SAM: The sun was out, I had my shades on, I think I was wearing a Speedo. I just started dancing up on the balcony.[[“EXPRESS YOURSELF” INTRO MUSIC]]
JESSICA: This week, the Slovenia World Cup, NCAA champ Sam Mikulak joins us, we talk about the NCAA men’s championships, and we have a new contest.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset, your back. I’m Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sportz Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: This is episode 32 from May 8th, 2013. I’m Jessica from Masters-Gymnastics
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
SCOTT: Scott Bregman, Communications Manager for USA Gymnastics
JESSICA: And this show may be the reason aliens finally make contact with earth. This is the world famous and only gymnastics podcast ever, starting with the top news stories from around the gymternet. Blythe, what’s happening? There was a meet in Slovenia, this past two weeks ago. So tell us about it, and I hear the story of the meet is Ellie Black?
BLYTHE: The story of the meet is absolutely Ellie Black. She won vault, she won beam, she tied for first place on floor, and it was one of the most lopsided World Cups as far as results go that I can remember from the past couple of years. The other person that really came out of the woodwork for this meet was Noemi Makra of Hungary. She’s a first year senior this year, she has incredible release moves on bars, and watch her beam routine, which is very old school in some ways. She does gainer back handspring to layout to two feet and we haven’t seen that really in the last dozen years or so. And she’s just a beautiful gymnast to watch. Elsewhere we’ve got to give props to Paul Ruggeri who won men’s vault and high bar. And Jossimar Calvo, who is the new South American sensation, he comes from Colombia. He won the Pan American Games in 2011. And I think he’s really somebody that we should be looking out for in the next few years. Of course the other thing, you can’t really talk about Slovenian gymnastics without talking a little bit about Alias Pagan who’s a great high bar worker and the 2005 World Champion on that event. And Pagan is retired at the age of 38, and the Ljubljana World Cup was sort of his goodbye address, I guess, to gymnastics. He didn’t compete but he was honored during the meet. And he’s just a fantastic paragon of gymnastics and everybody should watch him as well. And his work on high bar is magnificent.
JESSICA: And how about our favorite Greek, beautiful Vasiliki, was she there?
BLYTHE: Actually, I mean yeah she was, but I don’t believe, Jess, she won anything.
JESSICA: It’s ok. It doesn’t matter if she wins anything.
BLYTHE: Oh ok
JESSICA: I just like to watch her
BLYTHE: Oh yeah
JESSICA: She never wins anything, she’s just beautiful. And 28 now I think?
BLYTHE: She is, I believe, 28. And word on the street is she will continue through this year’s World Championships and then kind of see where life takes her. But she is just, ugh she is just so stunning to watch on balance beam. And if you can find a routine of hers in which she does round off layout stepout mount, and she doesn’t put her second foot down on the beam but instead she extends it into a needle scale, and it is just a thing of beauty to watch.
JESSICA: And that’s the thing. We were talking about this meet beforehand and it’s kind of like, it’s not- you were saying the level of competition is not very high in this meet, but you get to see some of the people who just do beautiful gymnastics, you know? So even though these aren’t the people that are going to win Olympics or World Championships, I mean.
BLYTHE: Yeah, but I mean sometimes the level is a little bit lower but the execution deductions are fewer. And a lot of people would rather see that, you know. It’s always nice to see a great roundoff double full off beam stuck, rather than a 2.5 that’s chucked and a gymnast takes a bunch of steps out of it. So in that sense, I mean, it’s just a showcase of gymnastics, which is very nice.
JESSICA: Ok Uncle Tim, something that should have happened like 15 years ago has finally happened. Can you tell us about this?
UNCLE TIM: Sure. So the FIG announced that Jair Lynch has a high bar release named after him. In case you don’t remember who Jair is, he’s a former Stanford gymnast, a member of the 1992 and 1996 US Olympic Teams, and the 1996 silver medalist on parallel bars at the Olympics. And the skill named after him is a Tkachev half. So you do a Tkachev over the bar, turn, and then grab the bar again. And it’s a D. And if you haven’t been watching much men’s high bar, you’re going to see a loooooot of this skill over the next four years, and I’ll leave it at that.
JESSICA: Blythe, there’s been some fun news in the world of love and gymnastics. Can you give us an update?
BLYTHE: Love and gymnastics. Well if you are a Jake Dalton fan, you will be happy to know- or maybe if you have a secret crush on Jake Dalton, sad to know he and his longtime girlfriend Kayla Nowak of Oklahoma have gotten engaged. Jake tweeted a very sweet photograph of the two of them and Kayla flashing her engagement ring, and so we want to wish them both the best and say congratulations as well.
JESSICA: And this is Kayla who earlier is on the OU gymnastics team and was an all-arounder for them and then this year, earlier in the year, she fractured her back on bars. A really scary injury. And now she’s made a full recovery and is engaged to this wonderful man. And they’ve been in a relationship for a long time. So it’s just, ooh!
BLYTHE: And in other exciting news, Jake’s teammate from Oklahoma and from the US team, Steven Legendre, tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend Alaina Williams, who is a member of the US trampoline team, last weekend I believe it was. And they have a very sweet wedding photo as well, and congratulations to Steve and Alaina. It’s Valentines day in May.
JESSICA: I want to give a huge shoutout to Sweden, because we failed to mention the gigantic deal that it was for their country to have the first medal at European Championships after a 50 year drought. Jonna Adlerteg brought home a silver medal on bars. It was a huge deal. There was tons of media about it in Sweden. And Ida made finals as well. So we’ll link to a couple of those interviews and news clips on our site.
UNCLE TIM: In that same vein, in Slovenia, I want to add Jossimar Calvo Moreno. He tied Paul Ruggeri for first on high bar. And it was Colombia’s first gold medal at a World Cup event. Previously gymnasts like Jessica Gil had won silver and Jorge Hugo Giraldo had won bronze, but this was their first gold. So that’s another big historic event for Colombia.
JESSICA: Uncle Tim we found out over the weekend that USA Gymnastics has done something so exciting that we had a major Kathy Johnson over it.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, so USAG is bringing us a bounty of procrastination awesomeness…
UNCLE TIM: …is what I’d call it. If you haven’t been visiting their YouTube channel, you should. They’ve been uploading full event coverage of past meets from their archives, and you as a gymnastics fan will also Kathy Johnson so hard when you visit their page. There’s so much young Tim Daggett, there’s so much young Bart Conner, there are leotards without booby rhinestones on the women, there’s no post-coital hair on the women. It’s definitely got the GymCastic seal of approval, and we’ll put a link up to the archives on our site. Just be warned, you’re not going to get anything done once you visit this page.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] Alright speaking of exciting things, the Pro Gymnastics Challenge is happening this week. So the meet is this weekend and it’s going to be on ESPN in two weeks. And it’s really exciting because actually they’ve signed a three year deal with ESPN. And you guys know- I don’t know if you know this, but the X-Games was invented by ESPN. It is a made for TV event. They took a bunch of sports and kind of put them together, and they played around with different formats and found what worked and what people really liked to watch. And you know the X-Games is really changed a lot over the years, it’s really evolved into something that people really like to watch and they keep evolving it. And so ESPN totally knows what they’re doing. So to have the backing of ESPN, to have the support, and to have ESPN believing in gymnastics and have them invest their knowledge, and years and years of knowledge with doing the X-Games into gymnastics is a huge coup. Huge coup. So hat’s off to the International Gymnastics Camp for making this happen. And there’s some incredible talent there. So who are you most excited to watch?
UNCLE TIM: First I have to say that I love the fact that it’s USA versus the entire world.
UNCLE TIM: But on the women’s side, I would say that I’m most excited to watch Chellsie Memmel. One, because she’s Chellsie Memmel and I love to see people who are technically retired but still are doing huge gymnastics. And I think a cross the events Chellsie’s probably the girl who can throw the biggest tricks of all these competitors. And the same I would say on the men’s side is true of Marcel Nguyen. I think that he probably across the events, probably has the biggest skills on the various apparatus. So those are my picks, what about you Jess?
JESSICA: Well I’m most excited to see I think Anna Pavlova just because she’s so glorious. So anyone can do something really hard, but then she’ll go and have more amplitude and more pointed toes than you can even handle, so I’m really excited to watch her. I mean I just love love love her. Well Josh Dixon is there and I have a giant crush on him too. Do I have a thing? Do I have a thing? I’m noticing a pattern [LAUGHS]
UNCLE TIM: For African American male gymnasts? Yes.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] I guess I do. Anywho. Legendre is very exciting to watch too. Ok I really want to see Paul Ruggeri do his women’s bar routine. I really want to see Chellsie Memmel do men’s high bar. And I just want to watch Josh Dixon. And then Legendre can do insane things. So I’m really looking forward to just watching Legendre just go all out.
