Nikita Ignatyev

2019 World Cup preview - Men

Sam Mikulak of the USA.

Sam Mikulak of the USA.

There’s one big question to be answered at this weekend’s Tokyo World Cup: can Sam Mikulak put it all together?

Despite his fifth place all-around finish at last October’s World Championships, the highest of eight-gymnast field at this world cup event, Mikulak isn’t necessarily favored to take the title at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza Sunday. With the competition in the 2020 Olympic host city, the Japanese approach Tokyo as an omen of things to come next summer. To that end they’ve tapped 22-year-old star Kenzo Shirai as their primary starter.

But the bigger picture involves Mikulak and what he is or isn’t capable of. After years of almosts, the talented 26-year-old finally broke through with an individual world medal -- bronze on high bar -- last fall. (He also participated in five individual finals, the most of anyone except world champion Artur Dalaloyan and bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy of Russia.) The question isn’t whether he’s capable. It’s whether he can do it when it counts.

At last month’s American Cup, Mikulak came out roaring, beginning his competition with maybe the best floor routine of his entire career, then gave the competition away to U.S. no. 2 Yul Moldauer after errors on parallel bars and high bar. So Mikulak comes to Tokyo fighting not just against the rest of the field, but the reputation for inconsistency that precedes him.

Tokyo is more than Shirai vs. Mikulak -- 2012 Olympic alternate Nikita Ignatyev, 2014 Youth Olympic star Giarnni Regini-Moran, Japan’s Wataru Tanegawa, Korea’s Bae Ga-ram and veterans Bart Deurloo of the Netherlands and Nestor Abad of Spain are also jockeying for the podium. Here’s my prediction for the top five.

GOLD - Kenzo Shirai, Japan. No less a gymnast than Kohei Uchimura anointed Shirai his successor after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and with good reason: Shirai has superhuman capabilities on floor and vault. But is he a true all-around gymnast? He’s comparatively weak on pommel horse and rings but compensates for it with those exceptionally high scores on vault and floor. Mistakes on either of his best events could open the door for someone else, but on the bouncy Japanese equipment, that seems unlikely.

SILVER - Sam Mikulak, USA. Gymnasts like to say that their biggest competition is themselves, and that seems especially true of Mikulak, who has been defeated by his own head at several prominent international events. He changed up his training and his mindset last year, and it looked for a while like it was paying off. But the American Cup loss grates, and leaves Mikulak something of an underdog for gold at this meet.

BRONZE - Wataru Tanigawa, Japan. Capable of brilliance on rings, parallel bars and vault but also somewhat inconsistent, this two-time world team member is nevertheless one of the heaviest hitters in this field. Competing at home should help rather than hurt him.

4. Nikita Ignatyev, Russia. The 2012 Olympic team alternate dropped off the radar for several years before reappearing at this year’s Russian Championships, where he won all-around bronze amidst a very talented field. He looked strong and prepared at the DTB Pokal Team Challenge just afterward, so the sky’s the limit for him here.

5. Bart Deurloo, Netherlands. The Dutch team’s top all-arounder has gotten better and better since the American Cup. With a strong finish on high bar, his best event, a top five finish is totally possible for him.

Quick hits: DTB Pokal, Men's Team Final

The podium finishers gather for a selfie at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart. Photo courtesy EnBW DTB Pokal.

The podium finishers gather for a selfie at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart. Photo courtesy EnBW DTB Pokal.

Rotation 1:

Ivan Stretovich (RUS), floor: HIt routine included running double front tuck mount, 2.5 to front 2/1 and triple full with a step to the side. The 2016 Olympian has grown a good deal and gotten quite lanky.

Lukas Dauser (GER), HB: Hit routine with great double double layout dismount.

Ludovico Edalli (ITA), HB: Terrific routine, capped with stuck full twisting double layout dismount. The 2010 Youth Olympic medalist has impeccable form and actually swings with artistry, if that’s possible to do.

Kenta Chiba (JPN), FX: Double front half twist, with the half twist done after the first somersault, unusual. 1.5 to Randi, OOB. 2.5 to Rudi. Double full. Triple full, small hop to the side.

Dmitry Lankin , floor: Triple back, bounds backward. 3.5 to front half. Quad twist. 2.5 to front 2/1. Rudi.

Rotation 2:

Niccolo Mozzato (ITA), FX: Very high double double tuck, stuck. Front 2/1 to front tuck 1/1. 2.5 to Rudi. Double full. Triple full. 13.933.

