ST. LOUIS (AP) – Brody Malone competes like an Olympian. By the end of the weekend, he probably will be.
On Thursday night, the 20-year-old NCAA and NCAA national champion took the lead at the Olympic Trials in the United States, posting an overall score of 85.250. evening finals.
Two weeks after ending six-time national champion Sam Mikulak’s long reign as America’s top male gymnast, Malone solidified his bid for an Olympic spot with six sublime and sometimes spectacular routines.
The Stanford star finished in the top three of four events, including the high bar, where his streak of daring high-risk outings electrified the (somewhat) socially distant crowd inside the American Center Dome.
Malone’s only misstep on his sprint to a national title came on parallel bars in the final, where a crash briefly opened the door for the rest of the field. There were no such problems on Thursday. Stable from start to finish, Malone stuck his descent as the last competitor of the night, one exclamation mark on another his climb to the heights of his sport.
Shane Wiskus was second at 84.300, followed by 2017 national champion Yul Moldauer and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak.
The all-around leader after Saturday night’s finals will automatically earn a spot on the team, with the runner-up also guaranteed a spot provided he finishes in the top three in at least three events. Wiskus is able to do this thanks to his first three performances on parallel bars, vault and horizontal bar.
Men’s High Performance Director Brett McClure said the focus for the four-man squad will be on the best all-rounders, and the quartet of Malone, Mikulak and Moldauer made a pretty compelling case for them- same over the past three weeks.
Malone, Mikulak and Moldauer finished in the top three at the national championships in Fort Worth, Texas this month. Wiskus was set to join them before a nightmarish turn on high bar in the final, when he fell three times to climb to ninth place.
There were no major mistakes this time around. Not by Wiskus or any of the other major contenders. Moldauer, hampered by back spasms at the national championships that cost him the pommel horse, rebounded as he drilled his pommel horse set, his 14.050 being the second highest score of the night’s event .
“The horse is all about the fight,” Moldauer said. “You will never feel like you have the same pace in training. It is therefore a question of fighting. And the funny thing is I went there and we had a problem with the computer. So like I’m frozen and closed my eyes and like, ‘You know, this is where it really matters. Just go up there and show what you can do.
Mikulak was not his typically crisp self on pommel horse and parallel bars. Still, he seemed much more prepared than he was on opening night of the national championships, when he fell so far behind that he made a realistic race at a national seventh time impossible.
“It was a lot better than my first day of the (American) championships, but it still wasn’t like those really polished and polished routines except for the floor,” said Mikulak. “I was really happy with the ground. But other than that, you know, I think when I went out there, I just felt comfortable. I felt cool. And, you know, things weren’t really going my way. I had to fight a lot. But I know when I was in those times when I had to fight, I was like, “We’re good. It’s okay. We’re in control.”
While Malone, Moldauer, Mikulak and Wiskus seem to be parting ways with the rest of the peloton, the real drama ahead of the weekend might be who gets the ‘plus-1’ spot.
McClure said the “plus-1” spot will go to the athlete with the best chance of winning an individual medal in Tokyo. The field clears up quickly.
Stephen Nedoroscik of Penn State, who was competing in his first Olympic trials, got off to a rough start. Competing in a single event – pommel horse – Nedoroscik came out early in his set and settled for a 13.650. Not that he seemed particularly disappointed about it. Nedoroscik conducted his own post-event interview with a nearby NBC camera, admitting he was “a bit lost in the moment” during his first tries.
Alec Yoder has not had such problems on the pommel. Fans in the stands beside him roaring as he made his way from side to side, Yoder let out a scream as he pierced his set, his 15.050 easily the best of the night on an event which has long been a hot spot for most Americans.