JESSICA: Ok lastly, you know I haven’t said anything about the tragedy in Boston and everything that happened because I just didn’t know what to say. But one of the things I feel really strongly about is that, and one of the reasons I did the show is because if you have the opportunity to do something and you live in a country where you can do it, and you can spend five or even 10 minutes a day or something and doing what you believe in and doing what you think will make a difference and doing something that you have the opportunity to do, then you should. And I know a lot of times when things happen, thinking back to 9/11 and thinking back to having personal tragedies, or things that happen in life or things that happen in other places in the world where it makes everything seem like everything you do on a day to day basis doesn’t matter and all the things you do on a day to day basis are insignificant compared to the tragedies in the world. And it makes you feel helpless. But I was looking at these signs, you guys have seen this meme kind of everywhere, it’s the “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It’s part of the propaganda that was used, or not used very much in WWII and in the UK. And the sign really I think is so meaningful right now for us and what’s going on in this country. Because what it means is if there’s a bombing outside and you get up and walk outside and go to work, or you go to gymnastics class, or you spend five minutes at the coffee shop talking to your friend, you’ve won. Terrorism is only as effective as the terror that it reaps. In other words, if you don’t let it affect you, you keep doing what you’re doing on a daily basis and do the things you love, we all win. I just feel like it’s really important to remember that right now when horrible things are going on, that because you can do those things and especially after all these athletes lost limbs, take advantage for them go to gymnastics class, for them do your workout today, for them do those things that they’re not able to right now because you can and because every time that you keep doing those things it means that we’ve won and that we’re overcoming. And in that vein I wanted to encourage you guys to donate to a charity called Challenged Athletes Foundation. Their mission is to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyle through physical fitness and competitive athletics. And you know we’re all about sports here. I’m also going to link to the charity navigator profile for the Challenged Athletes Foundation because they have a very good profile and we approve of that. And now, let’s talk to Sam Mikulak and see what happening over there in Michigan.
UNCLE TIM: This week’s interview with Sam Mikulak is brought to you by TumblTrak. When I coach boys I love to have strength competitions. And since gyms don’t have like a gazillion sets of parallel bars, I often find myself relying on TumblTrak’s parallette bars. They take up very little space, they’re light, and you can just put a bunch of them on the floor and have competitions. See who can hold an L the longest, who can do the most press handstands, it’s great. Because the kids get stronger and they have fun while they’re doing it. To purchase your own set of parallette bars or other TumblTrak products, head over to tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com. Tumbltrak.com, do it again.
BLYTHE: At just 20, Sam Mikulak already seems to have lived several lives in gymnastics. The child of two Cal gymnasts, he was a junior national star before catapulting onto the Olympic scene in 2012. In addition to competing in London, Sam is also now a two-time NCAA all-around champion and has overcome numerous injuries. He only seems to emerge stronger with every one. Today he’s going to talk skills, college, and his plans for the next four years. Sam, it is a pleasure to have you on the show. So actually we wanted to go back to the beginning, and I didn’t know this actually, but your parents are former gymnasts and they both competed at Cal, correct?
SAM: Yep, both of them.
BLYTHE: Ok. So how did it work for you as a kid? Were you just like in the gym from the age of three on? Were you having like handstand contests with you dad? You know, stuff like that?
SAM: Yeah we would go to weddings and me and him would do back flips and stuff at the reception. Yeah I grew up- my dad when I was one years old before i could walk, he was already having me do flips and stuff, throwing me up in the air like 15 feet. So I guess in a way I was kind of bred every since I was born to be a gymnast.
BLYTHE: That’s kind of awesome. Fifteen feet in the air huh? And he never worried that you would get injured?
SAM: Yeah no I mean he threw me- like there’s one picture my mom has of me literally looks like I’m jumping out of a tree or something. Yeah he’s a strong guy.
BLYTHE: That’s kind of awesome. Well when your first memories are being 15 feet in the air, I suppose that once you start learning things like double backs it kind of comes more naturally. You’re like, “Oh I remember how to do this, it’s ok.”
SAM: Yeah I think a lot of my teammates definitely can do that. Air awareness is something that comes pretty naturally for me.
BLYTHE: Very cool. And at what age- you were in the gym from a pretty early age it seems like, and at what age did it start to become like, hey gymnastics can really take me places in terms of foreign travel and competing for the US team. When did you realize that?
SAM: I started getting really serious with gymnastics once I went to the optional level, which was at the time I think it was class 4 or something like that. And I guess I was pretty good at the basics and I did the compulsory routine where everyone did the same routine, I did good at that. But once it came optional level, that was when I found I had a lot more fun with gymnastics, I could take more risks, and I was probably about 10 years old when that transition happened.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And at the time, who were you looking up to? Did you get to know the guys on the senior men’s team who you know you were competing against for Olympic spots last year, and whose gymnastics did you admire? Did you feel like you had a role model?
SAM: Well I mean I guess Paul Hamm and Alexei Nemov are my two big childhood role models. But I think at the time when I was in the junior Pan American stage, I felt like all the guys that, looking into the 2012 Olympics, all the guys I was competing against, we were all essentially the same age and I didn’t really have anyone looking up to, I was more just people I was trying to reach the goals they were trying to reach. I think Glen Ishino is probably my biggest role model as a teammate. When I was in the club gym, he was one of the older kids that had National dreams. He was always pushing for the next level and made me work harder. And I think it was just me trying to be the best and having him be better than me always kept pushing me to be better.
BLYTHE: I see. And John Orozco too. You guys came up through the junior national rankings together, and I want to say that John won three in a row, the all-around title.
BLYTHE: And you were second each year. Did that get to you? Like, “God I just want to beat him,” you know?
SAM: I mean I did- there was a lot of times where people- in the gym people would be like, “Yo, John’s sticking that dismount,” or something like that. But I mean it was all friendly, that’s the thing. As much as I really wanted to beat John, I mean I was going to do everything I could and he was going to do everything he could and that’s the point. And we both made the Olympic team, and I definitely think that somewhat of a friendly rivalry that we had in the JO system played out well for our future.
BLYTHE: Yeah and it’s interesting how that can fester because I want to say it was as early as 2007 you guys were going at each other in the junior national ranks. And five years later you’re in London together and that’s kind of awesome.
BLYTHE: Now talk to me a little bit about 2011, because that seemed like a bit of a- it’s a pivotal year for you in a whole bunch of different ways. In 2010, you on the junior national title. And then the next year you were a senior and people started kind of saying, “Hey he’s an up and comer, maybe he could make the Olympic team.” Was that in your head at the time as you were going through that?
SAM: It was in my head but it wasn’t my top priority or thought process at the time. I guess that was also my first year of college so there was a lot of transitioning going on in my life. It wasn’t until after my freshman year of college that I like really made a jump for that [inaudible]. It definitely wasn’t something that I wrote off.
BLYTHE: I see. And 2011 was also your first- you know, the first time you were really getting international exposure as a senior, and you went to the Puerto Rico Cup and you came back with- well can you just sort of take us through that and that experience and the injury and everything you went through after that?
SAM: Yeah, well that was right after I won NCAAs, the individual all-around. And my routines were a little weak at the time, it definitely wasn’t [inaudible] level caliber, so we had just upgraded pretty much every one of my routines about a one or two [inaudible] after NCAAs going into the Puerto Rico Cup. There was a lot of risks I was taking going into this competition. But the first event we started on was floor, and I put in a triple double which was the big upgrade. So I competed that totally fine, landed it, went through my whole routine like it was a breeze. Floor’s always been one event that just comes naturally. Then I went to do my dismount and I buckled weird or something. I don’t know, I wish I could see the tape or something of it. But just landed short and I could feel both my ankles get real tight. And everyone in the stands said they could hear a crack. So I just set back, saluted, then went to the trainers table. They said, “Oh yeah, I think you just banged your ankles together and they’re bruised.” Then I think we were on pommel horse when they gave me that talk. And I was like, “Well if they’re only bruised there’s no reason I can’t do pommel horse.” So they taped me up and we had to ice between rotations and with the exception of vault I finished out the competition. And the next day my dad came to Puerto Rico to visit and we got it x-rayed and found out that both of them were broken. So that was a big shocker.
BLYTHE: And you really had no idea? It was like, “Gee my ankles hurt.” And to find out they’re broken.
SAM: Yeah I mean I knew it was probably worse than my ankles being banged together, but I don’t know at the time it was kind of my first breakthrough international experience time where I knew it was crucial and competing for the USA was something I didn’t want to let go. Yeah I was able to do it and I pretty much had casts on my ankles and I was very confident that I wouldn’t be able to reinjure it. And we tested it out, I was able to do the landings, they said nothing worse happened to my ankles doing landings. So I pulled through alright. And it kind of gave me time after that once I was injured to train more rings and pommel horse. So that’s how it helped me become a better all-arounder.
BLYTHE: So when you’re in Puerto Rico, what’s your dad’s reaction to this injury? Was it like, “Wow my son is incredibly tough to break both his ankles and then be able to do the rest of the competition with the exception of vault”? Or was it, you know, what did he say to you after that?
