August 02, 2016 03:25 PM

Like the rest of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team heading to the Rio Olympics this summer, Sam Mikulak gets his fair share of love letters and signs that read “Marry me.”

But he’s not letting it go to his head.

“It all just makes me smile,” Mikulak, 23, tells PEOPLE. “It’s awesome that they can find the passion through the sport with me. Some aspects of gymnastics don’t really get that much attention, and when you have people send you letters it makes you feel important and gives you a sense of purpose so you can go out and train hard because you want to perform well.”

Aside from his amazing athletic talent, Mikulak has gained fans for his good looks and sculpted body. However, he downplays his washboard abs as no biggie.

Sam Mikulak
Richard Phibbs

“Gymnastics gives you the abs,” he says. “It’s not like I sit there doing like a thousand crunches before every practice or something like that. Gymnastics is such a full-body workout and your core is such a fundamental part of every single element that you perform that it’s just going to be some aspect of the sport that’s really going to make you a little more ripped.”

Although Mikulak claims he can’t resist pizza and licorice, his diet probably also has something to do with his toned body. Even on his once-a-week cheat days, he tries not to overindulge.

“People think cheat days are like, ‘Alright, my first meal’s gonna have like a thousand calories, second meal same thing, dinner probably even more,” he explains. “But it’s more like I’m in the cafeteria and you don’t just go out and seek unhealthy food. You’re like, ‘Oh man, that piece of bacon looks pretty good; I’ll have a couple of those.’ It’s not that extravagant. It’s just whatever you see that looks good, don’t feel guilty for eating it.”

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Mikulak, who was also on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, swears he didn’t ask for his stud status. In his mind, he’s a science-fiction nerd who grew up with dreams of becoming an astronaut. However, that aspiration changed thanks to a certain Tom Hanks movie.

I watched Apollo 13, and it like absolutely freaked me out,” Mikulak admits. “I was terrified. I didn’t want to go to space because I thought it was imminent death.”

Now, he indulges that interest in another way.

“Recently I’ve been a big geek on sci fi books,” he said in March at the American Cup, explaining he is a fan of The Expanse and Red Rising series.

That also explains his celebrity crush.

“Hermoine Granger – Emma Watson – she is just a fox!” he also said at the time. “That whole Harry Potter grind got me obsessed. I did some shout-outs and maybe she’ll see
that when Olympic time comes around.”

Regarding gymnastics, he said it was a natural fit since his parents both participated in the sport. Mikulak says his family initially let him try out for every sport from soccer to basketball, but gymnastics is what stuck.

Someday, Mikulak plans to keep the tradition in his own family.

“I definitely want to put my kids in gymnastics at an early age, whether that’s what they want to or not,” he says. “Gymnastics just builds such a great fundamental strength at a young age, and they get great, they learn how to move with their body. I think that can translate to any sport later in life.”

Preparing for the Rio Olympics, which kick off Aug. 5, Mikulak thinks Team USA is the one to beat.

“As a team, the U.S. has a very big control of the difficulty standpoint amongst the other countries of the world,” he says. “Now what we really need to do is put in the work that is refinement and ownership, and that’s really gonna be the difference that you see from this USA team going into this Olympic year.”

Reporting by ROSE MINUTAGLIO

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