Sam Mikulak's Road to Rio from Colorado Springs, Colorado
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO —
Sam Mikulak has qualified for the Olympics. Thanks to having the highest cumulative score at the trials, Mikulak will also be the captain of the American team.
Sam Mikulak was among the best of the best during his time at the University of Michigan. Mikulak racked up a number of all-around and individual NCAA gymnastics titles as a Wolverine. Now he's working on earning another title - two-time Olympian.
He's seeking the distinction in a sport that can often seem super human, as it is focused on perfection.
"This sport is so much of a mental game; you have to be able to make every single turn count. And that's a hard thing to do, and a hard thing to train," Sam said.
Team USA's Men's gymnastics team is shadowed perhaps appropriately by the Gods. In Colorado Springs, Colorado the backdrop is the Garden of the Gods, not far from the United States Olympic Training Center - the team's home. The center has become the home of seven-time NCAA champion, Mikulak. He's training at the center as a resident athlete.
"Wherever I stand is where I'll be, and I'll be happy with that as long as I'm happy with my performance," Sam said heading into the 2016 Olympic Trials.
In 2012 at the London Olympics the team came in 5th and Sam took 5th in the vault, but he says four years has changed him, he no longer goes with the flow, instead, he carefully plans his course.
"This is everything I'm going to eat leading up to the competition. This is when I feel best, I need x amount of hours of sleep, and you know, it's all more scientific right now," Sam said.
Similarly, four years has changed his team.
"We have the most depth that Team USA has ever had, and that means some really good gymnasts are not going to make the Olympic team," he said.
Part of Sam's road to Rio started back in 2011 as a freshman at Michigan
"You know Michigan is really where I found my character. I found my own individual self, and I realized how important being a part of a team is," Sam said.
That experience also helps him make a difference for his Team USA family.
"Sam is a really good rounded gymnast, that means he's good all around, he doesn't have weak spots in his program or weak events," the USA Men's Assistant Gymnastics Coach, Andriy Stepanchenko, said.
Stepanchenko explained that what Sam adds to the team beyond his expertise on all six events is an infectious spirit and attitude.
"He's a really, really happy guy on the team. I like his attitude and the training in competition time," Stepanchenko said.
It's that attitude and quest for perfection that he'll need to make the team at the Olympic Trials at the end of June. The current Team USA squad of ten will be cut to five.
"We have big hope for him, first of all, making the Olympic team, he's one of the really strong contenders on that spot," Stepanchenko said of Sam.
When he looks ahead from there - Sam is reaching for it all.
"I think along with my own hopes, the whole team's hope is to come out with the Olympic gold medal, and individually, I want to do a very strong performance in the all-around competition," he said.
As Sam trains in the shadow of Colorado Springs' Garden of the Gods, perhaps, those Gods will be smiling.
The men's gymnastics Olympic trials begin in St. Louis, Missouri on June 23rd.