SAM: Well my dad was actually trying to surprise me and show up to the Puerto Rico Cup. But he missed the first two events so he didn’t see floor or pommel horse. And then he saw me do rings and he saw me limping off and then I saw him in the crowd. And he was just like, he came down to the edge of the arena and was like, “Sam you really shouldn’t be walking like that, that does not look good.” And I mean I was just limping, I was probably six inch steps at a time. And he saw that I went through it and was like, “I can’t believe you were able to do a half in half out off high bar and stick your double pike off p-bars with two broken ankles. So I mean it’s really just kind of a cool story to tell now, but at the time I don’t know I guess just the mindset of “I’m going to finish this meet out for my country and make the best of this situation.” I mean if you have that kind of mindset, you’re going to do it.
BLYTHE: Yeah. You got some serious respect for doing that. You know so what did your parents think of you as a gymnast, having been gymnasts themselves? Sometimes you go through stuff and it’s not easy to live this life. And have they ever given you any advice? Have they ever said, you know, “Gee maybe you should stop if you want to?” When you think about your flesh and blood, your child, throwing a triple double on floor, I can imagine for a parent it’s kind of scary.
SAM: Oh I mean my parents were amazing like that though that was the thing. They didn’t want me to really do gymnastics because they knew all the injuries and all the time and effort that’s put into the sport. I mean they didn’t want me to do it but they wanted me to find my own path. So when I was younger I did soccer, baseball, basketball, then gymnastics. Then I just kind of dropped one after the other. And it came to the point where- my dad really wanted me to do baseball. That was- I felt like it came really naturally for me as well. In the end it came to choosing what I wanted to do, [inaudible] baseball or gymnastics, there’s just the challenge of gymnastics, how active you have to be all the time, where baseball is a little slower. And I always had a competitive edge, always wanted to [inaudible] as many [inaudible] as I possibly could. Competing on a baseball team, you only get to hit and catch a few times, so that just wasn’t enough.
BLYTHE: Understood. And let’s talk about London a little bit. But actually a question before that. You came to Nationals and the Olympic Trials, and you were so good on pommel horse. And that’s you know typically the event where if the Americans have a weak event, it’s usually that. At what point did you decide like, “Hey I’m going to really hone in on this event, work on this event, and maybe that’s going to be part of what earns me a ticket to London”?
SAM: Well it was after I broke my ankles that that kind of was more the reality that I saw. Because I predicted the team that we had [inaudible] right after I broke my ankles I knew John and Danell were pretty much shoo-ins. Oh and Horton. So that was somewhat, he was also somewhat on my mind. Then it was like ok what kind of spots do we have left. And obviously I thought Jake was going to [inaudible]. And it was either Jake or Steve for their floor, vault, and I thought Jake had an edge with rings. And I was going to beat Jake out or Alex by doing pommel horse, rings- or sorry, pommel horse, vault, floor. So it was just that whole thought process of who is going to be the competition, who am I going to have to work really hard to beat out on this event, and what will I have to do in order to be better than them. And I guess after I broke my ankles it was just like alright now I have time to do ring strength, do more pommel circles, fix all some of my basics and be able to put up bigger pommel scores so I could be a competitor even Alex.
BLYTHE: So really in some ways would you say it was a blessing in disguise because it gave you the impetus to work that event?
SAM: It is. I mean as much as I really like to be healthy 24/7 it definitely made me a better all-around gymnast and gave me time to focus on my weaknesses. I know a lot of- it’s hard to do for a lot of athletes, but you’ve got nothing else to do and you’ve got the energy of a gymnast, you’re going to spend it on the one area. Just thankfully it was pommel horse and rings.
BLYTHE: Now and ok so fast forward to the first night of Olympic Trials. It’s great. You win the all-around and you sprain your ankle. And can you sort of just take us through that, and what was going through your head there with the Olympics so close and you doing so well but there’s this injury. Like how did you deal with that and how did the rest of the USA staff deal with that?
SAM: Well it started, I just landed my vault and I knew that I tweaked it a little bit, but I didn’t know how bad so I just put ice on it immediately and [inaudible]. And I did a bunch of interviews and was like, “Oh yeah it should be fine for tomorrow.” And before going to bed I was just like praying that- because I had no discoloration really at the time, it wasn’t that swollen. So I was just praying that I’d wake up the next morning and it would be 100% better. Then I remember I slept pretty well, but as soon as I woke up I could feel the pressure, threw the covers off, it was black and blue and completely swollen. So I guess staff, they all said that maybe I could just get a shot, that would bring down the swelling, tape it up real good, and pretty much do what I did in Puerto Rico. But eventually what they came to terms with was I shouldn’t risk getting hurt even more because the Olympics. If they wanted me on the team, they would’ve put me on the team, I didn’t need to prove myself anymore. But if they made me go and compete the second day of trials and I could hurt even more then they chose me for the team but I couldn’t compete because I was too injured from that second day. That’s just way too much of a risk. And so if I could keep this injury under control for the next few weeks, I should be healthy enough for the Olympics.
BLYTHE: Must have been a huge relief to have that team announcement and be like, “Ok, now I have the time to take care of what I need to take care of.”
SAM: Oh there are so many people that just jumped up to help. So many doctors that were just like, “Hey, this is the treatment I want to do to help you guys out. Like laser stuff, we’re going to zap all the swelling and all the tissue damage, and we’ll get you right back in there.” It was just- I think the recovery process happened way faster than I ever thought it would.
BLYTHE: And when you broke your ankles in Puerto Rico, how long did it take you to get back to doing everything that you were doing in the gym after that?
SAM: Well let’s see. I broke it in July and I think it wasn’t until the beginning of December I started getting back into it. But in a way it was too soon. I kept having pain throughout the whole year because I rushed the process too much. In a way, it was kinda my fault but I was just way too eager.
BLYTHE: Are you still like that or has you know, I don’t want to say age because you’re not old at all but do you feel wiser about things like taking care of your body and resting and things like that. Do you feel that more now?
SAM: Well unfortunately, I had another injury where it put me out. In October, I tore my calf and part of my gastroc so it did kind of teach me in that way of to wait until I’m fully recovered. I’ll tell you I was definitely tempted to do things I wasn’t allowed to but my trainers kept me in line and my dad would always tell me everything I shouldn’t do. They put me in a cast extra long to make sure I waited until everything felt okay. There’s just a whole bunch of steps that maybe everybody goes through so that I wasn’t rushing it and I would heal properly. I definitely didn’t rush it this time and hopefully I can learn to have a little more control. Hopefully I won’t have any injuries at all. I’ll think I’ll be better and wiser in my choices.
BLYTHE: Well we hope that you stay healthy for the next four years and beyond. So you guys finally made it to London and if you could sum up your Olympic experience in one word or one sentence, what would you say?
SAM: Extraordinary. That’s definitely the one word. Something that every kid really dreams of their whole life. When you get on that plane ride with the whole team and you step off the plane and see all these people with cameras watching all the different athletes and going to the Olympic Village and finally put all your stuff in the room and I was with John Orozco and we just looked at each other and we’re like oh my God this is actually happening. We are actually here right now. Everything just felt like such a high. We all understood what was going on but we relive those moments in our head so well right now. It’s something that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
BLYTHE: And what about Team USA’s performance in London?
SAM: Well I mean the first day was phenomenal. That was one of the best competitions I think I’ve ever been part of. And second day, nerves can just really get to you. It’s just something that, you know we all make mistakes. It happens. But if anything, it just makes us hungry for the 2016 Olympics. We’re a young team. We’re all getting wiser. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put on a gold medal performance in a couple more years.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And did you take any time off after the Olympics? How was that, going from this whole Olympic experience in London and going back to Michigan and preparing for the NCAA season and everything? How did you manage to balance that?
SAM: Well after the Olympics, I took a month off. I stayed at home, went back to California, had some fun, hung out with some high school friends that I hadn’t seen for a while but then after that, I was pretty eager to get back in the gym and start learning some new tricks for the upcoming season. I came down with an injury but was able to work more rings and pommel horse. The rings have actually gotten a lot better than the previous year I got injured so looking forward to upgrading a little bit more there. Other than that, it was just more team bonding here at Michigan, getting ready for, we’d just won the national championship. I guess that’s where I put all my energy after the Olympic Games.
BLYTHE: Gotcha. And were you tempted at all to go professional like the other guys on the US team did?
SAM: I mean there was definitely temptation to do it but being at Michigan and seeing how much they do for me and the team that has helped me reach the Olympics. It’s not the people that I would want to say hey guys I wanna take the money instead of training with you guys for the next three years. I just felt like I couldn’t resist with me being so young. Jake being a senior, it’s fully understandable. He made more money than his tuition would cost. For me, I was just a little too young. I want to win a national championship.
BLYTHE: Yeah and you guys have done that and that’s amazing. Did you have the opportunity to go on the post Olympic tour? I think you can do it even without being professional and just go and relive that experience as well.
SAM: Yeah they came by Detroit and I got to hang out with all of them. It’s definitely a hectic lifestyle being on the road that much. But it looked like a lot of fun. They all became best of friends doing the tour so I was upset I couldn’t share some of those moments with them. But in a few years, hopefully I’ll be able to take up the lifestyle that they live and be able to have just as much fun as they did.
BLYTHE: And where are you right now? What’s the plan for the rest of the year? Are you thinking about worlds, nationals? Are you training sort of full speed ahead for that?
