Mikulak leads standings after mixed first day of U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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The top of the leaderboard was like a game of musical chairs with gymnasts moving up and down in each of the first three rotations.

When the music – and the first day of competition ended – it was pre-competition favorite Sam Mikulak who sat atop the men’s standings at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston.

“Saturday shouldn’t be too hard to beat today,” Mikulak said of his up-and-down performance.

Recovery Required

Mikulak’s 85.150 was good enough for first. Akash Modi earned an 84.100 for second, followed by Allan Bower’s 83.850 total.

A four-time U.S. champion, Mikulak started strong, cruising through his first three events. But then hiccups came.

On the high bar, he went flying off the event during his opening release move.

“I think I just got a little antsy on the Cassina,” Mikulak admitted. “I don’t think I’ve missed that skill in probably six months.”

He went on to recover on the floor exercise, where he watered down his routine to save a tweaked back, but in the final rotation, Mikulak came off the pommel horse. His difficulty score and the more than half-point lead he carried into the final rotation provided a cushion that landed him at the top of the scoreboard.

A repeat performance Saturday night would make Mikulak the first five-time U.S. champion since Blaine Wilson won five-straight from 1996-2000.

Battle Expected

Coming in, many expected a battle between defending champion Yul Moldauer and Mikulak, but an early fall off the pommel horse and mistakes throughout his routine on the parallel bars kept him down.

“I know I made mistakes, and I just have to accept that and come in Saturday ready,” Moldauer said.

He comes to Boston with a lower back injury but refused to make excuses for his performance.

“I’m not going to use that excuse,” he said. “Of course, in the back of my head, I knew it hurt but I wasn’t focusing on that. We all need to come in and make a statement.”

Instead, it was Modi, the 2016 Olympic alternate, who made a statement and grabbed second place. After a fourth-place finish at last year’s nationals, he hopes to make an impression in Boston to help his bid to make the World Championships later this fall.

“I just want to go overall four days of competition, 24-for-24. No misses,” said Modi. “Little wobbles here and there are to be expected but just hit every routine, and I think I’m ready to do that.”

Bower, the 2017 all-around silver medalist, flirted with the lead, topping the standings after two of the six rotations but fell away slightly in the final two rotations.

“I wanted to hit six-for-six,” said Bower. “Everything felt pretty good though, so I’m excited for day two.”

For Mikulak, day two provides not only the chance at a historic fifth title but also a chance to let a new generation, of which he finds himself the leader, shine.

“It’ll give everyone else a chance to shine a little bit,” Mikulak mused. “What I like about this group is everyone’s hungry.”

More To Come

The men’s event concludes with their second day of competition on Saturday.

The women’s action at the championships begins on Friday, with four-time Olympic Champion Simone Biles admitting she is feeling the pressure.

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Author: Scott Bregman
Scott Bregman is a U.S.-based social media producer for the Olympic Channel.