Brody Malone stays on top of American gymnastics with his second all-around title

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TAMPA — A year ago, Brody Malone became the flag bearer of American men’s gymnastics. And on Saturday, at his sport’s flagship annual event, he won a second straight national all-around title to prove he still holds that status.

Behind him is a veteran and a newcomer, both with super tough jumps and added promise for the US men’s program. Malone took the crown by a comfortable margin with a total of 176.590, about five points ahead of Donnell Whittenburg, a 28-year-old clinging to his unfulfilled Olympic hopes. Whittenburg edged out Asher Hong, an 18-year-old from Texas, after the rising talent had a disastrous final rotation of the competition on high bar.

Malone and Whittenburg earned spots on the world championship squad based on their performances at Amalie Arena, while the other three squad members will be determined after a selection camp. Hong will certainly be in contention – in addition to the all-around, he also finished in the top three in vault, floor and rings – but he missed his chance to qualify automatically in the dying moments of the competition. Hong’s ability is “off the charts,” said his trainer, Tom Meadows. But as the last competitor on the high bar, the apparatus he slipped on Thursday, Hong struggled through parts of his routine, then fell on his dismount – the final element of his evening and his first big mistake.

“It was good to see how he was going to react on this stage,” Meadows said. “As a junior he was always one of the best guys. But this time it’s on the big stage, with all the greats. It was great to see. I have a bit of learning to do, however.

Malone delivered a solid set of 12 routines over the two days of this competition, and he kept his distance from Whittenburg and Hong, who each received a big boost from the American program’s bonus system that rewards difficulty. Malone also won the national titles on floor and high bar, her flagship event, despite minor errors on that apparatus on Sunday.

Fellow Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer (fifth at 169.139) and Shane Wiskus (seventh at 167.429) were further behind. Both made major mistakes – Wiskus on floor and Moldauer on pommel horse – and it helped Hong and Whittenburg retain the top three spots they won after the first night of competition. Hong entered second on Sunday, but his low final score pushed him to less than four-tenths of a point behind Whittenburg. Stanford’s Colt Walker (sixth) and Moldauer would both have edged out Hong and Whittenburg had the bonus system been not in place.

In addition to Hong, another 18-year-old player, Fred Richard, stood out finishing fourth. Richard placed second on high bar, behind only Malone. He won’t be eligible for the world championship squad because he’s already competed internationally as a junior this year, but he’ll be on the U.S. teams going forward.

“We love to see young people like that coming up,” Malone said. “It will be great for our country.”

Malone soared onto the scene last year, winning all-around titles at the NCAA Championships, Elite Nationals and Olympic Trials. Prior to 2021, he had never competed in the senior division at the U.S. Championships, the showpiece event for top-level gymnasts in that country. By the time he made it to Tokyo, he was clearly the best all-around gymnast on the US team, despite having never made a world championship appearance.

Three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak won six national all-around titles before Malone took No. 1 in the U.S. men’s program. Mikulak and Malone qualified for the Olympic all-around final, with Malone finishing 10th ahead of Mikulak in 12th. Mikulak knew the Tokyo Games would be the last competition of his gymnastics career, while the other members of the four-member team – Malone, Moldauer and Wiskus – were soaking up their first Games and looking to the Olympics of Paris in 2024.

“I never intended to come and take Sam’s place,” Malone said on Saturday. “It just happened. I don’t want it to affect the way I approach my gymnastics. I don’t even think about it.

The Americans haven’t finished on the podium at the world championships or the Olympics since 2014, but with Russia banned from international competition, the American men will be in contention for a medal this year. National team staff have implemented an aggressive bonus system that rewards athletes for tough routines at national competitions and is intended to help Americans catch up to the best teams in the world.

Hong and Whittenburg received a considerable boost from this initiative, mainly due to their difficult vaults. The two performed a jump with a rounded entry on the table, then a double tuck with a full twist after pushing off their hands. This is one of the most difficult chests in the world, and under the new system they each received a bonus of 1,780. Hong had a better execution on that jump – and a more difficult second jump, which is necessary to fight for medals on the apparatus – and he took the event title. Hong’s coach isn’t worried about his gymnast’s chances of making the world team, even though he has similar strengths to Whittenburg.

“Asher brings so much to the table,” Meadows said.

To start her night, Whittenburg performed a tough set on the rings and earned the best two-day total of the competition. His two best events – rings and vault – were his first of the night, and he moved up to second place. Whittenburg spun through his weakest events and Hong passed him in the standings until the final count.

Whittenburg fell to the floor twice on Thursday but still entered the second day of competition in third, largely thanks to the bonus system. He returned on Sunday and delivered a well-rounded performance, this time with a great floor routine, en route to a spot on the world championship team for the fifth time.

Even with all the bonuses removed – as they will be for World Championship team selection decisions and in international competitions – Malone stood well above the rest of the pack. But his ambitions extend beyond this competition and into the fall, when he could continue to lead the American men by finally returning to the team medal podium.

“Every score I got, I looked up there and tried to subtract the bonus to see where I was actually scoring,” Malone said. “And we all have a lot of work to do to be able to keep up with these top guys. I’m hungry to go back to the gym.

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