SAM: Yeah right now I’m trying to take a little break after NCAAs. My body needs to recover just a little bit more. Starting this week, it’s going to be hardcore training and next week, we have the national team camp and in the middle of June, I’m going to a competition in Portugal. I don’t know the format of it, if it’s a World Cup event or something or the sort. The opportunity to go to Portugal was something I wanted to cash in on. Then after that, we’ve got the Visa Championships and I definitely strive to make the world team.
BLYTHE: Excellent! And what do you feel like your role is on the senior international team right now? As a guy who’s been to the Olympics and back, do you see yourself as a leader?
SAM: Well what’s funny about that is I don’t know. All these people that still are on the senior team, a lot of them are just a lot older than me. So I don’t know if I see myself as a leader, maybe to the young ones that just recently joined, but to the senior international team, I don’t know. I haven’t been to a camp with them yet but I definitely see myself having a lot of leadership skills but no. Not until it comes down to the time that I need to use them that leaders are born.
UNCLE TIM: So both of your parents competed for Cal? Why did you end up going to Michigan rather than Cal?
SAM: When I came to my recruiting trip at Michigan, there was just a sense of that I was home. The gymnastics coaching staff was very friendly. The gym was so nice, good academics. It was also part that my teammate at the time, Jordan Gaarenstroom came with me on my recruiting trip. He didn’t come with me on my recruiting trip to Berkeley. I wasn’t really being considered by them, so once he [inaudible] that Michigan was probably his best choice. I figured why would I want to leave my best friend and go somewhere else when we can go together and have the time of our lives? I think that was the biggest difference when it came to my college selection.
UNCLE TIM: The Michigan guys are kind of known for their crazy YouTube videos. This year, you guys did the Harlem Shake and in the past you’ve had some great videos as well. Who’s the creative mind behind those videos?
SAM: The Harlem Shake video was our teammate Paul Rizkalla and he was the one in the gorilla suit at the time. The other videos are all Adrian de los Angeles, the other national team member here at Michigan. We just pretty much had a good time. When they’re on camera, he just kind of let people show their true selves and everyone can just have a good laugh. Adrian is the one who can really bring that out in everybody.
UNCLE TIM: That’s interesting because Adrian’s also kind of a quiet person when you’re doing interviews with him. So it’s good to see that he’s got a silly side to him as well.
SAM: He’s got a big shell but once you break through it, he’s quite an entertaining person.
UNCLE TIM: The other night, I saw that you and your teammates were making a McDonald’s run. Could you tell us how often you end up eating at McDonald’s and did your coach know about it?
SAM: I never make McDonald’s runs. That’s why it’s somewhat of a memorable moment. Our coach is cool with us making McDonald’s runs after season, that’s for sure. As long as we’re getting to the gym on time and we’re in shape for it, our coaches shouldn’t mind too much. They’re not too strict on our diet. We try to eat well.
UNCLE TIM: And earlier you were talking a little bit about rings and how you’re getting stronger on that event. What can we look forward to you doing on rings this year?
SAM: In the past, I used to do a Maltese and then I’d fall through it. I’d never actually hold it. This year, I put in two Malteses and I hold them both. I can do a cross. However, I’m still figuring out how to do a Nakayama or an Azaryan. I’m like two years in the process but hopefully, I’ll be getting that down really soon because I can hold a cross for days. It’s just getting to it with a D value or higher is my biggest….hopefully in the next year you will be able to see me do a Nakayama or an Azaryan?
UNCLE TIM: And what about the other events? Will there be any upgrades on those events?
SAM: Parallel bars, I’m learning a peach half. I’ve got that one down alright. I need to get a few more in the bag. On the high bar, I’m learning a Cassina. I still haven’t done a set with it in yet, but definitely in the works. And then, the biggest stretch is on pommel horse, a full swindle. If I could get all those in, it’d be a very big upgrade so I wanna get that.
UNCLE TIM: Ok and will we be seeing your triple on vault again?
SAM: Oh yeah. I’m working that and a handspring. I’m trying to push the envelope a little bit more. Yeah I gotta get the two vaults in there. I think it’s been going pretty well lately. I mean a chucked a few 3.5s in the pit [inaudible]. It didn’t go quite as well as it did for him.
UNCLE TIM: Wow, well we definitely look forward to seeing all of that at nationals or maybe in Portugal even sooner. And in the past, you were working on a Tkatchev over the bar into a front somersault. Have you been working on that at all lately?
SAM: No I haven’t tried to throw that one yet. It’s a pretty dangerous skill. The reason I stopped doing it before was because I banged my ankle on the bar and it got totally split open so that kind of put an end to it. It’s so hard to keep such a wide straddle when you’re flipping that direction and your feet just kind of want to come in between your hands and I smacked the bar. I don’t know. I might try it one day for the fun of it. Because all my teammates bring it up too but maybe we’ll see a video in the near future when I get to to do it.
UNCLE TIM: Alright. On a more personal note, can you tell our listeners what your major is?
SAM: Oh yeah. I’m a psychology major.
UNCLE TIM: And what do you hope to do with your psychology major?
SAM: Well mainly, so I have a degree in…..I don’t know. My mom said I could maybe be a pretty good sports psychologist. I don’t know if that’s the passion I really want to go about. Maybe down the road, I’ll see that as more of something I’d enjoy but right now, I’m just going for gymnastics and I’ll see how far that can take me. I think the reason I chose psychology was learning how to control my mind when it comes to those high pressure situations. It really has taught me a lot and has paid off.
UNCLE TIM: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your psychology classes or what have you been able to apply from your psychology classes to your gymnastics?
SAM: I guess one quote that really kind of sticks to heart with me is “90% of what you worry about never happens.” I guess what I take away from that is everybody talks to themselves in the situation and has this negative mindset and puts all these negative thoughts into their head. But in reality, everything that you are scared of or worried about really doesn’t ever happen if only you just didn’t get so worked up about it. The thought that you need to stop worrying about it and go and do it. Be confident. Have fun and be happy. Bad things will happen only when you think about it, does it actually happen.
UNCLE TIM: I like that. I think it’s applicable to more than just gymnastics and definitely a lot of our youth listeners can take that to heart. Speaking of our listeners, whenever we have a guest on our show we ask them if they have any questions. Since we announced that you, Sam Mikulak, would be our next interviewee, we’ve had lots of listeners requesting that we ask you everything from “Is he single?” to “Will he marry me?” So the first question is, the million dollar question is are you single?
SAM: I am currently in a relationship with Michelle Roberts who is on the Michigan field hockey team.
UNCLE TIM: Awww. So that’ll hurt a lot of our listeners. So what’s it like to have women and men throwing themselves at you?
SAM: It’s definitely very flattering. I love all the fans that would tweet at me during the whole Olympic process. Feeling all the love from everybody, there’s so much that I wish I could do to get back to everybody. Obviously there’s only retweets and quotes that I can do but it’s such an exciting time in my life. As much as I love hanging out with everybody in the world, there is only so much I really can do.
UNCLE TIM: And to conclude, I’m going to ask you some questions from our listeners. Two quick questions. Emma from Twitter, she wants to know what is your craziest Olympic story? It can be gymnastics related or not.
SAM: My craziest Olympic experience? I think probably the most fun that I was having was in the training room. It was all the way up on the 7th floor or something of the Olympic Village. There was a bunch of people going around and I’m a goofball at times and I had my shades on and I think I was wearing a speedo. I just started dancing up on the balcony of the training room. It was just a silly moment. Yeah I think that was probably it.
UNCLE TIM: Alright well that sounds like fun. And the other question from one of our listeners is from Angie from Twitter. She wants to know how you felt while you were watching the Fierce Five win and she wanted to know whether the men were treated differently by other competitors or the press once the girls won?
SAM: Well, I’ll start by saying that most of the guys on the Olympic team were shocked by how much press we actually got during the Olympics so our minds were already blown by what we were getting. Then watching the girls, they just did so well. Knowing them for as long as we have, we were so proud of them for coming back with all that hardware. Yeah they definitely got way more press but it was well deserved.
UNCLE TIM: A question that we often ask our male guests is what do you think needs to be done to make men’s gymnastics more popular at least in the United States?
SAM: What would make it more popular? This is something I’ve really thought too much about. In the NCAA, we’ve been trying a lot of new things to get people to come to the college competitions where everyone has a match point style of competition. I haven’t really fully bought on to it. I think the only thing that’s really going to get more people to show up to men’s gymnastics competitions is the more difficulty we have, the more exciting we make it. That’s something you want to see when you come to a competition. How insane our sport really is, people flipping around, flying around on the high bar, catching back on after doing a couple flips. It’s something people can’t really wrap their mind around. I think that’s the only thing that can really draw people in that have no gymnastics experience.
UNCLE TIM: Can you tell us the coolest thing a fan has ever done for you?
SAM: The coolest thing a fan has ever done for me…..I think probably the coolest thing was after one of my competitions, this little 6 year old boy came up to me and he had a picture from the previous meet that we had that he took of me and him together and he signed it and just said Sam I like you. You’re a great gymnast. Here’s this picture I want to give to you. So I have that hanging up on my wall. That kid was so awesome. He told me that I inspired him to continue doing gymnastics. It was just something that really touched my heart because the one thing that I want to do as a gymnast is to inspire others to keep going. There’s so many struggles that people have gone through in this sport and it’s so easy just to give up but the Olympic motto was inspire a generation so I want to try to live up to that as much as I possibly can.