Kakeru Tanigawa, (JPN), PH: Falls halfway through.

Felix Remuta (GER), FX: Double front pike half out, shuffle backward. Front 2/1 to Randi. 2.5 to front full, nearly goes OOB. Double double tuck. Rudi. Triple full, step back. 14.4.

Alexander Chicherov (RUS), PH: Off.

Thierno Diallo (ESP), FX: Randi. Double front. Front 2/1 to Rudi. 2.5 to front layout. Double full. Triple full. 13.733.

Niccola Bertolini (ITA), FX: Front double pike, wow that’s high. Double double tuck. 1.5 to front double full. A very good routine. He flutters his hand over his heart as he walks off the floor -- it made him nervous, this routine! Sidenote: Bertolini might be the most heavily tattooed man in gymnastics.

Kenta Chiba (JPN), PH: Some labored circles here and there, but he stayed on.13.933.

Nick Klessing (GER), FX: Double front half out tucked. Good landing. Front double pike. Front 1/1 to double front, saved by his very strong quads and several hops back.

Rotation 3:

Niels Dunkel (GER), PH: Cheered on (and carried through) this routine by the crowd. Makes it without falling.

Andreas Toba (GER), PH: Powers through, hit routine. 13.466.

Dmitry Lankin (RUS), SR: HIt routine, good strength parts, double double tuck dismount that he fights to stick and finally takes a step.

Ludovico Edalli (ITA), PH: Sweet routine. 13.6.

Rotation 4:

Caio Souza (BRA), VT: Tsuk 2.5, lands off to the right and has to take a big step forward.

Kakeru Tanigawa (JPN), VT: Undercooks a Tsuk triple and stumbles to the side, actually going off the mat and crashing into the signboard in front of the judges table.

Andreas Toba (GER), SR: Excellent routine, capped with stuck full twisting double layout. 14.266.

Ivan Stretovich (RUS), VT: Tsuk 2.5, small hop back. 14.466.

Arthur Zanetti (BRA), VT: Serviceable handspring double front.

Marco Sarrugerio (ITA), SR: A very rare fall on rings -- undercooked a handstand, tried valiently to hold it, and couldn’t. Jumps off and rechalks. Nice front double pike dismount.

Kenta Chiba (JPN), VT: Tsuk triple, big step to the side.

Nick Klessing (GER), SR: Pull to cross, planche. Front giant. Pikes and tucked Yamas to Maltese. And ooh, triple back dismount! Very nice. Klessing veritably dances off the mat!

Rotation 5:

Luca Lino Garza (ITA), VT: Tsuk 2.5 with a hop forward.

Shogo Nonomura (JPN), PB: Front flip. Inside Diamidov. Peach half, peach. Double tuck. Giant. Tippelt. Stutz. Double pike with a hop forward. Very nice. 14.7.

Felix Remuta (GER), VT: Makes the handspring double front look easy. Half twist, Felix? 14.033.

Nikita Ignatyev (RUS), PB: Giant, Tippelt. Double tuck. Inside Diamidov. Stutz. Double front hlaf out tucked. 14.166.

Nestor Abad (ESP), VT: Tsuk double full, hop. Great except for the hop from Spain’s veteran.

Bernardo Miranda (BRA), PB: Peach half, peach. Tippelt. Bhavsar. Double front with a hop. Nice lines for this event.

Niccola Bertolini (ITA), VT: 14.566 for his vault has him doing a little victory dance in the mixed zone.

Nick Klessing (GER), VT: Handspring double front, excellent, just a step forward.

Rotation 6:

Niels Dunkel (GER), PB: Lovely set. Niels is thrilled.

Fuya Maeno (JPN), HB: The best Tak half in the business. Wow. And stuck double double layout

Marco Sarrugerio (ITA), PB: Inside Diamidov to front straddle somie. Bhavsar. Giant to Tippelt. His elbows are naturally hyperextended, which make his handstands even nicer. Double pike with a hop.

Nikita Ignatyev (RUS), HB: Cassina. Kolman. Tak skills. One arm giant. Yama. Hop full. Stuck double double layout. Very nice routine!

Lukas Dauser (GER), PB: Germany’s PB artist at work. A strong and beautiful routine. Double front half out dismount, stuck cold. Lukas loves it. 13.966

Results

1 - Russia, 170.995
2 - Germany 1, 168.162
3 - Japan, 168.065
4 - Brazil, 166.263
5 - Italy, 162.897
6 - Spain, 157.897