2021 April Men's Senior National Team Camp

Sam Mikulak Flips His Mindset, Finds A Silver Lining In Tokyo Postponement

Sam Mikulak Flips His Mindset, Finds A Silver Lining In Tokyo Postponement

When the Olympics were postponed, Sam Mikulak saw a silver lining, deciding to reinvent his gymnastics.

Apr 14, 2021 by Kelly Feng
Sam Mikulak Flips His Mindset, Finds A Silver Lining In Tokyo Postponement

Last year, when COVID-19 postponed the 2020 Olympic Games, Sam Mikulak was worried about preparing for the games properly and returning to where he was in early 2020. But then he flipped his mindset: Mikulak could either worry about getting back to where he was gymnastic-wise, or he can reinvent his gymnastics to be better than he was a year ago. He chose the latter. 

“I changed a lot of the technique that wasn’t properly installed in me at a young age. I have always been like, ‘When am I going to find the time to change these?’ I took the moment as a silver lining to change these foundational problems I’ve always had and now turn them into my strengths,” Mikulak said. 

Most Olympic athletes live in a uniquely focused world, training for a living. Add another layer onto the highly disciplined life of Mikulak, and you have an elite athlete who is also planning a wedding. 

For Mikulak, pursuing his third Olympics at age 28, training for the Tokyo Olympics isn’t just about going to the gym and practicing his training plan, he is also tending to any number of to-do lists. 

The two-time Olympian was a part of the three-day Tokyo 2020 Team USA Media Summit. Last week, he talked about his training, recovery methods, upcoming wedding, and chasing the elusive perfect score. 

Over the years, when asked about possible retirement, Sam dismissed the idea, talking about Tokyo and even the Paris 2024 games. So it was somewhat of a surprise when he announced last August that he would be hanging up his grips for good after Tokyo. 

The decision came when Mikulak realized the amount of time it takes for him to be sustainable. 

After three months off due to COVID-19, Mikulak realized how much harder it is to come back and to execute high-impact events while doing it safely. Minor nagging injuries began to crop up, which kept getting worse, resulting in him taking time off.

During the process, it was becoming clear his body couldn’t hold up. Mikulak finds the many proactive measurements need his participation. He takes part in a rigorous pre-practice daily routine, including an hour of manual treatment, an hour of rehab, an hour of strength and conditioning, and then he practices gymnastics. 

In the past, Mikulak didn’t have to incorporate the various treatments and routines. Reflecting on Tokyo, he stated that this is his final push, and taking care of his body is a top priority. 

“I am going to give it everything I got the way I’ve always done it. It’s just “the ask” on my body is so much more now than it was before,” he said. 

Immediately after the quarantine, when Mikulak went back to training, his wrist was hurting. He received cortisone in the wrist, but the shot came too late, and his elbow was compensating for the impact. With the elbow inflamed, he received another shot of cortisone. 

While balancing the wrist and elbow injuries, Mikulak took a deep landing on the floor, straining his calf. He found himself juggling all three injuries while trying to get into routine shape and stay healthy. 

As a result, Mikulak underwent a laundry list of recovery methods: the Graston technique, Cupping therapy, ART (Active Release Technique), and massage. He says there are Game Readies and Normatechs throughout his house. 

“There’s a lot of different methods. I am trying to give it everything I got. I am committed to it and want to make it the best year possible,” Mikulak said. 

Last July, at the enchanting Catalina Island, Mikulak proposed to his long-time girlfriend Mia Atkins. Planning a wedding on top of balancing his time and commitment to the sport makes this Olympic run slightly challenging. Atkins recently moved to North Carolina for a job adding another adjustment for Mikulak. 

"She's been a great resource for my emotional health, and not having her around all the time is tough," Mikulak said. "Our relationship is strong. I love gymnastics. The things I want most will prevail,” Mikulak added.

Proactively, Mikulak is working with a sports psychologist to ensure his mental health isn’t deteriorating and he’s not feeling overwhelmed. He explained the importance of being honest about his emotions and mental state of mind. 

For example, if a day at the gym doesn’t go the way he wants it to go. He realizes he needs to have a good perspective. He sees “the light is at the end of the tunnel,” knowing the journey will be stressful with a lot of pressure.

As he approaches these milestones, Mikulak brings the best version of himself to gymnastics and his relationship. While there hasn’t been a perfect 10 in decades, his philosophy is to strive and improve. 

Mikulak’s mindset is to keep getting better every day, week, and month and then seeing where he ends up at the end of the quadrennium. He enjoys seeing the progress and reaching stepping stones. 

"It's about finding your motivation wherever you can and trying to be better than you were yesterday."

- Sam Mikulak