MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Fred Richard and Brody Malone’s trips to Paris next month are all but assured.

An old friend might be making a pretty compelling case to join them.

While Richard and Malone surged to the front at the U.S. gymnastics Olympic trials as expected — with the charismatic 20-year-old Richard on top at 85.600 with Malone, a three-time national champion at 85.100 — Shane Wiskus may have given the selection committee something to think about following a promising third-place finish buoyed by the support of performing in front of essentially his hometown.

Wiskus, a member of the 2020 Olympic team, said trials would be the last meet of his competitive career if he doesn’t make the five-man Olympic team that will be announced Saturday night.

The 25-year-old, who has dealt with injuries and inconsistency since Tokyo, felt a jolt after being introduced. The native of Waconia, Minnesota — about 30 miles west of the Target Center — let the adrenaline carry him through six steady rotations that will be forever etched in his memory no matter what comes next.

“I allowed it to give me energy,” Wiskus said. “I think in other scenarios in the past, I feel like I’ve let it get to me and let the pressure build on me. But, you know, I felt nothing but love out there tonight and (it) gave me goosebumps for every event.”

If those goosebumps and that steadiness — particularly on floor exercise, where his 14.350 was third-best of the night — combine again over the weekend, if others in the mix behind Richard and Malone continue to struggle, Wiskus might not be done just yet.

“I think if my M.O. can just be going out there and getting the ball rolling and being consistent and doing my job for Team USA, (then I have a shot),” Wiskus said.

It will be a nerve-wracking 48 hours for Wiskus and just about everyone else not named Richard and Malone.

The all-around leader after Saturday night could earn an automatic spot on the five-man team if he also places in the top three on three different events.

That’s unlikely to happen — a nod to the depth the Americans have cultivated — but Richard seems poised to make his Olympic debut while Malone’s trip to Paris is basically locked in three years after he finished 10th in the all-around in Tokyo.

Richard, who won bronze in the all-around at the 2023 world championships, shook off a slow start with dazzling sets on both parallel bars and high bar. The charismatic 20-year-old — who flipped into a pose during introductions and interacted with the crowd after seemingly every event — seems to be rounding into form after finishing two points behind Malone at the U.S. Championships earlier this month.

While Malone wasn’t quite as sharp as he was during an occasionally spectacular performance in Fort Worth, the three-time national champion can get his passport ready for France. Heady territory for an athlete whose career appeared to be in jeopardy following a “catastrophic” knee injury suffered at a World Cup event in Germany in March 2023.

The 24-year-old Malone appears to be getting stronger the further removed he is from the injury. He began his second Olympic trials by ditching the bulky brace that protects his surgically repaired knee on vault. The knee held up just fine as Malone stuck the landing and his score of 14.6 was the second-best of the night.

“(The brace) was kind of hurting my shin a lot,” Malone said. “So I’ve been training without it on at all, and it’s felt a lot better. My run feels way smoother. And, I mean, just sticking it was a cherry on top, for sure.”

Malone watched from home last fall as the American men earned a bronze at the world championships, the U.S.’s first medal in a major international competition since 2011.

Richard became a breakout star when he captured bronze in the all-around. He returned home and most of his sophomore season at Michigan building toward this moment, and he seems ready to meet it.

The rest of the men that joined him in Antwerp, Belgium, at worlds — Khoi Young, Yul Moldauer, Asher Hong and Paul Juda — might have some work to do on Saturday night.

Juda may be in the best shape at the moment. He’s fourth after the first day and finished in the top seven on five of the six events.

Hong came off the pommel horse and was pretty blah on high bar, not optimal following a distant 10th-place finish at nationals. Moldauer, a 2020 Olympian, is sixth but also had sluggish showings on high bar and pommels.

Young, who added silver on vault and pommels at 2023 worlds, put together a brilliant vault but otherwise struggled. He came off the horse — perhaps his best event — and was ninth or worse on five of the six events.

For an American team that thinks it can reach the podium at the Olympics for the first time since 2008, there remains plenty to sort out with men’s qualifying in Paris a month away.


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