Brody Malone leads U.S. Gymnastics Championships after night one

Newcomer Asher Hong is second, while veteran Donnell Whittenburg sees perseverance pay off in third place

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

U.S. gymnast Brody Malone lived up to his reputation Thursday (18 August) as he used the strength of his horizontal bar routine to soar to the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Tampa, Florida.

Malone, a 2020 Olympian and 2021 world bronze medallist, has asserted himself as Team USA's best gymnast for the better part of the past 14 months, winning his first national title a year ago as well as the Olympic trials and last month's U.S. Classic.

"I was pretty happy with how it went," Malone said, before adding matter-of-factly, "The first two events kind of started slow. I was pretty mad about rings, but you gotta have a short memory. I had five events left, there's no sense in dwelling on it. You gotta put it behind you."

Thursday in Tampa, he totalled an 88.942 in the all-around to lead the standings. Asher Hong was second with a 85.480, followed by Donnell Whittenburg (84.774). The U.S. men's program is using a modified International Gymnastics Federation scoring system that includes big bonuses for performing routines that hit certain difficulty scores.

Without the bonus system, Malone would have scored an 86.750.

That's something he's acute aware of.

"I think my all-around was 88.9 or something with all the bonuses, I'm like, 'Yeah, that's great, but that's kind of what I need to be scoring without bonuses to be competitive internationally,'" said Malone. "So, we got a lot of work to do. I'm bringing that back to the gym for sure and I gotta work by butt off."

After three solid scores on still rings (13.900), vault (14.450) and parallel bars (15.171), Malone took to his specialty event, the high bar, and launched himself into the lead with a 15.700. His high-flying routine included two full-twisting, double flipping catch-and-release elements and a nearly stuck layout double-double dismount.

In the fifth rotation, Malone was solid again, scoring 14.616 on the floor exercise after tumbling a front full to double pike and two-and-a-half twist to double front in his first two tumbling passes. He closed out his competition with an 15.089 on the pommel horse.

For Hong, his performance is a remarkable result for the 18-year-old, who is competing in his first year as a senior competitor.

"I'm proud of what I did, had some mishaps but roll the punches. Fifty percent done, got one more day. We'll do our best Saturday," said Hong. "I pushed through each event and tried to forget what happened on the past events and reset."

He leads the standings on the floor exercise and vault, where he performed a daring full-twisting double Tsukahara.

After nearly walking away from the sport a year ago, Whittenburg was pleased with his performance. He credits his success night one to a new mindset.

"I'm in such a better headspace. I mean, I have so much confidence in myself. I feel way more empowered than I did in the previous year," Whittenburg said. "So I can believe I can, you know, do anything I want to, as long as I just stay positive with myself and just keep believing that I can."


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