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By WILL GRAVES,
Updated June 30, 2012
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) If it had been up to Sam Mikulak, he'd have competed in six events on one leg.
Common sense prevailed, even if it might have jeopardized his chances of making the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team.
Mikulak skipped everything but pommel horse during the finals Saturday after spraining his left ankle during preliminaries two days earlier, blunting the momentum he'd built during the qualifying process. He posted the highest score Thursday night, but landed awkwardly on the vault, his final event of the night.
The ankle turned a deep purple Friday and despite aggressive treatment, his coaches decided to make him a spectator for most of the finals. He posted a so-so score of 14.4 on pommel horse - which puts no stress on the ankles other than the landing - and will spend Saturday night sweating it out with a half-dozen teammates hoping to join John Orozco and Danell Leyva in London next month.
"It's a little disappointing," Mikulak said. "I'm hoping things will work out in my favor."
Mikulak appeared to nail down one of the coveted Olympic spots on Thursday with a fearless and nearly flawless performance that saw him slip past both Orozco and Leyva.
Now he and coach Kurt Golder will have to put their faith in a resume that includes a 2011 NCAA championship.
"You just have to trust the decision of the selection committee," Golder said.
Mikulak was the last of the 15 competitors to take the floor for warmups and did little more than stretch while Golder consulted with U.S. men's team coordinator Kevin Mazeika. There wasn't much feedback to work with, though USA Gymnastics officials urged Mikulak to not get caught up in the moment.
"They were like `Listen to you coaches, be smart,'" Mikulak said.
Even if being smart meant taking a calculated risk. Jacob Dalton and Chris Brooks - who are in the mix for the final three spots - posted solid scores and two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton did nothing to discourage the committee from sending him to the games for a second time.
Mikulak is considered one of the better Americans on pommel horse and finished with the fourth-best score in the event on Saturday despite a bit of nerves. He waited through four rotations and nearly two hours before chalking up. The moment got to him.
"There was a lot of nerves, I was freaking out," Mikulak said. "Then it was like, `Come on, competition mode.' I hit the set and that's all I could have asked for."
BROOKS BOUNCES BACK: Late Thursday night, Chris Brooks figured his Olympic prospects were cooked.
A pair of big-time mistakes on vault and parallel bars during preliminaries had him sliding behind Jacob Dalton into sixth place in the standings. At one point the 25-year-old stalked into a nearby hallway to work out his frustration.
"In the back of my mind I was like, `Dude, I've put myself in a really bad position,'" Brooks said.
It looked like more of the same on Saturday when he flew off the pommel horse, his first event.
"I was like `Is this just going to keep going?" Brooks said with an exasperated laugh. "When am I going to just put it down?"
Immediately as it turned out. Brooks steadied himself with 14.95 on still rings then exploded on vault, blasting off the block and completing three forward flips before sticking the landing. It was the confidence boost he needed as he rallied to tie Dalton for fourth place and leave the selection committee with a tough decision.
"I'm happy with myself for coming out and really throwing down today and going out there like I had nothing to lose," he said.
Even if it's not enough to make the team. Brooks is considered an all-arounder, solid in everything but not always spectacular. The U.S. already has two of the best all-arounders in the world in Orozco and Leyva. What they could use are Dalton's eye-popping scores on floor and vault - where he posted the top scores through all four rounds of qualifying.
"I just tried to hit my sets," Dalton said. "I had a slip-up today on horse but I think I came out and did what I had to."
Dalton certainly earned Brooks' vote.
"That kid is sick, it's disgusting," Brooks said. "I watch him on the floor and I'm like I'm getting nauseous just watching you. It's upsetting me. He's just really talented and works really hard and there's not a more deserving kid than him."
SO LONG, SENDER: A fluke accident kept David Sender from a legitimate shot at making the 2008 Olympic team.
This time, the reasons were more cut and dried. The oldest member of the U.S. national team struggled through trials, finishing 14th through qualifying to put a bittersweet ending on a career that included a national championship in 2008.
Sender missed Beijing when he tore two ligaments in his right ankle trying to steady a shaky high bar during trials. He petitioned to make the team but was denied because the selection committee already awarded one of the spots to 2004 Olympic champion Paul Hamm, who was dealing with an injury of his own.
The near miss has haunted him, spurring the 26-year-old to attempt a comeback last summer. It never really got off the ground. He struggled to break into the upper reaches of the rankings. When he landed his dismount on still rings in his last-ever event, his eyes were wet with tears as he drank in a rousing ovation.
"It was a little bit disappointing to end like that," Sender said. "At the same time I have to be somewhat happy that I had a chance to even do this and leave it all out on the floor and not really wonder."
Sender doesn't regret the decision to make one more run at the Olympics or the sabbatical he took in 2010 to focus on veterinary school at the University of Illinois. He has two years left before getting his degree.
"I can leave ... I want not to say fulfilled but at least without any regrets, without having to look back and wonder," he said. "To have that (peace) for the rest of my life is kind of a big deal."