UNCLE TIM: And were there ever times in your gymnastics career where you kind of wanted to give up?
SAM: Oh there definitely were. It’d be from three injuries that I’ve ever had to the frustration of not being able to do a skill or the slump you get when you have a bad competition. But if you keep going through it every day and keep a positive mindset, you have other things than gymnastics to think about. Going to school, going to class, friends hobbies to keep your mind off all the bad things. Use your friends and family that’s closest to you to get yourself back in the game and keep living a happy life.
UNCLE TIM: And you were talking a little bit earlier about how you wanted to inspire another generation of gymnasts. Do you have any tips for the youngsters out there?
SAM: Point the toes. That’s pretty much it. I think that something that we do here at Michigan that stands out from other schools that we just really focus on form and bringing the artistic look and really having the passion that you are going to do the best performance of your life when you go to compete. Hanging out and meeting friends, just make sure you’re having the best experience of your life. That’s what gymnastics really is.
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JESSICA: We have a very special guest with us today. We have Scott Bregman. It’s not Breggerman you guys. God, it’s so annoying when people add syllables to your name. It’s Bregman. Thank you very much. Communications manager for USA Gymnastics. Thank you for being here with us today. Thank you so much for being on the show. Can you tell people a little bit about your gymnastics background?
SCOTT: Yeah thanks so much for having me on. I’m excited to kind of talk about some men’s gymnastics here. I started gymnastics when I was either 6 or 7. I was at Lawrence Gymnastics Academy. I was lucky enough once I graduated high school to join the University of Michigan men’s gymnastics team which was basically the best thing I’ve ever done. That’s it in a nutshell.
JESSICA: Awesome. And what do you do at USA Gymnastics and how long have you been there?
SCOTT: Oh gosh, a whole host of things. Communications manager is pretty vague I suppose but I started in July of 2011. So coming up on two years. My primary responsibility has been social media. So that’s our Twitter and our Facebook and obviously one of the more popular things I’ve been in charge of has been bolstering our Youtube content.
SCOTT: That kind of started back in 2011. It was me and a tiny camera and a monopod running around the junior women’s session and the junior men’s session at our Visa Championships and it’s kind of grown from there. We’ve filmed some stuff from camp last year that I was really excited about and the first clip of Nastia up on beam, a quick ariel front walk over and flip flop layout and Onodi sequence. And then we kind of did complete coverage. Every routine was posted from the Visa Championships last year in St. Louis. And our biggest most recent milestone was some live streaming this year at the AT&T American Cup, both men’s and women’s podium training and the first 90 minutes of competition which wasn’t aired on NBC. So that’s sort of what I do and I think it’s been really exciting. I remember when I got the job, I told people, I think I can do this job because I’ve been trying to follow gymnastics on the internet since I was 12 years old. So to now be helping fans do that is really really fun and a great honor.
JESSICA: And you’re doing a freaking awesome job can we just say? We’ve said it several times on the show. We can just tell the difference especially when we got to the American Cup and we were like what? We get to see the beginning of the meet before it’s on TV. This is the greatest thing ever! So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
SCOTT: The American Cup was a lot of fun. It was the first meet where I went to. Kent Koven is our Director of New Media and he helped me out with a lot of these things and listened to me bug them about….did he ask if we could do this yet? It was kind of the first thing I said to him. I think that’s it. I don’t know if I would add anything else to an event so I was really proud of that whole competition and how we covered it.
JESSICA: Yes it was awesome. And we have something really special planned, a contest, having to do with Scott’s job and what you guys want to see at meets. So stay tuned after we discuss men’s NCAA’s and we’ll give you full details on that. And so let’s talk about….Scott, you were at men’s NCAA’s. So I’m going to hand it over to Uncle Tim now and you guys can get into your men’s gymnastics nerddom. Go for it.
UNCLE TIM: Alright so it’s time to nerd out Scott. We have to get rid of some of the basic information to our listeners. So in the first qualifying session, wait do you call them qualifying sessions or do you call them semi finals as they do with the women?
SCOTT: You know, I think they’re called qualifying sessions because it’s a little different format from the women and technically Friday’s competition was not the NCAA championships, it’s the national qualifier. Because there’s so few teams, it’s a little bit of a different format.
UNCLE TIM: No one really expected Iowa to make it out of the qualifying session. Most people thought it would either be Ohio State or Cal rounding out the top three. And Iowa hadn’t made it to the Super Six since 2006. So what happened to Cal and Ohio State and what kind of helped Iowa make it to the finals?
SCOTT: Yeah it was unfortunate. Ohio State came in as the fifth ranked team and they just had a really off day. They are also the only ones dealing with a lot of injuries. Kris Done is one of their best gymnasts. And I’m not sure if he tore his ACL but he had an ACL injury at the Michigan meet in the middle of February so they’re without him. And Jake Martin is also out and he’s a former junior national team member, I think maybe a former junior national champion. And they’ll get Sean Melton next year as a freshman. So I think they’ll have a much much better year. But like I said, they just had a really rough outing. And with that 5 up 5 count format, you can’t really afford that. I kind of looked at their national averages the other day, and they were below those averages on every event except for rings. And they were four points under their high bar average and had to count three scores under 13.4. So it’s just like I said, a really rough go. I don’t think anything necessarily happened to Berkeley, I think, to not qualify. They were actually ranked under Iowa coming in and they both performed pretty close to their national average and it was going to be close. You could kind of tell that coming down the stretch, coming in to the last rotation. I don’t know if people know, but at the end of the meet, Iowa had done it and had advanced and it looked like they were the top. And Berkeley petitioned the score and moved it into to a tie. And of course, no one knew what the tie breaker was. I later found out it was the national qualifying score which would have given it to Iowa but then Iowa petitioned one of their scores and there hadn’t been a stick bonus awarded and they got it outright. And it was a whole sort of confusing mess but in the end, it was so exciting to watch Iowa advance. They were freaking out. They were so happy. And it definitely speaks a lot to JD Reive, this being his third or fourth year and what he’s been able to do with the program that like you said, had not advanced since the 2006 season. He turned it around in a really really short time so that’s exciting to see that.
JESSICA: Can you tell us about the stick bonus because I never knew there was a stick bonus in men’s and there should totally be one in women’s. Hello? There obviously is one. It’s just an unwritten rule. Is it all season or is it just for qualifying? Just for postseason? How does it work?
SCOTT: Yeah I actually didn’t know about it until I got to the meet and we were talking about it in the press conference after the meet. It was throughout all of the NCAA championships. I know that for sure. You get two tenths if you stick a D dismount and one tenth if you stick a C dismount. And Justin Spring is the one we asked about it and he said it was kind of put in place to obviously reward a stick but to bring the scores up a little bit for the audience who closely identifies with a stuck landing. And it’s just another way of trying to make it a little bit easier to understand what’s happening. And it makes a difference, especially in the team final which we’re going to talk about for Oklahoma. They were sticking a lot of landings and it brought them up a lot.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And to transition that into finals, the top six teams, well the top three from each session qualified. So Illinois, Michigan, and Oklahoma from the first qualifier, Iowa, Penn State, and Stanford from the second qualifier. The final scores for the team final were Michigan with a 443.2, Oklahoma with a 440.1, and Stanford with a 436.15. Those were the top three. And why don’t you tell us a little bit about Oklahoma and their stick bonus.
SCOTT: Yeah they were ten points behind Michigan in the qualifying session and so it was kind of a shock to see them as close as they were but I swear to you, every time I looked up and over to them, they were sticking dismounts. I saw a lot of sticks on rings. I think I saw four or even five (inaudible) on high bar and p bars. And that can make a huge difference if you’re not taking a step, that automatically takes you back a tenth plus two more. So it can be a three tenth or more swing on each routine times four or five in a lineup and be a huge huge boost for them. That really kept them up there with Michigan which made for an exciting competition.
UNCLE TIM: And so your alma mater won the meet. What was Michigan’s secret to kicking so much gluteus maximus?
