Move over, Colorado Springs. There’s a new Olympic training facility where the sun is shining, the palm trees are swaying and the coaching is second to none. EVO Athletics, a Sarasota gymnastics center that opened seven years ago, is set to become a new training center for elite athletes and Olympic hopefuls.

Three-time Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak has signed on to coach at the facility. A 30-year-old native of Orange County, California and 2015 graduate of the University of Michigan, Mikulak first competed in 2012 at the London Olympics when he was just 19 years old. After that, he went on to every national championship from 2013 to 2020 and competed in several world championships as well. His first world medal was on the high bar, where he earned a bronze for Team USA in 2018 in Doha. The Tokyo Games in 2020, which were affected by COVID-19, ended up being his last Olympics. “My body was hurting too much; I was getting too old and so I decided it was time to hang up the grips,” Mikulak says. “Then all of a sudden, I got a job offer to become a coach at EVO Gymnastics in Sarasota. I knew I would love to take the knowledge that I've accumulated over the past 12 years of competing and just give it to the younger generation so that they don't make the same mistakes I did, and so I accepted the offer.”

Like other Olympians in recent years, Mikulak has publicly acknowledged his own mental health struggles as a result of performing on the world’s largest stage. He’s learned valuable lessons that he plans to bring to his trainees at EVO. “It’s the Olympics and so the pressure’s way more than it's ever been, and that's something you can't ever really prepare yourself for,” he says. “But I think I could get athletes more prepared versus a coach that hasn't been to the Olympics and so I’d like to think I’ve got a little bit of a leg up here.” As an experienced athlete and coach, Mikulak has worked on creating a good life balance between gymnastics, social life and responsibilities, while making sure that he is not just identifying as an athlete. “You're a human being that does gymnastics because you enjoy it. It's not the end-all of your life. And that's my big mission that I just want to continue coaching into the younger generations.”

Photo 2

Having trained for seven years at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, Mikulak knows all too well how difficult the training regimen can be. “Being stuck training, eating, sleeping and having that be your repetitive point of life, especially during the winter months really takes its toll,” he says. “I'm a big advocate of the more sun you get, the happier you are and the happier you are as an athlete, the better you're going to do once you're in the gym and so it makes sense that Sarasota is definitely the place we want to centralize as the new Olympic training center for elite athletes to come train.”  

The men who train at EVO should find everything they need to compete amongst the very best. Strength and conditioning tools along with resources for recovery are all readily available, according to Mikulak. “We've just created a small little niche for men's gymnastics so when they’re done with their college career, or even if they don't want to go through college but just to be a dedicated athlete to come train in a place that's a little more fun, a little more enjoyable, it’s all here,” he says. In addition to Mikulak, the coaching staff consists of three-time Olympic coach, Kevin Mazeika and the previous head coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, Syque Caesar. “We're hoping we can get most of the national team training here and we're offering our services and having our gym try to be as successful as possible to create opportunities for international competitors to attend our camps, as well—all putting us on the path of making us an official Olympic training center.”

Photo 3

EVO has what Mikulak refers to as a feeder program that will lead male gymnasts into the national team on the senior level. Their ultimate goal is for people to send their kids to the program from all over the country if they are very seriously trying to make the next Olympic team. Currently, the gym is self-funded but they have been seeking donations and trying to get partnerships to financially support the athletes. “So far, it's been working,” he says. “But if we want to expand and grow, it's going to require us to partner with a lot of different companies and we're really hoping to grow our market within Sarasota, to make it like the gymnastics capital of the country.”

Mikulak shares that a typical day for an elite athlete in training at EVO starts with practice from 9am to 1pm followed by a break for a couple hours where they can either receive treatment for recovery, get their lunch, relax for a little bit, or do whatever they’d like until they come back for strength and conditioning from 3:30 to 5:00 pm, along with stretching, yoga and meditation. “If they’re using everything the way that we really want them to be using it, it's going to be seven-hour days. In terms of just strict training on the apparatus, it's really only a four-hour practice without too much gymnastics realistically, because the biggest injury for all elite athletes is overtraining and that's something that we like to manage and make sure that they don't push themselves too hard,” he says. “We’re tracking that, making sure there are gradual progressions, but they are continually getting better and growing stronger. The only way to really get better for a long period of time is to not get hurt.”

Photo 4

The goal for Mikulak and the other coaches at EVO is to have the US Men’s Team back on the podium in 2024 and to get on the gold medal podium in LA in 2028. “We want to take advantage of that home court and make sure that we're very well prepared,” says Mikulak. “We've got the best athletes and we’re doing our best to make sure they've all got good team camaraderie for the next five years until that comes about. The last time the games were held in LA, we ended up winning gold as a team for men's gymnastics and we haven't done it since, so we're really counting on it. We want to share the journey with Sarasota and hopefully have a little sense of pride for our little town out here.”

Throughout the coming year, the coaches and athletes of EVO will be bringing their gymnastics exhibitions into the community at events to let everyone know who and what they are all about. “We want to get people invested because these guys are training for the Olympics and we need to put them in pressure situations, so the more people who can come watch them train and do their competitions, the better to actually get them more prepared for the pressures of the Olympics. We want Sarasota to be Gymnastics City USA. We love this place, we could not have picked a better spot to change gymnastics.”