FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Brody Malone completed his comeback from major reconstructive right knee surgery by winning his third national gymnastics title on Saturday.

The 23-year-old put on a 12-rotation clinic over two days of competition at the U.S. Championships, finishing with a total of 172.300 that featured few mistakes and offered plenty of evidence he’s ready for a return to the Olympics this summer in Paris.

Malone is just 15 months removed from shredding his knee at a meet in Germany. He needed three surgeries to repair the damage, the final one coming last summer.

He had originally hoped to be ready to compete in the all-around by the Olympic trials later this month in Minneapolis. The timeline was sped up a bit as he healed, and he arrived in Texas hoping to provide a reminder to the rest of the contenders hoping to make the five-man U.S. team this summer that when healthy he is the current standard bearer for the men’s program.

Malone did more than that, backing up an impressive return on Thursday with an even better performance 48 hours later. His scores on three events — still rings, pommel horse and parallel bars — were higher on Saturday and 11 of his 12 routines scored at least 14.000, offering tangible proof he has the endurance required to headline a U.S. squad hoping to finish on the Olympic podium for the first time since 2008.

Save for a sizable brace over the four-inch scar on the outside of his right knee and occasionally testing the knee’s flexibility in between rotations, it’s hard to tell Malone spent a significant portion of 2023 on crutches.

Fred Richard, who won bronze in the all-around at the 2023 world championships, came in second with 170.250. The Michigan sophomore, who has made it his mission on social media to build awareness of his chosen sport, held off a strong challenge from three-time world championship medalist Khoi Young.

Richard, 20, and Young, 21, are part of an American group looking to make an impact in Paris. The U.S. finished a distant seventh in Tokyo. Their sudden rise over the last three years — fueled in part by a bonus-scoring system installed in domestic meets in 2022 and 2023 designed to get them to attempt more difficult skills — has the U.S. a legit medal contender in Paris, especially with defending champion Russia out of the mix.

While Malone, Richard and Young figure to be close to locks to make it to Paris provided they stay healthy, there are plenty of questions behind them.

Defending national champion Asher Hong, 2020 Olympians Shane Wiskus and Yul Moldauer, pommel horse specialist Stephen Nedoroscik, Michigan teammates Paul Juda and Cameron Bock and Stanford’s Colt Walker will also head to Minneapolis at the end of June in the mix.

Hong, who won the U.S. title a year ago at 19, struggled on Thursday and failed to take a significant step forward on Saturday, symbolic of a competition where several of the leading contenders left significant room for improvement heading into Olympic trials.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games