While many athletes spend the year before the Olympic Games fine-tuning their routines or working on upgrades, Tokyo Olympian and 2022 high bar world champion Brody Malone began 2023 in a race against the clock. 

Just 16 months before the Paris Games were set to begin, Malone was competing at a meet in Germany on his trademark event, the high bar, when the unthinkable happened.

“I slipped off the high bar on my dismount,” Malone recalled. “It was actually a pretty good routine all the way up until that point … but I slipped off, did some weird flips in the air and the thing I did wrong was I tried to land it, and I probably shouldn’t have.”

The official diagnosis was a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee, a fully torn LCL, a torn meniscus, and a partially torn PCL, plus some cartilage damage. 

Malone wasn’t able to get an MRI while in Germany – only an X-ray  – so the severity of his injury was unknown at first. However, with the clock ticking and the Games inching closer, an injury of any kind was a tough pill to swallow. 

“Honestly, I had no idea if I was going to be able to do it,” Malone said. “The doctors told me, ‘Yeah, it’s very likely you tore this, this and this,’ but we really had no idea until we got the imaging done. It was just kind of a waiting game.”

While still in Germany, Malone underwent the first of three surgeries to get an external fixator installed. The fixator locked his leg in place so he was able to make the 12-hour trek back home. Then it was straight from the airport to Stanford Hospital where he stayed the night and had a second surgery the following morning to repair the fracture, meniscus and cartilage damage. 

With Paris 2024 in the back of his mind, there was no time to waste. 

Road to recovery

Following surgery, Malone was not able to put any weight on his leg for six weeks. What was once hours spent training in the gym had become days stuck in bed watching TV – only getting up to use the bathroom. 

“I’m a pretty active guy,” Malone said. “I love to be moving around. Going from being in the gym six hours a day to not being able to hardly get out of bed was really hard. ”

In July, Malone underwent a third surgery to repair his LCL – the final step before the comeback could actually begin. But another surgery meant several more weeks without putting weight on his leg. 

“I got pretty good at using crutches, even though I hate those things now,” Malone joked. “Never again, please!”

 Brody Malone (USA) competes on the high bar in the mens gymnastics team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
Brody Malone (USA) competes on the high bar in the men's gymnastics team final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

It was around this time when Malone was faced with a decision, a decision he describes as the hardest choice he’s ever had to make. 

Now a graduate of Stanford University – where he trained for the Tokyo Olympics, racked up 10 NCAA titles, and worked to bring home the U.S. men's first high bar world gold medal in 43 years – Malone decided it was time to pack his bags and move across the country, nearly 3,000 miles away. 

EVO Gymnastics in Sarasota, Florida was his destination. The rising men’s program is home to several world class athletes including Tokyo Olympian Shane Wiskus and 2021 pommel horse world champion Stephen Nedoroscik

“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I felt like moving to Florida was going to give me the best opportunity to set myself up to make an Olympic team.” Malone said. “Everything at Stanford – my coaches, my teammates – I loved all of them, but given my injury, it just made a little bit more sense to me to move to Florida because they were going to have a full-time physical therapist there to work with me – he’s a therapist and athletic trainer. With me not actually being on Stanford’s team anymore, it was going to be a little bit harder for me to get other treatments.”

As Malone worked his way back into the gym, having easy access to treatment was not only important, but essential. 

“After taking that much time off, coming back and doing gymnastics, all of your other body parts just start lighting up,” Malone said. “I had shoulder issues, wrist issues, elbow issues, and now that I’m tumbling again, I’m starting to have ankle issues and shin splints.”

In Florida, Malone can head to the training room for immediate treatment for any aches and pains, which has made his comeback easier. 

He also gets the opportunity to be coached by his Tokyo Olympic teammate, Sam Mikulak.

“He's just a super positive, happy, go-get-after-it kind of guy,” Malone said. “He’s kind of like a gym bro in a way. He obviously keeps me accountable to the work that I have to do, but he’s somebody that I can go to and have a real conversation with.”

All-around return on the horizon

After sitting out of competition for nine months, Malone returned to competition on three events at the Houston National Invitational in January. At the Winter Cup in late February, he finished third on parallel bars and fourth on pommel horse. 

With a little over a month until the Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Malone is targeting a return to all-around competition. 

“The plan right now is to try and get back in the all-around,” Malone said. “I started tumbling on the real floor about two weeks ago, just some basic tumbling and I’m working my way up. I did my first real vault (into a foam pit) last week. It’s feeling pretty good. It still hurts obviously, but that’s how it goes.”

As the competition rises around the country, Malone is also working on upgrades to bolster his chances of making the U.S. team. While  getting floor and vault back on the competition floor at any level would be a victory in and of itself he says, he’s not resting on his laurels when it comes to the other events. 

“The routine I did on rings at Winter Cup has a new skill in it that I’ve been working at that adds a tenth to my routine,” Malone said. “My high bar routine I’m actually planning on doing is an upgraded routine compared to what I was doing before.”

Bringing home an Olympic team medal – which the U.S. men haven’t done since 2008 – is the ultimate goal. 

Malone watched from home as his friends and teammates ended the U.S. men’s near decade-long medal drought at the world championships in 2023, bringing home a bronze. Admittedly, it was hard for Malone not to be out there on the competition floor. However, the fire is still burning inside - stronger than ever. 

In Paris, they’ll be looking to return to the medal podium once again. 

“I think it bodes well for what we’ve been doing as a country since Tokyo, trying to build our difficulty to be competitive enough to compete with China and Japan,” Malone said. “It’s working obviously, we got a bronze medal, so I think we’re setting ourselves up pretty good going into this summer.”