A new leader emerges for U.S. men’s gymnastics

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Brody Malone is competing at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships for the first time in four years, and for the first time ever in the senior division.

He’s in the lead after the first of two nights of competition, a step toward potentially making the team for Tokyo after the Olympic Trials in three weeks.

Malone, the two-time NCAA all-around champion for Stanford, stayed upright while the nation’s most decorated men — six-time U.S. champion Sam Mikulak (seventh place) and 2017 U.S. champ Yul Moldauer (tied for second) — each fell once in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday night.

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Malone totaled 86.25 points. He leads Moldauer and Stanford teammate Brandon Briones by a significant 2.65 points going into the last night of competition Saturday.

“I really didn’t have any expectations,” Malone, who grew up in a rodeo family, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “My goal is to push for the Olympics.”

Mikulak was outscored doing all six events at nationals for the first time since 2016. He fell off the parallel bars and had major errors on floor exercise and pommel horse in his first meet in 15 months.

“By no means did I feel like my good, confident, gymnastics self,” said Mikulak, who plans to change his diet for more energy and speak with his sports psychologist to handle his nerves before Saturday. “I haven’t had a crash like that in a long time [doing an all-around].”

His training has been curtailed due to a bone chip floating in his right elbow. His hopes of national title No. 7 — which he wasn’t focused on before the meet — are pretty much gone in his last season before retirement. But Olympic Trials matter more, and Mikulak is using nationals to prep for St. Louis in three weeks.

“One thing I guess I got going right now is the bar is set real low,” Mikulak joked. “I should be able to improve a lot.”

Malone, 21, last competed at nationals in 2017, winning a junior crown. He wasn’t in the field in 2018 while transitioning from four-square-mile Summerville, Georgia, to Stanford (with a campus that’s 13 square miles). Nor in 2019, when he was sent to the Pan American Games instead.

But he has been very present for the Cardinal. In 2019, he became the third freshman to win the NCAA men’s all-around. The others: Mikulak (in 2011) and Moldauer (in 2016).

He repeated as NCAA all-around champ in April — the 2020 NCAAs were canceled — propelling him into the Olympic selection season. On Thursday, he excelled on all events save some landing errors on floor.

The U.S. team in Tokyo will be four or five men. Entering nationals, Mikulak and Moldauer were considered favorites (and still are), but multiple spots may be up for grabs through Trials, after which the roster will be named.

Mikulak is the only member of the fifth-place Rio Olympic team still competing.

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