At the halfway point during Monday’s fifth men’s qualifying subdivision at the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, things looked bad for the United States men’s team.
Their star Sam Mikulak, the two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. champion, had recorded three falls in his first two events with his colleagues faltering as well.
“I just I never woke up,” he later admitted.
At one point, it looked like his ultimate nightmare as he languished behind Yul Moldauer and Akash Modi leaving him in danger of not reaching Friday’s all-around final where only two per country can compete.
But Modi slipped off the high bar in the final rotation and opened the door for Mikulak to change the fate of his day and entire championships.
He came to the bar needing to exceed 14.565 to pass Modi and avoid being the third-best American.
Winning a medal in the all-around has been Mikulak’s stated goal all season after a heartbreaking error in the final rotation in 2018 cost him a place on the podium.
He will get that chance after sneaking through as the last qualifier in the 24-man final thanks to a masterful performance for 14.866 on the apparatus where he is the reigning world bronze medallist.
“I was just happy that I finally lived up to my expectations and my potential,” Mikulak said of the 45-second performance which changed his entire Worlds schedule.
A slip there and Mikulak may very well have ended up in no medal rounds at all.
Now he will contest the horizontal bar final and the all-around with those two events representing genuine chances of landing on the podium.
“Unfortunate it took so long to do that, but I got one in there and I can hope that’s the standard I can set moving forward.” - Sam Mikulak
Mikulak’s standard has made him the leading American in men’s gymnastics since the London 2012 Olympics.
And despite his six U.S. titles, he has faltered on the big international stage at key moments.
He told Olympic Channel last week he was ready to make amends.
“I just want to finally feel like all my failures… I’ve learned from them,” Mikulak said. “I’ve learned to always stay in the moment, that’s the biggest one.”
And perhaps that's what was missing during Monday’s qualifying round with the 26-year-old admitting he felt "heavy" and "sluggish" for the first three or four rotations.
Mikulak fell twice on his first discipline, the floor, before coming off the pommel horse.
He also fell in his penultimate rotation on the parallel bars.
“Rings I think is where it kind of started. I started waking up is the best way to put it,” said Mikulak. “I starting feeling very, one skill at a time, mindfulness which I was lacking completely going into floor and horse.”
Mikulak hopes that wake-up call will be the best medicine for his medal hopes in Stuttgart.
“Having this day to really, you know, humble us,” Mikulak said. “I think is going to set us well going into the next competition.”
Mikulak had to wait until the end of qualification on Monday to see whether he would indeed make the all-around final.
He was in 25th place overall before the final group, but the third-best gymnasts from Russia, China and Ukraine meant he was 22nd in the qualification stakes.
And fortunately for the American, just two athletes - Switzerland's Pablo Braegger and Oliver Hegi, finished above him leaving him 24th out of the 24 finalists.