SCOTT: You know, I wish there was a secret that we had. You know I just think, you’ve obviously got Sam Mikulak and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s the best gymnast in the NCAA right now. He’s a 2012 Olympian. And Adrian de los Angeles is right behind him. And you also have Syque Caesar who is an Olympian for Bangladesh and he was an All American. He had top four finishes on floor, p bars, and high bar. And Stacey Ervin, who’s obviously crazy good on floor and vault and great no parallel bars. If they were going to add one or two guys into the national team at some point at the Winter Cup, he would have been right there. And then Rohan Sebastian is another senior for them. So they’ve got a really strong group of like four or five athletes and that’s the lineup for them on a lot of events, or more than half the lineup. So I think it creates a lot of competition in their gym and that really elevates them every day. And then I think Kurt Golder, who’s their head coach, he obviously gets a lot of the credit. But I was talking to him after the meet and he was talking about some decisions that he made with some of his athletes. You know, Sam was coming back from,, he tore a muscle in his calf in the fall and he’s coming back from that. It seemed like every time they were ready to go with him, he’s going to be in the all around, then something would happen like a slight injury. Just something would just keep him out and it was something that they could have pushed through. But they really wanted to be careful to make sure he was ready for postseason. And Kurt said it was tough because they had to pull him out of some events where maybe he could’ve helped them beat a team and win a duel meet but they were looking past that and looking towards the postseason and obviously it paid off. The last secret is I think they were just so consistent. I think they missed maybe two or three routines over the course of Friday and Saturday. And it was a bold move. They started out on pommel horse and Kurt’s kind of sentimental about it because that’s the event they started on when he won his first national title in 1999. But it’s also the event that they started on at Big Tens a couple weeks ago. And I have to give a big shout out to freshman Nolan Novak who was their leadoff both days and I think at Big Tens. And he it both days and that got them off to a great start and once they hit five routines on pommel, I don’t think that there was any way that they were going to stop on that momentum. It was just such a sigh of relief. It’s kind of like getting past balance beam. And it just set them off for the rest of the meet.
UNCLE TIM: K, and do you also think that part of Michigan’s success can be attributed to the fact that they have a lot of fun in the gym? I’m just thinking of, you know, they were one of the teams to do the Harlem shake, although Nebraska’s got more attention through Perez Hilton. But it just seems like they also, while they’re competitive as you said, they also have this very fun side to them, and don’t take gymnastics too seriously all the time.
SCOTT: Yeah, no I definitely think that’s a factor. I think obviously there’s great chemistry there. I think they won an award this year for team chemistry. I think another factor is the disappointment last year. They actually won their qualifying session last year as well, and they finished in sixth place in the team final, and they were really disappointed with that. I kind of actually asked Sam this in the press conference because I kept looking over at them after each routine, and the team, I mean they were cheering, but they weren’t going crazy in the way like, maybe some of the teams I have been on were. And Sam said, “We weren’t done. We were very focused on what we came to do”, and it’s very cliché but they were very business-like. They had a goal and they went out there and seemed very calm and they achieved it. So I think that was another factor as well.
UNCLE TIM: Ok, and throughout the season Penn State was kind of the favorite. They were ranked number one for a long time. How did they end up fourth in the team final?
SCOTT: You know, I totally thought they were going to be the ones to beat, they’ve been ranked so high. I think they were number one from start to finish. They were hosting, Rec Hall is an incredible facility to compete in and they always have so many fans, and it’s so loud and such a great venue. It was that new team format where you can’t drop a score. I think we’re going to talk a little more in depth about it in a moment, but I think it was really get away from you if you start to have mistakes. And unfortunately they had a fall on the first three events, parallel bars, high bar, and floor, and that kind of took them out of it early. And then in the last rotation they looked like they might be third, but I think they had two falls on vault. So, it’s just too many mistakes and it’s a very pressure packed situation, especially without that room for error. But I have to say though, I was really, really impressed with Mackenzie Dow who I think leads off for them on three of four events. He definitely leads off on p-bars, high bar, and pommel horse; I think maybe it’s four. But he’s so solid and I didn’t see him miss a routine the whole weekend. His high bar routine is incredible, he’s the first guy up, all scores are counting, and he throws a Kovacs, a Kolman, and a layout Kovacs, and he did it both days. I was really sad he didn’t advance to the finals, because if there was another person that threw two Kovacs in the same – or two variations of a Kovacs in the same routine, I don’t know who it was. And with all of that pressure it was sad not to see it rewarded, but…
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, I was kind of surprised. Did anyone – no one ended up throwing a Kovacs, or a Kolman, or any variation of a Kovacs, in the high bar final did they?
SCOTT: Um, you know, I think Sam who won that final was the only one.
UNCLE TIM: Oh, yeah!
SCOTT: He does a Kolman. But other than that I don’t think that there was. There were a lot of Tkatchev half’s, and Yamawaki half’s. Which I was thinking about this the other day, it’s like a skill that the first time you see it you’re like, “Wow, that is so cool!” and then after you’ve seen every routine have three of them, I was a little less thrilled to see them, to be honest.
UNCLE TIM: It’s true. And then you have people who don’t turn quite enough, and whether they should get credit for the skill is questionable. I don’t know. It’s not my favorite release. And there was a lot of it during the European Championships as well. So anyway, are you a fan of the five up, five count system?
SCOTT: You know, I think I am. It definitely makes things a lot more exciting. I was talking to one of the Michigan parents, the mom of one of the athletes, and she was like, “I can’t take it! I can’t take it!” and I get that, I felt the same way. But we – Dwight Normile from International Gymnast was in the press conferences too, and we were kind of asking, I didn’t make it to the second session press conference, but after the first day we were in there for when Kurt Golder, Mark Williams, and Justin Spring were in there and we asked them about it. And they were all fans of the format. I think Mark even admitted that under the old format, which was six athletes would compete and you’d count the top four, so a lot of room for error, two scores you can throw out. After a performance that Michigan had given Mark said that in the past it would kind of feel like no one could beat them because there was so much room for error. But with the five up, five count it could come down to the last routine, and I love that. And Mark said that that was definitely one of the big perks, and Justin Spring kind of echoed those thoughts. Kurt said that he also was a fan of it because it makes it exciting and more interesting, but kind of talked about he had issues with the fact that it makes less opportunity for an athlete. He gave the example of some guy is on the team who will forever have to say, “Yeah, I was on that team” as opposed to, “I competed for that team”. We asked them why they didn’t [inaudible] for a six up, six count, and they thought that that just might be too hard for some of the less deep teams, and just erase all of the parity and make the really top teams just be so far that it would kind of take away that element of it coming down to the last routine. But I think overall I like it. I was really happy to learn that there is a provision for if something catastrophic happens. So, if an athlete is out on the floor and they’re hurt to the point where they can’t finish the routine, it doesn’t automatically – you know, you don’t take an eight and drop down to sixth place and never be able to recover from it; you can actually substitute an athlete. The only issue is that that routine receives a one point deduction, and I sort of have an issue with that because I think it should come off of the team total.
UNCLE TIM: Mm-hmm.
SCOTT: So it’s like if I were to sub in for someone and score a 15.2 at the NCAAs on an event, I couldn’t probably qualify to the final even though I just saved the day for my team, because I took a one point deduction to compete that routine. So, I think it should probably come off as a neutral deduction to the team total, but it’s not for me to decide that stuff.
JESSICA: It’s really interesting that… I like this idea a lot. And actually I think it can create, just like they’re saying, it can create more parity, and I think that’s so important. I think men’s gymnastics has that advantage over women’s gymnastics. And so this year we had Florida win, they had three falls and they won. They only had to count one fall because we have the six up, five count format. So, I think this could make it more interesting and give more opportunities for other teams if the women were to adopt this, and I think it makes it more exciting to see who you are going to put up. And you know the other thing about saying, “Well this person was on the team, but they didn’t compete.” So they’re National Champion, are they really National Champion they didn’t compete? We don’t say that about a football team. We don’t say like, “Oh, so-and-so from…” who ever won, Baltimore this year? “He’s not really a Super Bowl Champion, because he was on the team but he didn’t actually play.” It’s interesting how we don’t compare ourselves. Like other sports, they don’t take that into account, but for gymnastics we’re very protective over who actually competed, and I just think we need to adopt more of a team spirit and that’s what NCAA is all about. And the other thing is the 20 – ok, so I was looking at how Illinois did, so their final score was like 21 points below Michigan, and I was like man, you guys use the elite scoring, and it’s crazy because you have these giant – I mean a 21 point difference! That would be unheard of in women’s. And then I was thinking, well if they had CJ Maestas – this whole way the scoring works, it makes one person so important, or it can make one person so important. So if you’re thinking if Illinois is counting like, 12s on each event, and if they had Maestas instead, he could be scoring a 15 or a 16 that could be the 21 points right there, 20 points right there. It’s interesting how in men’s one person can make such a huge difference, and look at what Mikulak did for Michigan, not that they’re not, I mean, Michigan is bad ass. I don’t mean to disparage your team or anything, Scott. But also, Oklahoma lost Dalton this year, right? Dalton’s from Oklahoma, right?
UNCLE TIM: Right.
JESSICA: Yeah, because he chose to do the tour and get himself some money in the bank for when he graduates, so he gave up his eligibility. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s interesting how I’m thinking here, “Oh, my god, one person can make such a huge difference.” But then again Oklahoma came in second even though they lost arguably one of their best all-arounders as well. But I would like to see the women adopt the five up, five count. I think its super exciting.
UNCLE TIM: The other thing that is determined on the second night of competition is the all-around, unlike the women who determine the all-around champion on the first night; the second night is the night for the men. And Sam Mikulak obviously won the all-around by quite a spread. For you, Scott, what were some of the highlights of this performance?
