Mikulak cool in a battle

There’s a part in the pronunciation of Sam Mikulak’s last name that could best describe his persona as he competed in the Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships this past weekend in Tennessee.

You pronounce his last name, Ma-cool-ack.

Mostly everyone could see the Corona del Mar High senior was cool under intense pressure amid a battle against Jesse Silverstein. Mikulak, bound for the University of Michigan on a full-ride scholarship, edged Silverstein by eight-tenths of a point to become the all-around champion of the 16-18-year-old division May 8.

Mikulak’s top score on vault definitely helped in the end, as he totaled 181.450 points. Silverstein ended up at 180.800.

“I’ve never felt so under control under pressure,” Mikulak said Tuesday after a workout at SCATS in Huntington Beach, where he trains. “I was a bit shaky at first. There were times I really didn’t hit the landing I wanted. But I was able to get in the right mind-set. I started to think about how I would do it back at home and I calmed down.”

The sparkling performance, which included runner-up scores on floor exercise, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar, led the 17-year-old to qualify for the VISA Championships Aug. 10-14 in Hartford, Conn. Mikulak said that’s where he will try to qualify for the U.S. junior national team.

“It was definitely one of the most competitive battles I’ve ever been in,” Mikulak said. “Me and him were the show at the nationals. It was great to have such a harsh competitor. It was really pushing me.”

Even though Silverstein is from New York, Mikulak said he is good friends with his supposed rival. After the competition, they continually congratulated each other on such a fierce battle.

In the past, after some competitions, they’ve gone out for dinner.

But when the points count and the chalk is on their hands, there’s not much time for friendship.

The fact that Silverstein gave his best effort made Mikulak’s victory more rewarding.

But what did Mikulak remember most about the championship?

“Definitely the fact that I knew what I had to do and I was able to go out there and accomplish it,” he said. “I was pretty scared that Jesse was going to take it, but I didn’t let it get to my head. I guess I was thinking, if you’re not nervous, you’re having fun. So I went out and just had fun.”

Mikulak hopes to have some more fun on the East Coast in August.

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