Brody Malone, after a serious injury, wins the United States gymnastics championship

Brody Malone, after a serious injury, wins the United States gymnastics championship

FORT WORTH – Brody Malone admitted that, for a moment during the first day of the United States Gymnastics Championships, he wasn’t his typical self. It wasn’t his performance that changed; His fantastic outing was reminiscent of years past. But as soon as he dismounted with his high bar, he let out a roar. And for the introverted, even-tempered and normally stoic competitor, that It was weird.

He couldn’t help it. Malone waited more than a year to return to overall competition, and that same dismount was the skill that went wrong in March 2023. After three surgeries and a grueling recovery process, Malone is back. On Saturday night, when he planted his feet back on the mat on the descent, there was no big celebration: just a cloud of chalk-producing applause, a methodical recognition of another successful routine on his way to a third national tournament. -around the title.

Over two nights of competition, the 24-year-old performed all 12 routines without major errors, totaling 172.300 and showing that, as the Paris Olympics approach, he has returned to his pre-injury form. Malone finished more than two points ahead of runner-up Fred Richard (170.250), who won bronze at the 2023 world championships.

What Malone did here — not even winning but simply performing in all six events — didn’t seem possible until about three weeks ago, he said. Yet he held his own throughout the competition, a bulky knee brace the only visible reminder of an injury that threatened to derail his career. He had a 1.6-point lead after Thursday’s session, and his lead grew with another strong start on Saturday. The Olympic trials are later this month and he will be one of the favorites to make the five-member team.

“I don’t like losing,” Malone said. “It motivates me. It makes me work hard. I didn’t come here just to show up and compete. “I wanted to win.”

Malone won this competition in 2021 and 2022, establishing himself as the best male gymnast in the country, but his promising career fell apart in an instant. At an international competition in Germany, his hands slipped off the high bar and he flew clumsily through the air, trying to save the dismount before crashing to the mat. His right leg slammed into the ground at an unfortunate angle. The impact shattered his knee, causing pain so intense and immediate that he didn’t need a diagnosis to see the daunting path ahead.

Malone’s signature event had betrayed him. As he clutched his leg and grimaced, he began to think about his future in the most basic terms. Malone remembers thinking, “Okay, the next step is to get on the stretcher.” Once there, he focused on getting to the ambulance and then to the hospital. He needed to call his family. Only after settling into the hospital did he begin to contemplate what this injury could mean. He wondered if he would compete again.

Malone dislocated his knee, fractured his tibia and tore multiple ligaments. He underwent his first surgery in Germany and flew home with an external fixation device keeping his leg stable. Malone headed directly from the airport to Stanford Hospital for another operation. He underwent his last surgery last June, less than a year before competing here, a notable change that he, he said, has not assimilated.

“With everything I’ve been through, to be able to come back and make a comeback like I have and be competitive enough to be on top again, it feels amazing,” Malone said.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Malone placed tenth overall with much of his career still ahead of him. A few months later he won a bronze medal on high bar at the world championships. In 2022 he became world champion on the same apparatus and finished fourth in the overall category. Each achievement fueled optimism ahead of Paris.

And then, suddenly, Malone had to learn to walk again.

This is someone who describes himself as a “busybody” and thinks crutches are “the worst.” But he could not continue the recovery process faster than his body allowed him.

Last fall, Malone soared above the high bar again. When he caught his first release item since the unfortunate routine, he jumped off the apparatus, landed carefully on his back to protect his brace-wrapped knee, and smiled. Teammate and close friend Curran Phillips approached him to celebrate.

Around the same time, Malone watched from afar as the U.S. men’s team competed in the world championships in Belgium. The Americans won bronze in the team competition, the first in the world since 2014. In addition to Richard’s all-around bronze, Khoi Young won silver medals in pommel horse and show jumping. The men put on a breakthrough performance and they did it without Malone.

“It motivated me a lot,” Malone said, “because I want to be part of the team that does it in Paris.”

So I was confident that I would be competitive with the best gymnasts in the country in at least four events: pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar. At the national championships he finished in in the top five on each of those apparatus, winning the gold medal on high bar after scoring 14.900 on Thursday and 14.600 on Saturday.

Malone wasn’t sure how far he would progress on floor and vault, which require more hits on his legs. He said he initially wanted to show that he could be a “backup” option in those events; he knew that would improve his chances of making the Olympic team. But during the last two days of competition, he showed that he is capable of more.

Malone began Thursday’s meet with a floor routine that had a difficulty rating not far off from what she scored before the injury. Malone said the competitive performance was only the “third or fourth” time of him working the full routine. He did it again Saturday despite an out-of-bounds landing.

He kept his composure until the end, taking the title on a solid pommel horse. He performed as before, unflappable under pressure and emotionless amid milestones. But now there is no doubt: his injury is now a thing of the past and a trip to Paris awaits him.