-355.400 loss to the second-ranked Sooners, Mikulak convinced Michigan coach Kurt Golder to allow him to compete for the all-around title, adding rings to his usual five-event routine.
“He’s not in real good all-around, six-event shape yet,” Golder said after the match. “So I was trying to conserve a little bit of his energy by not having him go on rings. He informed to me, ‘I’m doing five events, I want to do the sixth event.’ If he felt like he wanted to do it, I didn’t see any harm. And I think that will probably help him prepare for the Big Tens and the NCAAs.”
Mikulak has proven to be a key part of Michigan’s success this year, ranking 17th in the country on pommel horse and sixth on vault. While his struggles on pommel horse against Oklahoma may have cost him the all-around title, Mikulak set a career high on high bar with a score of 14.9.
“It was definitely exhilarating,” Mikulak said. “A little tiring, but it’s going to come with time, I’ll get better and better. Things just seem to look like they are going to start going up from here.”
Despite both Mikulak and Kelley competing against each other for the all-around title, neither lost sight of the team.
“First of all, the team comes first,” Kelley said. “In every aspect of the sport for us, we’re the Michigan Wolverines — we’re one team, one voice. We approach the team first … we’re teammates, we just go and hit our routines. We encourage one another, there’s no animosity, there’s no competition, we just go out there and have fun.”
Keeping the team mindset, it was only fitting that Kelley and Mikulak tied for second place behind Legendre with 87.35. As Kelly is preparing for his final championship season with the Wolverines, Mikulak is preparing for his first — and Golder has high hopes for his young freshman.
“(Sam’s) a talented individual,” Golder said. “What needs to happen with him is he needs to have a little luck fall his way. So far this year, it has been one thing going wrong after another, and he could never get steady consistent preparation. Now, he’s just starting to get over all of his various problems, so I think his preparation at the tail end of this season year will be a lot better.
“He could be one of the best gymnasts in America … and I knew that of Sam all along.”