FORT WORTH, Texas – Brody Malone deleted Instagram from his phone after vying to lead the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in an attempt to cut out distractions as he watched his first national title.
Think of a good practice. If the 21-year-old continues to present himself in this way, the distraction around him will increase only in Tokyo.
Confident from start to finish, Malone overcame the nerve error of parallels to publish a two-day sum of 170,700 and set himself as the flag bearer for the men’s summer games program in just seven weeks.
The victory ended six-time national champion and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak. As Mikulak bounced from seventh to third, the 29-year-old said he saw a change of guard.
“This child is the future,”
Malone admitted he was not nervous during Thursday’s opening round, saying he felt much more pressure as he competed for Stanford in the NCAA Championships in April. Bet on a significant lead after a polished performance, the nerves returned. He seemed ready to slip his advantage after finding himself on the mat in the middle of his parallel bars, which was his first event during the finals.
No matter. He responded by testing his high set of bars, where his score of 15,050 was the best of the match and the second highest for each event.
“[The fall] it was the kick in the ass I needed, ”Malone said.
Yul Moldauer overcame another mistake of a horse with a thread to finish second. Moldauer won the national title in 2017 while Mikulak was recovering from an injury. He called Malone’s victory evidence that the next wave was coming for a program that had spent most of the last decade run by Mikulak.
“Brody wins, that’s great,” Moldauer said. “It shows that there are younger boys in this country who are able to be the best dogs right now, and when that happens, it makes everyone better.”
Mikulak spent Friday in a long discussion with his sports psychologist after an unusual Thursday night that left him far behind Malone. Racing for the first time in nearly 15 months, Mikulak surprisingly ran out of gas during his last two events. An extended chat with his sports psychologist on Friday helped him restart.
He came out flying, punching his floor exercise to start the finals. Minutes later, he dismounted from his horse in the middle of his routine. This would be his only big mistake, a positive development for the lone constant in the US men’s program since making his first Olympic team in 2012. Mikulak saved his best moment for the last time by sticking to the descent of his high routine before he roared as he pumped his fists.
“How are you having fun? I was trying to ask that question,” Mikulak said. “When’s this fun? Well, you have to put on a show.”
Something Mikulak has done with stunning regularity over the last nine years. However, his time is coming to an end. He is engaged and ready to move on to the next chapter of his life. The decision not to insist by 2024 freed him in some way. Hopefully the rust is gone, Mikulak is eager to attack the last months of his long career.
The Olympic Selection Committee relies heavily on the performance of the tests to determine the five-man team. Malone has spent the last five months in pretty convincing arguments. He helped the cardinal win the NCAA team title in April and added a universal title to keep the one he won as a freshman in 2019.
“It’s really great to be in the gym every day,” Stanford teammate Brandon Bryans, who finished fourth, told Malone. “We train with him all the time. He’s always first in the gym, last comes out.”
Shane Whiskey, who moved from the University of Minnesota to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado last fall, was poised for one of the top four spots before the nightmarish inclusion of the high bar in his latest event. Viscus saw his hands slip three times to fall until the ninth. Whiskey wore an ice bandage on his right hand during part of the awards ceremony.
Alan Bauer, who postponed attending medical school for a year after the 2021 Olympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finished fifth.
The Americans won a “plus one” place at the Olympics thanks to Paul Judah’s second place in the all-around at the Pan American Championships on Friday. Highly productive director of American gymnastics Brett McClure said the team is likely to use this position as a specialist, not at all.
The selection committee will have its hands full. While Malone won the national title with nearly three points, the difference between second and sixth was only 2,450 points.