By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Brody Malone cruised to his second national gymnastics title on Saturday night to cement his status atop the American men’s program with the Paris Olympics less than two years away.
The 22-year-old Malone posted a two-day total of 176.950, more than five points ahead of longtime national team member Donnell Whittenburg in second and teenager Asher Hong in third.
An Olympian for the first time last summer and a bronze medalist on the high bar at the world championships last fall, Malone has quickly grown comfortable as the standard-bearer for the U.S. men, a mantle he accepted following three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak’s retirement after the Tokyo Games.
Malone wasn’t quite as crisp on Saturday night as he was on Thursday when he took a massive five-point lead on the rest of the field, but it hardly mattered.
Spectacular on high bar and steady and efficient everywhere else, Malone competes with an unruffled poise. At times it’s difficult to tell whether he’s in the middle of a major meet or just riffing at the end of practice.
Malone’s triumph automatically earned him a spot on the 2022 world championship team. He’ll be joined in Liverpool, England, this fall by a resurgent Whittenburg.
The 28-year-old, a four-time world championship team member but never an Olympian, considered retirement at the end of 2021. He ultimately decided to press on, saying his body was too healthy for him to move on to the next chapter of his life.
Buoyed a bit by a bonus system designed to reward gymnasts for attempting more difficult elements, the powerfully built Whittenburg posted the top score on still rings and took second on vault. He still seemed destined to have to sweat out the world championship team selection camp in October until Hong saw a largely brilliant meet end with a sloppy set on high bar that dropped him from second to third, costing him one of the two automatic berths on the world team.
The 18-year-old Hong, who will join Malone at Stanford when classes begin in late September, still provided a compelling case that he should join his soon-to-be teammate in England too. Hong took first on vault, second on floor and third on rings.
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