TAMPA — Brody Malone wasn’t satisfied after gapping the U.S. men’s gymnastics field by a record margin on the first night of the U.S. Championships.
Mad about his opening still rings routine, Malone still tallied 88.942 points on the first of two nights of competition on Thursday. He leads by 3.462 points — shattering the record lead for one day in U.S. men’s history — over Asher Hong going into Saturday, when national champions will be crowned.
Malone, a 22-year-old Stanford standout, should cruise to a repeat U.S. all-around title.
But he believes his overall performance Thursday would not be enough to break into the all-around medals at the world championships in two and a half months. His score was boosted by around two points due to bonuses awarded for attempting difficult skills. That bonus system is not in effect in international competition.
“That [88.942] is kind of what I need to be scoring without bonuses to be competitive internationally,” Malone said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Last year, Malone won his senior nationals debut, displacing six-time U.S. all-around champion Sam Mikulak.
Malone, a former rodeo competitor and frog gigger from a four-square-mile Georgia hometown, then placed 10th in the Tokyo Olympic all-around and missed a high bar medal by one spot.
The Americans finished fifth in the Olympic team event and went medal-less across all the men’s events at the Games for the first time since 2000.
Collectively, the U.S. men are now focused on performing more difficult routines to increase their start values. The reserved Malone is thrust into a leadership role with Mikulak retired.
“I kind of wanted to step up and lead USA Gymnastics,” he said. “Not just me. [Olympic teammates] Yul [Moldauer] and Shane [Wiskus] also. Lead us to start pushing difficulty and push for a medal next Olympics.”
The goal by the 2024 Paris Games, if not before, is to be competitive with world powers China, Japan and Russia (which is banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine).
The men are incentivized with bonus points at nationals to throw harder skills — sometimes more than a full point per routine. Since last season, Malone upgraded rings, parallel bars and pommel horse, plus put in new floor exercise passes. He wants to be one of the world’s top five gymnasts and a high bar medalist come 2024.
Saturday’s all-around winner clinches a spot on the five-man team for the world championships in Liverpool, Great Britain. That roster will be finalized after an October selection camp. The U.S. is a medal contender given Olympic champion Russia’s absence. The last U.S. men’s team medal at an Olympics or worlds came in 2014.
Hong, an 18-year-old in his senior nationals debut, boosted his chances Thursday with the top scores on floor and vault. Donnell Whittenburg, a 2016 Olympic alternate who turned 28 on Thursday, was third for his best single-day finish in a U.S. all-around since 2017.
Wiskus and Moldauer were fourth and fifth.
Nationals continue Friday with the first of two nights of women’s competition.
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