ST. LOUIS (AP) — Brody Malone grew up in northwest Georgia and spent part of his childhood tinkering around as a rodeo rider before finally committing full-time to gymnastics.
It’s a decision that’s carried him all the way to the Olympics.
The 20-year-old locked down a spot on the U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team on Saturday, earning an automatic berth on the five-man team by capturing the Olympic Trials with a two-day all-around total of 171.600.
The victory, on top of the NCAA crown the Stanford junior won in April and the national title he won earlier this month cemented Malone’s status as the leader of the men’s program heading to Japan and beyond.
Yul Moldauer, the 2017 national champion and a three-time world championship team member, is heading to Tokyo next month too after finishing runner-up to Malone while also ranking in the top three on four events.
Sam Mikulak reached his third Olympics after being named to the team by the selection committee. Shane Wiskus, who relocated from the University of Minnesota to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center last fall with an eye on reaching Tokyo, was also named.
Alec Yoder earned the “plus-one” specialist spot after two terrific pommel horse routines.
Malone, however, took his choice out of the selection committee’s hands with a confident and controlled display. He hardly seemed bothered by the stakes, improving his score on five of six events compared to Day 1. His high-bar routine is a series of daring releases in which he flings himself up and over top and appears to be ready to fall to the mat before catching the bar at the last second.
While Malone has tried to stay in the moment after ending Mikulak’s long reign at nationals, he did allow himself three exultant claps after sticking the dismount on his rings’ routine, a set that basically assured himself of a spot on the plane to Japan in three weeks.
Moldauer, dogged by back spasms at nationals, certainly looked healthy. The exuberant 24-year-old roared at the end of every event, emotion pouring out of him during each rotation.
Mikulak, vying to appear in his third Games, drilled a showstopping routine on high bar and posted the top score on floor. A fall on pommel horse — long an event that he has struggled on — will likely not affect his chances of making his third team.
The “plus-one” spot designed for a specialist may be the committee’s only tough decision, one that likely came down to Yoder, Stephen Nedoroscik and Alex Diab.
Yoder performed better on pommels than Nedoroscik over the course of two days, and his medal potential on the event is higher than Alex Diab’s potential on rings.
Brandon Briones, Cameron Bock, Akash Modi, Allan Bower and Diab will serve as the alternates.
The Americans will have their work cut out in Tokyo. The team hasn’t finished on the podium at a major international competition since the 2014 world championships and hasn’t earned a team medal at the Olympics since taking bronze in Beijing in 2008.
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