Brody Malone wins gymnastics national title, stakes claim as Olympic team favorite

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The United States has a new men’s all-around gymnastics champion – and Olympic team favorite – and it is rising college senior and former rodeo competitor Brody Malone.

The 21-year-old held on to his first-day lead at every turn Saturday night to win with a total score of 170.7 points, a 2.75-point margin over 2017 U.S. champion Yul Moldauer at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. 2019 World team member and this year’s NCAA silver medalist Shane Wiskus was second entering the final rotation, but two falls on high bar landed him in ninth.

The two-time reigning NCAA all-around champion for Stanford, Malone fell off parallel bars in his first event of the night after his right arm buckled but was otherwise clean at his first senior-level national championships.

“It started rough with parallel bars, but that was the kick I needed to get my mind back on track,” Malone told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN.

Malone won the junior national title in 2017, the last time he competed on this stage. He missed the event in 2018, when he moved from his small town in Georgia to California for college, and 2019, when he competed at the Pan American Games. In Lima, Peru, he helped the team earn silver and was fourth on pommel horse and fifth in the all-around and parallel bars.

He grew up hunting, fishing, frog gigging (hunting frogs) and competing in team roping with his younger brother Cooper at rodeos. To this day, Malone says he draws on the competitive mentality he used in rodeo when it comes to gymnastics.

Malone also had the highest vault score and was second on both still rings and high bar.

“I really can’t see an Olympic team without him on it,” 2008 Olympic champion and NBC analyst Nastia Liukin said of Malone.

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While a relative newcomer to the Olympic conversation shined in Fort Worth, Texas, Olympic veteran Sam Mikulak had a roller-coaster of a competition at the ninth and final senior nationals of his career as he plans to retire this summer.

The 28-year-old struggled this week, falling once each night, as he suffers both from a bone chip floating in his right elbow and a wrist injury. This was the first time Mikulak competed all six events at U.S. championships and did not walk away with the win since his debut senior nationals in 2012.

Mikulak, a two-time Olympian and two-time world medalist, was seventh on day 1, but working with a sport psychologist between competitions helped him return to a mindset of performing for and interacting with the crowd, as opposed to living in the pressure.

Fifth going into the last rotation, Mikulak found his way to the final spot on the podium after ending his night with a high-flying high bar routine and stuck landing that scored 14.85 points (two-night score of 29.6) for the event title as well.

“I felt the passion again,” he said of high bar. “Coming down to a pressure situation, I knew it was going to be a good test for me. To pass the test and get an A+, I remembered why competing is so fun because of those moments when you get a chance to surpass your ability and accomplishments and just be proud of yourself for doing something incredible. I think that was something I really needed to end this competition. … That’s the happiest third-place finish I’ll ever have.”

Mikulak ends his career with six wins and two bronze medals in the all-around at U.S. championships, plus 13 event titles ranging across five apparatuses.

After 100 routines at senior nationals, he also goes out on a high note, having earned the highest all-around score of the day with 84.95 points on Saturday.

“I’m ready for my next adventure,” Mikulak said of knowing he would be finished with gymnastics after Tokyo, whether or not he makes the team.

Malone already had a unique feat in common with both Moldauer and Mikulak in that they are the only three men to win the NCAA all-around title as freshmen. After sharing the podium in Fort Worth, all three are now U.S. all-around champions as well and hold every title dating back to 2013.

“Hands down, that kid is the future,” Mikulak said on passing the torch to Malone. “I’m just this old guy trying to keep up with him now. I’m just glad there’s someone to fill my shoes when I’m gone and overstep me right now. For right now, my goal is just to make the team. I know I’m not at my best and I’m trying to keep up with him. … I want to see all the best for that kid, and with him the future’s going to be bright for gymnastics.”

Moldauer, now a two-time all-around runner-up and this week’s parallel bars victor, agreed, saying that Malone’s win will help push the entire national team and also displayed the depth of the U.S. men’s program.

Brandon Briones, a 2018 Youth Olympic medalist and Stanford teammate of Malone’s, was just 0.25 points behind Mikulak in fourth.

Two-time world team alternate Allan Bower (166.15) and 2016 Olympic alternate Akash Modi (165.5) round out the top six, all of whom qualify for Olympic Trials, along with others to be named later.

The men’s competition at Olympic Trials will be held June 24 and 26 in St. Louis, Missouri, after which five athletes will be selected. Four of them will compete in the team event, while one will enter Tokyo solely as an individual thanks to the additional quota Paul Juda secured for his country on Friday at the Pan American Championships.

It is expected that the individual spot will be filled by an event specialist, and there are currently a handful of contenders including this week’s floor exercise national champion Eddie Penev, who also tied for second on vault, pommel horse winner Stephen Nedoroscik and rings champion Alex Diab. 2018 U.S. pommel horse champion Alec Yoder, who was second to Nedoroscik, and Gage Dyer, second to Penev on floor and tied for second with him on vault, are also in the mix.

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