SCOTT: The highlight for me was his consistency over the whole championships. Of course that night he hit six for six, but over three days of competition back to back to back he hit 16 out of 16 routines, he did five in the qualifying round, six in the all-around and team finals, and then five again in the event finals, and he didn’t score lower than a 14.7 and that came on pommel horse in event finals. So he was just absolutely incredible. He said even looking back at Olympic Trials or some other meets that he had so much success last year, this is probably the best weekend of gymnastics for him ever. And it’s just so ridiculous because he’s only done all-around twice this season, so it’s kind of a strange season for him. Because of that he didn’t have a lot of time out there, but ended up obviously winning Nationals and Big Ten’s, so obviously a huge success. Everything he does seems to be so easy for him. His technique is pretty much flawless. I was listening to your recap of the Women’s NCAAs the other day, and I just feel like if I would have been mic’d up during maybe his parallel bar or high bar routine, especially in event finals, I may have been echoing Kathy Johnson Clarke.
SCOTT: I love his composition on parallel bars, it’s so dynamic and he never really stops. And then at the end he does a Stutz to a back tuck and that’s kind of the only above bar skill he does, you know he does that huge straddle front where he swings through and straight into a Moy. It just never stops and it’s so exciting. And then on high bar, he does a Kolman that I swear every time he catches it and swings out perfectly and his legs never come apart. It’s so beautiful to watch, it’s not quite Kohei Uchimura, but it’s like almost there, you can like see it, if he can continue to develop that. He has such virtuosity in so many things that he does and it’s so exciting.
UNCLE TIM: And how would you… would it be more like, “ooo-OOOOOh!”, or like an, “OOOO-ooooh!” the noise that you made?
SCOTT: I don’t want to do it without Spanny on the phone, but I’ll just let you leave that to your imagination.
UNCLE TIM: And while we’re talking about event finals, can you tell us about how qualifying for event finals work for the men, because it seems to be a little different from the women.
SCOTT: Yeah, and it’s just because the format is a little bit different. I guess I mentioned earlier that the first day is technically the National qualifier, and so that’s basically the equivalent of Regionals for the men. And so, it’s sort of a multi-step process and I hope I can explain it succinctly and in a way that’s understandable. On Friday, if you are a member of the top three teams you advance, obviously, from each session. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t – If you’re trying to make the floor final on Friday it doesn’t matter if you did floor. An instance of that is Sam Mikulak didn’t do rings on the first day, and if his team hadn’t advanced then he would not have been able to win the all-around title, but they obviously felt confident that they were going to advance and that they could rest him. But then they also take the top three individuals on each event and the all-around from each session who were not on a qualifying team, and those athletes then compete in the first two or three spots in the team final in each rotation. So then they take the results of everybody on Saturday, and the top ten athletes on each event advance to Sunday’s event finals, if that makes sense.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. Go ahead, Jess.
JESSICA: So even if you didn’t compete on the first day because you are with a team, you could make it as long as you compete on the second day, and as long as – even if your team didn’t make it, you’re still lumped into those because you don’t have to compete again on Saturday?
SCOTT: If you are not with a team, you could advance from Friday to Saturday, and then you have to compete again on Saturday and finish in the top ten.
JESSICA: Oh, so just by yourself, without your team, you just compete again?
SCOTT: Right, yep.
JESSICA: Oh, okay.
SCOTT: The first two or three people in each rotation on Saturday were individuals who weren’t from the team, and then the last five were from the team.
JESSICA: Interesting, and they compete them first instead of last like the women do. Mm-hmm.
SCOTT: Yeah, and I think it’s a good decision because it would have been a shame to see the last Michigan guy go and win the title, and then they’re like, “Well, now here comes an athlete from one of the other teams.” I think it takes the wind out of their sails a little bit.
JESSICA: Yeah, exactly! Yeah I totally agree, I think that’s way better. I’d like to point out here that the men are doing some of the things that we have suggested on this show and I think totally works so I’d just like to pat us on the back, once again. Okay, carry on.
UNCLE TIM: During the event finals, what were some of the highlights for you?
SCOTT: I already kind of touched on Sam who won two events, he was great. He actually won All-American on every event except for still rings, which is incredible. But you know on floor, Trevor Howard, I think he wanted a little bit of redemption for Penn State, and he came out and he stuck his big Arabian double layout, he stuck his dismount. You know I was little bit sad to see Eddie Penev, he’s an incredible tumbler obviously, he’s just wasn’t quite as sharp as I think we’ve seen in the past. Again, like I talked about with Adrian, he was coming on back to back days. And I know something Jess for sure wants to talk about is the fact that Stacey Ervin wasn’t in the floor finals.
SCOTT: It was heartbreaking! I’m not sure what happened. I think he was the anchor on floor for Michigan, and I think in a lot of ways there was no pressure and in a lot of ways there was a ton of pressure. And he just couldn’t quite settle the nerves, I think, and he made some uncharacteristic mistakes. He had two falls, he fell on an Arabian double layout, and then on another pass that escapes me at the moment. But, it was a big disappointment because he’s probably if not the best tumbler in the world, certainly in the NCAA.
JESSICA: Probably best in the world.
SCOTT: But I guess that’s not how we run the meets, I guess. You know?
JESSICA: Well, I’ve decided that he needs to moisturize his feet because I think that maybe has something to do with it. It just looked like they just slipped out from under him. And so I think that… or probably the carpet, there was something wrong with the carpet. That could have been it too, because there’s no way that that should have happened to him. Or maybe, I’m thinking a little bit of Tuff Skin on the bottom of his feet. I don’t know if that’s against the rules. But, I’m totally heartbroken and I just wanted to tell you Stacey that it doesn’t matter and everyone knows who should be at Worlds. And Penev cannot stick anything to save his life. Oh! There I said it. He’s very good with the twisty skills, but I mean, he can’t stick. So Stacey, I believe in you! Ok, carry on.
UNCLE TIM: Jess, would you like to give a Kathy Johnson moment to Stacey?
JESSICA: No, it has to be in the moment. I will record myself the next time I watch him. It may be a little bit obscene though. I don’t know if we’ll be able to run it! Ok.
UNCLE TIM: Alright. Um, are there any other highlights for you, Scott?
SCOTT: You know, there were highlights on every event. The event winners were so good, and it’s so nice for someone like a Michael Newburger, who only competes horse for Ohio State, to get that kind of showcase, he’s brilliant on there. And Michael Squires for OU who won rings, again only does rings for them, and he’s able to deliver under that pressure and win the title. And I was really impressed with Fred Hartville from Illinois who won the vault title, he stuck his Kasamatsu one and a half, it’s a big, big beautiful vault. And he actually stuck it at Big Ten’s to win, too.
JESSICA: He’s ridiculous with that vault. He’s amazing. Like it’s sick!
SCOTT: Yeah, I don’t know how he does it!
JESSICA: No! Who sticks that? Nobody sticks that! He’s incredible.
SCOTT: Yeah, exactly. He stuck it twice in event finals, so crazy, crazy and very talented, and can handle the pressure obviously.
UNCLE TIM: And one thing I noticed was that the gymnasts, especially on pommel horse, chalked their arm pits. Did you ever do that, Scott?
SCOTT: [LAUGHS] Um, you know, I didn’t. But that’s probably because I never did a skill that landed on the upper arms, like, that way. I guess on pommels it would help reduce the sweat friction or something?
UNCLE TIM: [LAUGHS]
SCOTT: …on pommels to have to worry about that!
UNCLE TIM: And I know that Jess has many thoughts about this next question, so this is going to end up being a discussion between you and Jess.
UNCLE TIM: Do you think that NCAA’s should combine the men’s and women’s championships?
SCOTT: Oh gosh, I hope that we agree on this because I am so happy that you are asking me this. I definitely, definitely, definitely do.
SCOTT: I don’t know if that’s good confirmation from Jess, but I’ve actually suggested it in a meeting that we had with the NCAA. I just think that it would really help out both. I think at the very least they need to be separate weekends, which next year they will be. I think the men’s are first and then the women’s are the next week. But I just think that you would add a day and you’d have Thursday as women’s as it stands now. And then Friday is the men’s team final, there’s no qualifying day you just take the top six teams by ranking, or however you want to do it. Then Saturday is the women’s team final. And then a combined event finals on Sunday, which is something that USA Gymnastics has done really successfully. We do both sets of equipment every year at the American Cup, and we did combined event finals at the Kellogg’s Pacific Rim Championships in Seattle. And it works really well; you set up the equipment while you’re giving the awards. So I think it could work, and I think it would be great because all of the media and all of the fans, they kind of overlap, so if you could put them together I think that it could be good for both. But I don’t want to get in a huge fight with Jess!
JESSICA: Well, I totally and completely agree with you, so you don’t have to worry about that! Oh, my god, and it used to be like that, they used to have them together. I mean, for other sports that have them together it’s so much fun! It is so super fun to have everybody together in the same place! And I feel like it would totally help men’s gymnastics. And I think why not, I just think it would be fantastic and it should totally be done. I’m glad that you brought it up. Yeah, I mean why not? It worked before, it can work again. And I feel like men’s gymnastics, I don’t understand. I know they went to the elite scoring, but then having championships in the middle of Penn State, it’s like ugh, it’s not like Georgia where you’re going to get a million people there, you know? I think they should totally be combined, I think it would be super fun.
