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Leanne Wong Returns With A Bang To Capture Gymnastics’ U.S. Classic

by Blythe Lawrence

Leanne Wong competes in the beam routine during the women's senior division at the 2022 U.S. Classic on July 30, 2022 in West Valley City, Utah.

 

Leanne Wong was down by 1.65 points at the halfway point of the U.S. Classic Saturday in Salt Lake City, trailing a surging Shilese Jones after a fall from the uneven bars on a complex new skill.
But Wong, back after a whirlwind 12 months that included a trip to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as an alternate, two medals at the world championships and her freshman season at the University of Florida, long ago learned the lesson about it not being over until everyone has completed all four events.
The 18-year-old floated through an excellent routine on the balance beam and then executed two stellar tumbling passes — and a catlike landing to save herself a fall on a third — to amass 54.4 points and collect her first major all-around title since her breakout win at the American Cup three years ago.
Following the well-trodden path of heading to the NCAA after a very successful elite career, Wong never closed the door on a return to elite competition, nor a run at the Olympic Games Paris 2024. 
That said, even victory in Salt Lake doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to give herself over to elite training either.
“I don’t think I’m definite about anything yet,” Wong said earlier this week. “I’m just taking it one meet at a time, seeing how it’s going and taking things from there.”
Limiting errors proved key to winning medals at this Classic, which was characterized by reversals of fortune from Wong and Jones, both pre-meet favorites.
The two were tied after identical 14.4s for their double-twisting Yurchenko vaults, but Jones pulled away on uneven bars with a thrilling sequence that included a stalder pike Tkatchev to Pak salto transition, an easier version of what she plans to unveil at next month’s U.S. Championships. Wong, meanwhile, slipped off on a Bhadwaj, a full twisting backward salto from the high bar to the low bar, that has been giving her trouble all week.
Hence Jones’s 1.65 point lead. But inconsistency that sometimes seems to follow Jones around popped up again: no sooner had she mounted the balance beam than she was off again, and fell a second time seconds later. And Wong, who performed with cool elegance on beam for a competition high 13.55 on the apparatus, saw the stakes slide back in her favor; in the space of a single apparatus, from being down 1.65, she now led by 0.4.
There was redemption of a sort for Jones on floor exercise, who lived up to her “Shi Can Fly” Instagram handle with a lovely new routine that featured a sizzling double-twisting double tuck opening tumbling pass and eye-catching artistry. She ended with 13.65 on floor for 54.05 and silver, just three and a half tenths shy of Wong.
Katelyn Rosen, who trained with 2020 Olympic team member Grace McCallum in Minnesota, kicked off a belated 17th birthday with the bronze after a night that included the highest score of the competition on floor exercise where she showed an excellent full-twisting double layout and a sharp double layout for 13.7. Newcomers Marisa Neal and Brooke Pierson rounded out the top five.

Brody Malone competes during the men's horizontal bar final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Brody Malone didn’t need bonuses to be anointed as the top man at gymnastics’ U.S. Classic this weekend in Salt Lake City — but having them didn’t hurt, either.
The reigning U.S. men’s champion put in a solid day of work at the Maverik Center to solidify his standing as the gymnast to beat heading into next month’s U.S. Championships in Tampa, Florida. 
And from there, across the pond to Liverpool, England, and October’s world championships, if all goes according to plan. 
In claiming the all-around in Utah, the Tennessee-born Malone accumulated a monstrous 88.558 point total, capped by a huge 16.016 on horizontal bar, to finish more than three points ahead of his Stanford teammate Colt Walker. Walker landed second with 85.264, bolstered by a 15.86 on parallel bars, the best score of the day on that apparatus. 
Nearly everyone in the 50-gymnast men’s field saw their scores inflated by a bonus points system that added between 0.1 and nearly four points to high difficulty routines on each apparatus. Malone’s score without the difficulty bonus would have been 86.0, 2.558 points lower. 
Donnell Whittenburg, a two-time world championship medalist who has been a contender for the past two Olympic teams, finished third with 85.018, a total that included nearly three points of bonus. The 27-year-old, regarded with awe in gymnastics circles for his outstanding difficulty, earned 1.78 extra just for his exemplary full-twisting Tsukahara double tuck vault, one of the most difficult skills in the competition.
Whittenburg also nailed a double-twisting double layout dismount on still rings and several sharp tumbling passes. In addition to racking up extra tenths, he put himself solidly in the conversation for one of the five spots on this fall’s world team. So did Khoi Young, another contender from Stanford, who finished fourth with 83.15.
The U.S. hopes to use the bonus to incentivize gymnasts to train and compete more difficulty, which will help them match up better with the world’s top men’s teams, including China and Japan, at major championships. Team USA has finished fifth at the past three Olympic Games and last won a team medal at the world championships in 2014.
But higher rewards do carry higher risks, and the meet had not even begun before the pitfall was illustrated by NCAA champion Paul Juda, who appeared to injure his left knee after landing a complex tumbling pass straight-legged in the warmup. After being helped off the competition floor, Juda withdrew from the competition.
Others encountered turbulence mid-routine. Even with his lucky spectacles firmly attached to his head, Stephen Nedoroscik, the first U.S. man to win a world title on pommel horse last autumn, felt his arms buckle on a handstand pirouetting element and landed on the ground beside the horse a second later. Even with the fall, his 14.743 was the highest score of the day on the apparatus.
2020 Olympian Yul Moldauer, who showed routines on three events, fell on the same element on pommel horse and twice more during his high bar routine, once on a difficult new skill and once on a difficult old skill he’s dusting off. Tokyo team member Shane Wiskus sat his opening pass on floor exercise and finished eighth overall.
Matt Cormier, who competes for Penn State, was fifth overall and posted the best score of the day on floor exercise with 15.222.


Blythe Lawrence has covered four Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @rockergymnastix.
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