Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pommel Horse Primer: What the H is a Mikulak?

Pop Quiz: In 2012, which American gymnast had a pommel horse skill named after him?

A. Jake Dalton
B. Danell Leyva
C. John Orozco
D. Alex Naddour
E. Sam Mikulak

Yes, E. Sam Mikulak. (If you didn't glean that information from the title of this post, please go ahead and gently smack your forehead with the palm of your hand a couple of times.)

In September, the internet was abuzz and rightfully so. The FIG had just recognized the "Mikulak" as a skill, and since it's not every day that an American has a pommel horse skill named after him, it was kind of a big deal in the gymnastics community.

But what is the Mikulak? For the answer to that question, let us turn to the the USAG press release, which offered this explanation of the skill:
Along with a wicked animated gif:
I don't know about you, but I adore the gif and got lost during the press release. Forward leg swings? Backwards leg swings? Pendulum swings? Too many technical terms! Too many spatial reasoning skills! I just can't deal with all that jazz today... So, let's break it down. (By the way, to be fair to USAG, you can't really break down a skill in a press release.)

The Double Scissors

As the USAG press release indicated, the basis of the Mikulak is a double scissors. The only problem is this: If you don't know what a double scissors is, you're kind of el-screwed-o. JK, as the kids say. Have no fear! It's really not as complicated as you might think. In fact, it does not take a member of Mensa to figure it out. Give it a shot. I'm sure you can figure it out.

Yup, it's because the gymnast's legs scissor twice.


If you've watched Americans compete on pommel horse in the past 4 years, you've probably seen a double scissors.  In 2012, Jake Dalton did one. So did Paul Ruggeri. And before that, Sasha Artemev performed one in Beijing. The real trick, though, is being able to see both scissors while you're watching the skill. Can you do it? Take a look...

Still not seeing two scissors? Let's break it down even further:

As you can see in the first sequence, Sasha's left foot moves to the back and his right foot moves to the front. Then, he does a quarter turn so that he can scissor his legs again. During the second scissors, Sasha brings his feet back to their original position. His left foot moves over the top of his right foot, bringing his left foot closer to the camera and his right foot farther away from the camera. In addition, he does another quarter turn, which points his belly button in the opposite direction.

Voilà, a double scissors (a B skill in 2013). When you watch it in real time, it looks almost like the gymnast is doing a tour jeté on the pommel horse. Unfortunately, when gymnasts are learning a double scissors, it doesn't always look as graceful as a tour jeté. Exhibit A:
Honestly, this kid's probably hamming it up for the girls in the gym. When you really hurt your giblets, you're down for the count.

The Mikulak

Ok, now that we have an idea of what a double scissors is (and the possible injuries that one might incur while learning the skill), we can move on to the Mikulak. Basically, the Mikulak is the same thing: a double scissors, but instead of staying in the same place, the gymnast travels from one end of the pommel horse to the other by hopping. I repeat: the gymnast must hop. There must be a moment when the gymnast's hands are no longer touching the pommel horse.

Oh, yeah, and the gymnast has to keep his momentum going. (I sound like Tim Daggett when I say that, don't I?) Immediately after the hop, he needs to do another skill out of it. That ain't easy to do. Yet, despite the difficulty, I anticipate that during the 2013 competitive season, a few gymnasts might try to incorporate a Mikulak. For some, it could be an upgrade. (A double scissors is a B skill, while a Mikulak is a D skill.)

Dear Gymnasts,

If you are trying to learn a Mikulak, I recommend wearing a jockstrap and a cup. That second pommel may be hard to clear. But only take these measures if you want to sire children at some point.

As for the rest of you, knock yourself out. And make sure that you place your mishaps on YouTube. As the Michigan men's team showed us, gym fans love watching montages of crashes.


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