SCOTT: I agree. I’m so glad that we’re on the same page.
JESSICA: Yes. So, what was the crowd like? Was it all parents or were there actual fans?
SCOTT: You know Penn State, I think I mentioned earlier, they always have a lot of fans. And unfortunately it was the same weekend as their blue and white scrimmage football game. I think that’s what [inaudible] down.
SCOTT: But they had a really sizeable – it was not just parents. It wasn’t as big as I was sort of expecting, they actually announced that Saturday had been sold out. I don’t want to accuse any Penn State students of anything, but I think they may have been in a state where going to another sporting event might not have been a possibility after the football game.
JESSICA: Earlier I mentioned that we were going to have a little contest. We want to encourage you guys to tell Scott what you want to see, and what the best way for him to give you what you want as a consumer of gymnastics and as a fan of gymnastics. So, we have partnered with our favorite t-shirt company, Cloud & Victory, once again. They are doing a poster giveaway. Scott is going to tell you a little about his dilemma and how you can help him solve it, and then we’ll give you the info on how to enter the contest. Ok Scott, tell them what you need.
SCOTT: Ok, so we know that one of the most popular things we did at the AT&T American Cup earlier this year was the live streaming of podium training, it’s something we want to continue to do because it’s so popular with the fans. The problem is that at the American Cup it was easy because all of the Americans rotate together. And I know that we got a little bit of flak for that because we didn’t show international athletes, but we are USA Gymnastics after all. So my question is, what do I show? How do I pick what to show during podium training, keeping in mind that it will most likely be just me and one camera? So those are the parameters.
JESSICA: Here is what we know about Scott, right? He’s a gymnastics fan. He knows what’s up. He’s already been giving us what we want, right? So he knows that the most exciting thing is probably going to be Maroney and Biles and if they’re going to do the triple, and if they warm it up. Ok, so that’s not the problem. He knows who the good gymnasts are, he knows what the crazy skills are, that’s not the problem. The problem is he’s one person with one camera and there’s four events and a whole bunch of gymnasts warming up at the same time. So what he needs are your genius solutions to how he, as a single human being with one camera, can give you what you need. So if you have ideas about a certain camera angle that he can use, or where he can stand so he can get vault and floor passes at the same time, or how he could get a new skill and the best bar workers, get the Wieber on bars and show you another event at the same time. That’s the kind of information he needs. So if you have a fantastic plan for how he, as a single person, can give you all the gymnastics you’ve always hoped for in podium training, this is the kind of email you need to send. Send us an email, title it Ideas for Scott Bregman, and we will pick the winner. Make sure you include your address, and your name, and the email, so that Cloud & Victory can send you your Afanasyeva poster. It’s glorious, go to our site and check it out. So remember, email us at email@example.com, subject line: Ideas for Scott Bregman, and include your name and address with your fabulous ideas!
JESSICA: And we want to thank Scott so much for all that he’s already done for us in gymnastics in giving us what we need. If you want to give constructive criticism to Scott, what he’s doing at USA Gymnastics, Scott how can they get in touch with you?
SCOTT: You know, I run all of our social media, so if you want to send us a tweet at @USAGym I will see that, or you can write on our Facebook page. Or if you have really great, awesome things to say about me you can email Leslie King who is the Vice President of Communications and hired me, and/or Steve Penny, who is of course the President of USA Gymnastics.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode was brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. EliteSportzBand.com, we’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit EliteSportzBand.com, that’s sports with a ‘z’, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code: gymcast
JESSICA: So, we have some exciting things to talk about, including who’s won our contest, our gym meme contest. So let’s start with, Uncle Tim, who’s our international listener shout out of the week going to?
UNCLE TIM: It goes to coach Cassie in Singapore. She has a wonderful Etsy shop, it’s called HandXStand and she has made some delightful little presents for our very own Spanny and her future son, Junior. It’s so cute, she made little wall hangings, and a little onesie, and even little mittens, like little kid mitten that are almost supposed to almost be like grips, so it’s super cute. Thank you very much, Coach Cassie. We really appreciate that.
JESSICA: So in April we did our gymnerd challenge, and it was to make a gymnastics meme. [LAUGHS] Oh, my god. You guys are freaking hilarious. These were so fantastic. There’s a whole gallery, a whole post up that’s just a gallery of these, so you guys can check them out. So let’s talk about, pick three of your favorites and then we’ll announce our winners.
UNCLE TIM: Number three for me was Chris Saccullo’s Brestyan’s Vacuuming. Spanny referenced this once on GymCastic, the fact that Mihai likes to vacuum for some reason. And Chris went and made a meme and I found it snarky and wonderful. Number two for me goes to the meme or Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman boxing. It just recalled the London Olympics for me and probably a little bit of how Jordyn felt on the inside. I mean, she was very gracious and everything, but when you are at that level in a sport there is a competitive side to you, and part of you wishes that you would have been just a little bit better so that you could have competed in the all-around finals. And number one for me was this cat meme by Emma, it is of a cat with her legs spread and at the top it says “Bitch stole my look” and at the bottom is Danusia Francis doing the opening pose of her floor routine and it says, “and she did it better” and I thought that was just hilarious. I laughed so hard when I saw that one.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] I love that one! Ok, so mine. Starting with my sentimental favorite, because you know how I intend for the entire Ukrainian team to embrace my genius idea of having Mohawks, and having people donate money every time they rock a Mohawk in a meet. SuperGymmie made one of Oleg with a Mohawk, that one I just totally love. And then the other one, also by SuperGymmie, this one “You call it a handstand?” And this references the whole Japanese handstand debacle in London, that one’s awesome. And then my runner-up is probably from LTAGymnastics, its Marta going, “Do you even go here?” which is Mean Girls of course! And anything that has to do with Mean Girls we love! My number one is the same one as you, from Emma G., the “Bitch stole my pose” with the cat and Danusia! [LAUGHS] It’s so funny, I love that one! And of course, Jenny Hansen sent me a picture of her trying to do it too, so I’ll put that one up. Memes came from that meme, so it really memed. Ok, so we will present you, Emma G., with something fantastic, which we will create and tweet to you. We’re not sure what it’s going to look like yet, but it’s going to be awesome and you will treasure it forever.
UNCLE TIM: Right, so we had several winners who got to go to the NCAAs, and one of ours was Jared. He flew all the way from beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada to Los Angeles. And he sent us some photos, he has some photos with Jessica Savona who he’s known for quite some time, Kyla Ross was also in the audience and he had his photo taken with her. We love to see you guys at gymnastics meets. So Jared, thank you for sharing your travel photos.
JESSICA: Yes! I always love that too, because you know when you hear about contests and then you never hear about the winners? And I’m always like, “No one really wins!” well you know me and my conspiracy theories. So, I just love that he actually sent the picture, even though we know he got the tickets because we helped him get the tickets, I just love seeing the proof that he really… and you know also, coincidently I have to tell you guys, I overheard the marketing people bragging about how far he had come, and that he had come from the farthest away for NCAAs. So that’s pretty cool. Ok so, I have to give a correction from last episode, or two episodes ago. So, I said that Florida had won every all-around championship; I don’t know what I was talking about. I said like, Ashanee Dickerson had won; she never won. I don’t know where that came from you guys, so if you hear us say something totally asinine, please, please let us know. And then Uncle Tim said that Chelsea Davis upgraded her bar dismount, but she always does a full twisting double. So any who, we just want to make those corrections and state them upfront that we admit that we were wrong and we want you to know about it. Lastly, Uncle Tim has created something fantastic on his site to help you as a reference, cheat sheet sort of thing for our interview with Sam Mikulak. I’ll let you talk about it.
UNCLE TIM: So, during our interview with Sam Mikulak he references a bunch of rings skills, which you might not know what they are. In the past I’ve made a rings primer to help gymnastics fans kind of figure out what rings skills are, and to help them through the process of watching the events that they don’t know a lot about. And so if you want to know what a Nakayama is, something that Sam was talking about, or an Azarian, you can check out the links on our website. There will be animated gifs waiting for you.
JESSICA: That’s going to do it for us this week. I’m very excited to announce that we will have the one and only Simone Biles on the show next week. So, in the meantime, you can contact us at GymCastic@gmail.com, send us your questions, comments, and thoughts. You can call us, call into the show at 415-800-3191. Or you can call us and leave us a message on Skype if you are calling from abroad, our Skype username is GymCasticPodcast, leave a message and we can play it on the show or answer your questions. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and Google+. And remember you can find a transcript of each and every show on our site. You can watch videos of the routines and things that we’re talking about by checking out our website at GymCastic.com and following along.
UNCLE TIM: You can also support the show by recommending us to a friend, or a teammate, or a coach, or a grandparent, whomever. You can also go on iTunes and rate us and write a review. You can also download the Stitcher app. And finally, you asked for more ways to support the show and we have a donate button on our website, so if you’d like to support the show in terms of money, you can do it there.
JESSICA: So that’s going to do it for us this week. Until next week, I’m Jessica from Masters-Gymnastics
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
SCOTT: Scott Bregman, Communications Manager for USA Gymnastics
JESSICA: See you next week!