© John Cheng

By John Powers

For the AT&T American Cup, the U.S. men send the varsity, particularly in an Olympic year. So Sam Mikulak and Donnell Whittenburg, the top two men at last year’s P&G Championships, will take on rivals from three continents in Saturday afternoon’s event at Prudential Center in Newark in the year’s first important international event.

The Americans have won the title in nine of the last 12 all-around competitions and eight of the previous 10 Olympic years but they’re expecting a stiff challenge from Japan’s Ryohei Kato and Great Britain’s Nile Wilson, who won gold and silver team medals at last year’s world championships. “They’re the big names but everyone here is a great competitor,” said Mikulak, who won the title two years ago. “You can’t sleep on anyone.”

Mikulak, who missed the global meet with an ankle injury, still is rounding into form but his victory at last month’s Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas was a reassuring progress marker. “It was quite a confidence booster for myself because training all of January was just grinding it out,” he said. “It wasn’t until I had that pressure of saluting my hand in front of a crowd and competing and then being successful that it solidified the point that I felt I needed to be at for this competition.”

Whittenburg, who won the bronze medal at last year’s AT&T American Cup ahead of Mikulak, is looking to rebound from a sixth-place showing in Las Vegas. “Just hit sets, that’s all I want to accomplish, to prove that I’m ready to go out and ready to compete,” he said. “I’m just going to worry about myself, not anybody else. Focus on what I need to do and that’s all.”