TAMPA — A year ago, Brody Malone ascended to become the standard-bearer in U.S. men’s gymnastics. And on Saturday, at his sport’s marquee annual event, he won a second straight national all-around title to prove he still holds that status.
Behind him, there are a veteran and a newcomer, both with super-difficult vaults and additional promise for the American men’s program. Malone won the crown by a comfortable margin with a 176.590 total that was about five points ahead of Donnell Whittenburg, a 28-year-old hanging on to his unfulfilled Olympic hopes. Whittenburg edged Asher Hong, an 18-year-old from Texas, after the rising talent had a disastrous final rotation of the competition on high bar.
Both Malone and Whittenburg secured spots on the world championships team based on their performances at Amalie Arena, while the other three members of the squad will be determined after a selection camp. Hong certainly will be in contention — in addition to the all-around, he also had top-three finishes on vault, floor and rings — but he missed his chance to grab automatic qualification in the waning moments of the meet. As the final competitor on high bar, the apparatus he slipped off Thursday, Hong struggled through parts of his routine, then fell on his dismount — the final element of his evening and his first major lapse.
“It was good to see how he was going to react on this stage,” said Tom Meadows, Hong’s coach. “As a junior, he was always kind of one of the better guys. But this time, it’s on the big stage, with all the big guys. It was great to see. Got some learning to do, though.”
Malone delivered a solid set of 12 routines across two days of this meet, and he maintained distance from Whittenburg and Hong, who each received a large boost from the U.S. program’s bonus system that rewards difficulty. Malone also won the national titles on floor and high bar, his signature event, despite minor errors on that apparatus Sunday.
Fellow Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer (fifth with a 169.139) and Shane Wiskus (seventh with a 167.429) were further behind. Both had major mistakes — Wiskus on floor and Moldauer on pommel horse — and that helped Hong and Whittenburg hold on to the top-three spots they grabbed after the first night of competition. Hong entered Sunday in second, but his low final score pushed him less than four-tenths of a point behind Whittenburg. Moldauer and Stanford’s Colt Walker (sixth) both would have been ahead of Hong and Whittenburg if the bonus system were not in place.
Malone soared onto the scene last year, winning the all-around titles at the NCAA championships, elite nationals and Olympic trials. Before 2021, he had never competed in the senior division at the U.S. championships, the marquee event for top-tier gymnasts in this country. By the time he headed to Tokyo, he was the clear top all-around gymnast on the U.S. squad, even though he had never made an appearance at the world championships.
Sam Mikulak, a three-time Olympian, won six national all-around titles before Malone assumed the top spot in the U.S. men’s program. Both Mikulak and Malone qualified for the Olympic all-around final, with Malone finishing 10th ahead of Mikulak in 12th. Mikulak knew the Tokyo Games would be the final competition of his gymnastics career, while the other members of the four-member team — Malone, Moldauer and Wiskus — were soaking in their first Games and looking toward the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“It was never my intention to come in and take over Sam’s spot,” Malone said Saturday. “It just kind of happened. I don’t want that to affect how I approach my gymnastics. I don’t even think about it.”
The Americans haven’t finished on the podium at a world championships or an Olympics since 2014, but with Russia banned from international competition, the U.S. men will be in contention for a medal this year. The national team staff has implemented an aggressive bonus system that rewards athletes for competing difficult routines at domestic meets and is meant to help the Americans catch up with the world’s top teams.
Hong and Whittenburg received a considerable boost from this initiative, primarily because of their difficult vaults. Both performed a vault with a roundoff entry onto the table, then a double tuck with a full twist after pushing off from their hands. That’s among the most difficult vaults in the world, and under the new system they each received a bonus of 1.780. Hong had better execution on that vault — and a harder second vault, which is required to contend for medals on the apparatus — and he secured the event title.
To start his evening, Whittenburg executed a difficult set on rings and secured the best two-day total of the competition. His best two events — rings and vault — were his first of the evening, and he rose into second place. Whittenburg rotated through his weaker events, and Hong surpassed him in the standings until the final tally.
Whittenburg fell twice on floor Thursday but still entered the second day of competition in third, largely thanks to the bonus system. He returned Sunday and delivered a well-rounded showing, this time with an excellent floor routine, en route to a spot on the world championships team for the fifth time.
Even with all bonuses removed — as they will be for world championship team selection decisions and at international competitions — Malone stood far above the rest of the field. But his ambitions stretch far beyond this meet and into the fall, when he could continue leading the U.S. men by finally returning to the medal podium as a team.
“Every score I got, I was looking up there and trying to subtract the bonus off to see where I was actually scoring,” Malone said. “And we all have a lot of work to do to be able to keep up with those top guys. I’m hungry to get back in the gym.”