HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Sam Mikulak didn't even look at the scoreboard. Not once. Really, it was hardly necessary.
The two-time NCAA all-around champion knew he didn't need to peek at his total to figure out he was having a good night. It wasn't until after someone told him about his whopping 91.650 total in the preliminary round of the U.S. championships Friday night that the laid-back 20-year-old who oozes Southern California cool took a second to let his command performance sink in.
"Wow," Mikulak said, laughing. "I like that. Nice."
Spectacular might be a better word.
While the rest of the top Americans stumbled at least once, the University of Michigan star spent two hours serenely navigating his way around the floor at the XL Center. No falls. No drama. He even managed to put together an elegant pommel horse routine, no small feat considering the way it swallowed up his competitors.
Mikulak's 15.2 on his penultimate event propelled him to a stunning 2.950 lead over good friend Jake Dalton. It's the gymnastics equivalent of a football team taking a 35-3 lead at the half.
"He was killing it," Dalton said of Mikulak. "Every time I looked up, he was hitting a set."
Alex Naddour was third followed by Joshua Dixon and Steven Legendre.
Danell Leyva, the bronze medalist in the all-around at the 2012 London Olympics, struggled all night and slipped to sixth. Defending national champion John Orozco was eighth in his first competition back from major surgery on his left knee.
Leyva and Orozco were the unquestioned leaders of the U.S. Olympic team last summer, but Mikulak, who begins his senior year at Michigan next month, has sprinted by them both.
Mikulak dominated at the NCAA championships in April to bookend the all-around title he won as a freshman in 2011 then took a needed three-week break to recharge. His training program is divided into six-week cycles meant to have him peaking at just the right time.
At the moment, that happens to be whenever he walks out on the floor.
While Mikulak lacks the intensity of some of his peers, it hardly seems to be an issue From his spiky, just-so hair to the perpetual grin on his face, he is every bit the surfer.
Except, of course, when he's in the gym. Then, he soars.
Never one to brood, Mikulak's easygoing manner helps keep him above the fray. Good routines, bad routines. It doesn't really matter. He's just happy to be here. Really.
"He's in his own world," Dalton said.
And at the moment, he's on another level.
Not bad for a gymnast whose elite career was nearly derailed when he broke both of his ankles in a meet in Puerto Rico in 2011. He healed in time to work his way onto the Olympic team and has spent the last 12 months putting himself in position to be the American to beat over the next quadrennium.