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.

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

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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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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