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US GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Sam Mikulak takes men’s lead at US gymnastics championships

HARTFORD — Sam Mikulak sprinted to the lead at the US men’s gymnastics championships Friday night, riding a sublime routine on pommel horse to close in on his first national title.

Mikulak, a two-time NCAA all-around champion, had a score of 91.650. Jake Dalton was second, nearly three points behind. Alex Naddour was third, followed by Joshua Dixon and Steven Legendre.

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‘‘He was killing it,’’ Dalton said of Mikulak. ‘‘Every time I looked up, he was hitting a set.’’

Danell Leyva, the bronze medalist in the all-around at the 2012 London Olympics, struggled all night and slipped to sixth. Defending national champion John Orozco was eighth in his first competition back from major surgery on his left knee.

Leyva and Orozco were the unquestioned leaders of the US Olympic team last summer, but Mikulak, who just finished his junior year at Michigan, has surpassed them both.

Mikulak dominated at the NCAA championships in April and the gap between himself and the rest of the top American men has only grown this summer.

The 20-year-old from southern California lacks the intensity of some of his peers. Except, of course, when he’s in the gym.

Mikulak’s elite career was nearly derailed when he broke both of his ankles in a meet in Puerto Rico in 2011. He healed in time to work his way onto the Olympic team and has spent the last 12 months putting himself in position to be the American to beat over the next quadrennium.

His night turned spectacular when he reached the pommel horse on his fifth rotation. Mikulak glided over the apparatus, his legs whooshing back and forth with an elegance typically reserved for more polished international performers.

When his 15.2 score was posted, he joined Naddour — a pommel horse specialist — as the only athletes to top 14.5 on the event. It was all he needed to turn his lead into a chasm as he tries to nail down one of the six spots for the 2013 world championship team.

‘‘This is the next step,’’ Mikulak said. ‘‘My goal was to make the world team as an all-around. That’s the goal I'm trying to accomplish.’’

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