How Gymnast Sam Mikulak Is Getting Ready for Tokyo 2021

The U.S Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado has re-opened following the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. How does it feel to return?Being home at the training center is where I feel comfortable. I was at home for two months, and I didn’t feel like my gymnastics was getting any better. After that we moved to a local gym, but it wasn’t “home.” We were there for a month and a half, slowly integrating back into training. So, the second we got back to the Olympic Training Center, everything just changed. I was amped up, the variety of equipment is so much better. We have athletic trainers and we have video cameras, so all the perks that I had taken for granted before quarantine made me feel blessed.

The pressure of competing at the Olympics must be immense. How do you reconcile delivering your best performance, while dealing with the mental aspects?It’s changed a lot from my first to my second Olympic Games. I was 19 when I went to my first Olympics, and surprisingly that was my first big international competition. A lot of people first go to the World Championships, but the Olympics was my first big one, and so I wasn’t able to comprehend how big of a moment that really was. I wasn’t that well known during my first Olympics and I just tried to do what I had done in training. What got me through was being happy to be here, and so I took a lighthearted approach.

It was the second go around, when I’d finally built a name for myself [that I felt more pressure]. Going into 2016, I was the U.S. National Champion for four years leading up to my second Olympics, so everyone wanted to really watch me and I could feel pressure building up because of the high expectations for me. So, I focused a lot on breathing techniques, meditation, and I gave myself a lot of positive self-talk, and those things really helped me control a lot of the nerves.

We now know that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has been moved to 2021, but how were you feeling prior to that bombshell announcement back in March? I was ready to compete. We make four-year plans leading from one Olympics to the next, and I was actually ahead of schedule with my training, so I was pretty devastated when it got suddenly postponed. I felt like I was almost overprepared. So, to go from being overprepared, to now being underprepared, it made for a drastic change to my confidence and the plan. It’s been a little disheartening, but this has actually given me a lot of time to reinvent some of the things that I might not have had time to tweak. So, I’m having this new wave of positive vibes.

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