Simone Biles and Sam Mikulak seek historic sixth U.S. titles
If all goes according to plan, (and when doesn’t it for the 23-year-old?) Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic champion and 14-time World gold medalist, is set to make artistic gymnastics history yet again.
At the U.S. Championships in Kansas City (8-11 August), she has a chance to become the first American woman to capture six U.S. all-around titles in more than half a century.
On the men’s side, two-time Olympian and 2018 World horizontal bar bronze medalist Sam Mikulak is poised to do the same: win a sixth all-around national title.
Biles and Mikulak’s titles have come in the same years: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018.
Nineteen in a row
At the U.S. Classic in July, Biles was impressive in her first competition since winning the Stuttgart World Cup in March, soaring to her 19th straight win in the all-around, a streak that dates back to the 2013 U.S. Championships when she won her first national title.
She’s dominated the sport since then, setting records at every turn, including being the only woman ever to win four World all-around titles. Her 20 World medals is tied for most by a woman with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina (though Biles has 14 gold medals to Khorkina’s nine). Three more medals at this season’s World Championships in Stuttgart will match Vitaly Scherbo’s record for most ever.
A win this week will match the feat of Clara Schroth Lomady who claimed U.S. titles in 1945 and 1946 before a string of four from 1949-52.
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But Biles isn’t focused on any of that. She never has been. Though she’s often unaware of which record she has broken in the day’s competition until members of the media ask her about it afterward, she’s hardly resting on her laurels.
She is already doing the hardest gymnastics in the world with difficulty scores well above any of her competitors. Yet the Houston-native continues to do more.
“I’m surprised because she doesn’t need to, so you know she wants to,” national team high performance coordinator Tom Forster told Olympic Channel after the U.S. Classic. “You can’t buy that! She doesn’t want to just hold on, she wants to smash records and do more.”
Two things she’s done almost every time she’s taken the floor since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
At the U.S. Classic, Biles debuted a new tumbling pass, adding a front layout to her signature move, “the Biles,” (a double layout with a half turn in the second flip).
In training, she showed she’s more than capable of performing a triple-twisting double back though she chose not to do it in Louisville. Both moves have never been done by a woman in competition.
Beyond all that, she’s capable of a harder vault and more difficulty on beam. So all eyes will be on Biles in training from Wednesday.
Will we once again see something we’ve never seen before?
When Ragan Smith won the U.S. women’s all-around title in 2017, Simone Biles watched from a suite, attending the championships as a guest. She was in the final days of enjoying a year off after her historic run through the Rio Olympics that resulted in four gold medals and a bronze.
Limited by a February 2017 Achilles tendon injury, Mikulak competed at those championships but only on two apparatus: the pommel horse and high bar. Yul Molduaer went on to capture that title.
A year later, Mikulak returned to pole position at the U.S. nationals and like Biles won his fifth all-around title.
He went on to finish a heartbreaking fifth place at the World Championships in the all-around after an error in the final rotation, along with three fourth place finishes: in the team, pommel horse and parallel bar finals.
But then finally, a breakthrough as he grabbed his first World Championships medal: a bronze on the high bar.
“This was my one goal for the entire year. Just kind of break into the scene,” he said.
In 2019, Mikulak won the Tokyo World Cup but finished second at the American Cup behind Moldauer, the man most likely to challenge him in Kansas City.
Moldauer recently finished his final season competing for the University of Oklahoma where he helped the Sooners win three NCAA team titles. The model of consistency, Moldauer will be there ready to take advantage if Mikulak opens the door with a mistake.
An embarrassment of riches
And barring a mistake – actually, many mistakes that is – Biles should cruise to the title.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an incredibly deep pool of talent ready to fight for spot on the podium.
At the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, the U.S. team won the team gold medal handily with a 14.250 average score. That’s just a little more than a half-a-tenth behind what they did with Biles at last year’s Worlds.
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Leading the pack was all-around silver medalist Riley McCusker, though whether she competes in all four events will be a game time decision, the 18-year-old said at the Classic.
Other challengers include Grace McCallum, third at the U.S. Classic, Kara Eaker, who is fresh off a balance beam win in Lima, Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion (who features in the [Olympic Channel original series 'All Around'](Olympic Channel original series 'All Around')), and Leanne Wong, who is the reigning U.S. junior and American Cup champion.