TAMPA — Brody Malone confirmed that he is the leader of a new era of U.S. men’s gymnastics. Donnell Whittenburg showed that his time at the top of the sport isn’t near finished.
Malone repeated as U.S. all-around champion, consolidating his breakout from 2021, when he won his senior nationals debut, then won the Olympic Trials, placed 10th in the Tokyo Olympic all-around and earned a world championships bronze medal on high bar.
The 22-year-old Stanford standout totaled 176.590 points over two nights of competition this week, distancing Whittenburg by 5.019 points. Both Malone and Whittenburg clinched spots on the five-man team for this fall’s world championships. The other three members will be finalized after an October selection camp.
It’s the second-largest margin of victory since the perfect 10 was replaced by an open-ended scoring system in 2006.
Only Sam Mikulak won by a larger amount — 5.55 points for his sixth and final all-around title in 2019. Malone ended Mikulak’s reign last year, and Mikulak retired following his third Olympics. The throne is Malone’s.
“It was never my intention to come in and take over Sam’s spot,” said Malone, a former rodeo competitor and frog gigger from a four-square-mile Georgia hometown. “It just kind of happened. I don’t want that to affect how I approach my gymnastics. I don’t even think about it.”
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In contrast, Whittenburg missed two Olympic teams, changed coaches and moved from Colorado to Wisconsin since the previous time he was runner-up at nationals in 2015. At 28, he can become the oldest U.S. man to win a world championships medal since Blaine Wilson in 2003.
Whittenburg, a world medalist in 2014 and 2015, thinks he would have retired had he made the Tokyo Olympic team and earned a medal there. Without him, the U.S. men earned zero Olympic medals for the first time since 2000.
“I still feel like I’m missing something,” Whittenburg, one of the world’s best on vault, said before nationals. “I’ve done just about everything you could possibly do in this sport except going to the Olympic Games. … I’m still missing that one goal.
“My mom says, as long as you can keep going, you might as well because as soon as you’re done, you’re done.”
Who will join Malone and Whittenburg on the world championships team? A committee will decide after October’s camp competitions, but 18-year-old Asher Hong made a strong case in his senior nationals debut.
Hong, who got his gymnastics start by climbing door frames like Spider-Man at age 3, was in second place going into his 12th and last routine of the meet. He had a shot to outscore Malone, his future Stanford teammate, over the second half of the competition but struggled on high bar and fell behind Whittenburg.
Still, Hong can become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009.
If Hong does make it, that will mean one of three accomplished veterans will not: Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus finished fifth and seventh, respectively, though Moldauer stands much higher if excluding difficulty bonus points awarded at nationals that will not go into scores at worlds.
Stephen Nedoroscik is the only active U.S. gymnast who owns an individual world championships gold medal. Nedoroscik competes solely on pommel horse and last October became the first American to win a world title on the event. But he said he was not at his best in Tampa and will have to hope the selection committee values his single score enough to choose him over an all-arounder for worlds.
There’s also Paul Juda, who beat Malone for the NCAA all-around title in April but missed nationals due to a bone contusion. Juda can petition for a spot in the selection camp.
The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three.
That’s obviously much more desirable than having to wait until 2023 Worlds, where the rest of the nine Olympic team berths are at stake (not that the U.S. is in jeopardy of not qualifying).
Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.
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