Sam Mikulak expected jitters at his first competition in 15 months.
What the six-time men’s national gymnastics champion didn’t expect was his body to give out on him. Yet as the 29-year-old walked onto the floor for his fifth event during the first day of U.S. Championships on Thursday, he could tell his tank was empty.
The result, a seventh-place finish and a likely end to his long run at the top. Mistakes on parallel bars, floor and pommel horse left him with a score of 82.450, well off the pace set by two-time NCAA champion Brody Malone at 86.250.
And while there’s plenty of time to regroup in what is basically a warm-up meet for the U.S. Olympic Trials later this month, Mikulak will spend Friday trying to figure out what happened to the swagger that has come so easily for so long.
“I just could not get into that confident mindset,” Mikulak said. “And I think I was just trying to dodge fear most of the time. And it kept me in a more of a flight response rather than a fight (response).”