Malone wins first US gymnastics title, with Tokyo in sight

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Brody Malone competes in the vault during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Brody Malone deleted Instagram from his phone after racing to the lead at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, an attempt to cut out distractions as he eyed his first national title.

Consider it good practice. If the 21-year-old keeps performing like this, the distractions around him are only going to increase heading to Tokyo.

Confident from start to finish, Malone overcame a nervous mistake on parallel bars to post a two-day total of 170.700 and stamp himself as the new standard-bearer for the men's program with the Summer Games just seven weeks away.

The victory ended six-time national champion and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak's long reign. While Mikulak rebounded from seventh to third, the 29-year-old believes he saw a changing of the guard.

“That kid is the future,” Mikulak said. "I’m just this old guy trying to keep up with him now.”

Malone said he wasn't nervous during the opening round on Thursday, saying he felt far more pressure while competing for Stanford in the NCAA Championships in April. Staked to a sizable lead after a polished performance, the nerves returned. He appeared ready to have his advantage slip away after ending up on the mat in the middle of his parallel bars set, his first event during finals.

No matter. He responded by drilling his high bars set, where his 15.050 score was the best of the meet and the second highest on any event.

“(The fall) was the kick in the butt I needed,” Malone said.