BY GENARO C. ARMAS
STATE COLLEGE —
Olympian Sam Mikulak didn’t miss a beat Sunday, even after capping a busy weekend with two more NCAA men’s gymnastics titles.
The Michigan standout won individual crowns on the parallel bars and high bar – scoring an impressive 16.1 points on the latter apparatus – a day after taking the all-around competition to help the Wolverines claim the team title.
Mikulak wore a path to the top of the award stand. On his last trip, he celebrated by pumping his fist in harmony to the Michigan fight song that echoed through Rec Hall after he was given the trophy for the high bar win.
“It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine,” exclaimed coach Kurt Golder. “It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”
And they celebrated on the home floor of Big Ten rival Penn State, which hosted the meet.
The favored Nittany Lions finished a disappointing fourth in the team competition, but did get an individual event winner after Trevor Howard claimed the floor exercise title. He beat out Stanford standout Eddie Penev and Mikulak, who took third in that event.
“Today, I was seeking revenge,” a giddy Howard said afterward. “I was ready to get back at the Wolverines for what happened. It was good to go out there and rock out.”
Ohio State’s Michael Newburger took the pommel horse title to set up an unusual scene in State College. The Buckeyes are a fierce football rival to Penn State, so it’s rare to hear an Ohio State song being played in Happy Valley without being drowned out by boos.
That never happened Sunday, and a few hearty Ohio State teammates and fans even joined in on the fun by clapping along to the song while Newburger soaked up the spotlight on the podium after picking up his first-place trophy.
Also, Oklahoma senior Michael Squires won on the rings, while Illinois’ Fred Hartville took the vault title.
However, the weekend belonged to Mikulak, who competed in five of the six individual events Sunday, sitting out only the rings. He said he didn’t feel tired considering the workload he had Saturday night too.
Michigan teammates yelled a chorus of “Let’s Go Blue!” while Mikulak dusted off his hands in the chalk bowl before taking the high bar. He finished the routine with a perfect landing and slapped his hands together immediately as if knowing he had just clinched another crown.
“No honestly, I don’t think I have,” Mikulak said when asked if he had experienced a better weekend in his career. “Overall for this entire weekend, I didn’t miss a single routine ... It kind of felt easy going with the flow.”
Mikulak also finished fourth on the pommel horse and tied for seventh on the vault.
Howard gave Penn State something to celebrate after the Nittany Lions fizzled in the team competition Saturday night.
The freshman scored 15.8 on his floor exercise routine Sunday for the victory. He was so excited that he sprinted off the mat to one corner of Rec Hall, unaware that coach Randy Jepson was running after him from another corner trying to congratulate him.
They finally caught up, but the drama wasn’t over. Getting pats on the back from other gymnasts, Howard watched nervously from the corner to make sure Penev, who was up next, didn’t snatch away first place.
A couple slight early stumbles and an unplanned step forward on the final landing for Penev virtually assured Howard of the win. Penev was the top-ranked gymnast on the floor entering the weekend but finished second Sunday.
It had been 50 years since Penn State last had a floor exercise champ, Tom Seward in 1963. Howard’s win also came just two months after he had suffered a concussion that kept him out of action for two weeks.
“To have him come into the NCAA final as a freshman on his home floor with everything there to take, that’s a lot of pressure,” Jepson said. “I knew he had it in him, and it showed today. Really proud of him.”