Brody Malone wins back-to-back U.S. gymnastics title

Malone and Donnell Whittenburg punch tickets to 2022 World Championships in Liverpool

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg are headed to England.

The duo finished 1-2 in the all-around after two days of men's competition at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Tampa, Florida with Malone totalling 176.590 across 12 routines and coasting to the top spot on the leader board. Whittenburg earned a 171.571. By virtue of their finishes, both did enough to earn automatic berths to October's World Championships in Liverpool.

"Super excited that I'm going to get to worlds and also to the Paris [World Cup]," said Malone, who will participate in the World Cup event next month. "I've never been to Paris, I've just kind of flown through there so I'm excited for it. Feeling good."

Said Whittenburg: "I feel great, me and my coach, we had a plan. It was to get top two and honestly, I just had to believe that I could do it, and we made it happen," he said. "Thanks to my coach for having the plan for me, all I had to do was just follow as best as I could."

The remainder of the U.S. squad will be decided at a selection camp in Colorado Springs at the beginning of October.

First year senior Asher Hong finished third with a 171.210 total. 2020 Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus finished fifth and seventh, respectively.

For Malone, it's a second-straight U.S. title and confirmation of his status as Team USA's best.

He got off to a solid start, earning scores of 14.489, pommel horse; 14.200, still right; and 14.600, vault. In the fourth rotation, Malone shook off a slight balance error on a Diamidov-half to score 14.871 on the parallel bars.

He had a rare mistake on the horizontal bar, where he is the reigning world bronze medallist, when he went the wrong way on a pirouetting element. It was a costly error as Malone scored more than a full point off his day one mark, posting a 14.372.

"I'm a little disappointed with how high bar went today but gotta get back in the gym and just keep working out the kinks," he said of the hiccup.

He closed out his competition on the floor exercise, executing front full to double pike front opening pass for a 15.166.

Coming into night two, Malone held nearly a three-and-a-half point lead over Hong, the day one runner-up. He only pushed that margin higher Saturday, but the massive gap doesn't mean he's not pushing as hard as he can for the worlds podium, says U.S. high performance director Brett McClure.

"He is an animal inside. He wants to be on that podium so bad, and he works really, really hard. He's first one in, last one out," he said. "He's a fighter, even if you're five points ahead, it's not good enough for him."

After nearly walking away from the sport, Whittenburg impresses in Tampa

Whittenburg, 28, thought he would move on from the sport a year ago after missing out for a second time on a trip to the Olympic Games.

But instead of pushing him out of gymnastics, that disappointment has only served to fuel him.

"It changed basically when, you know, obviously didn't make the Olympic team," he said earlier this week. "I just still feel like I'm missing something, and that's literally the one thing. I've done just about everything you could possibly do in this sport except going to Olympic Games."

He's also been spurred on by a friend.

"I definitely have to give credit to one of my good friends, [Dutch gymnast] Casimir Schmidt. He kind of sent me like a letter saying like, 'Since we, you know, we both haven't made the Olympic team, let's just keep pushing and try to make this happen,'" Whittenburg said. "And, you know, that that kind of really hit like a soft spot. And I was like, 'You know what? That's my boy. He's still going. I might as well keep going, too.'"

McClure says he saw a switch last fall when Whittenburg competed at his fourth World Championships.

"It's an incredible comeback. You really saw a change at World Championships, just in his mentality," said McClure of Whittenburg. "He was super grateful for the opportunity in Japan and it carried over to training and preparation for this event, and it's awesome. I'm so proud of him for everything he's done."

At last, Hong makes senior debut

Hong's ascension has been long awaited after junior success, including pommel horse gold and all-around silver medal at the 2018 Pacific Rim Championships at just 14.

In addition to his third place finish in the all-around, Hong took the title on the vault, finished second on vault and third on the still rings.

"I feel great about it. Had a few hiccups but, you know, go back to the gym, work even harder and re-evaluate the routines and hopefully perform at the World selection camp and do well," said Hong.

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