By Dalton Young
Brody Malone dresses like most students on Stanford’s campus: Baggy sweatpants and a bright cardinal sweatshirt swear allegiance to the University and to comfort. The lax apparel fits the easy-going Southerner’s personality. Yet there are distinct differences between the 5’5″ sophomore gymnast and his peers.
The three-time NCAA national champion from Summerville, Georgia, was a crucial component of Stanford men’s gymnastics’ historic postseason run last year. Malone won the high bar and floor exercise events, in addition to the all-around title. By a slim 0.666 points, the Cardinal halted the University of Oklahoma’s chance at a fourth consecutive title; the Sooners record of 121 straight meet victories ended as the third-longest in NCAA history. Malone knew his team was capable of knocking off the reigning champions as early as the first meet of the season.
“It was kind of an eye-opener for me,” Malone said. “For our score, at the first meet, to beat Oklahoma’s score … I thought, ‘We can do this.’ That first meet motivated us a lot, and we just kept working hard throughout the year.”
Competing for the United States in the 2017 Japan Junior International Cup, 2018 Calgary Invitational and 2019 Pan American Games, Malone’s international experience has prepared him for international honors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and postponement of the Olympic games, however, his dreams have been put on hold.
Malone, 20, will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team next summer in St. Louis in hopes of being one of four competitors to represent the United States in Tokyo.
“It ain’t ever going to be easy,” he said, chuckling.
Though Malone is focused on gymnastics, his other passions cross over into his routines. Few would guess this young Olympic hopeful would be just as comfortable in the saddle as he is on a pommel horse.
The explosive, fast-paced nature of rodeo overlaps nicely with Malone’s favorite gymnastics event, the high bar.
“High bar’s pretty dangerous, but you’ve got to keep it interesting; I’ve been doing this sport since I was three,” he said. “You’ve got to make it risky and get a little scared.”
Malone has a wild streak inside him. He attacks each routine like a bull rider hanging on for the eight-second buzzer, relying on his love of adrenaline and years of preparation to see him through.
Growing up in a family of rodeo buffs, it was a rite of passage to spend most nights in the practice pen roping and making runs after calves and steers. His father, John Malone, competed in rodeo events at Georgia Southern University where he met Brody’s mother, Tracy, a decorated hunter and jumper in her own right. Tracy Malone was the editor and owner of The Roping Pen, a monthly team roping publication, before she died in 2012. John is a real estate agent, but he used to be a leather craftsman, creating intricate saddles, breast collars, wallets and bridles. Given his environment, Brody Malone’s passion for rodeo seemed almost inevitable.
Through middle school and high school, Malone competed with his younger brother Cooper in team roping events and jackpots across the South. Rodeo offered Malone an escape from competitive gymnastics, yet some characteristics naturally flowed between the two.
“The main thing that carries over from rodeo to gymnastics is the competitor mentality,” Malone said. “When you’re roping, it’s just you and the steer. You are in charge of making the best run you can make. Like in gymnastics, it’s all on you.”
The practice and preparation that goes into both rodeo and gymnastics bleeds into Malone’s everyday interactions and his outlook on life. He speaks calmly, like a horse whisperer, with a smooth Southern drawl. He appears relaxed, but there is a sense of confidence about Malone that captures the respect of any room. Though just a sophomore, he shows incredible patience and maturity for his age, qualities that can be attributed to his time on the water or in the deer stand.
The outdoors have served as a powerful release for Malone. Growing up in northern Georgia, hunting and fishing were as popular as rodeoing, so it seemed natural he would be drawn to these pastimes, too.
Frog gigging, or hunting frogs with a long pole tipped with a multi-pronged spear, quickly became his go-to summer activity after his younger brothers showed him how to do it. Humid summer nights filled with loud croaks and the cover of darkness provided the perfect scenario for a frog gigger.
Either by boat or foot, the boys used floodlights to spot their prey hiding in the weeds along the banks, scanning for the reflection of the frog’s eyes. Once the frog was blinded, one of the hunters stalked the unsuspecting critter, moved into range and impaled it. After a few hours, the posse collected and filled a five-gallon bucket. Upon cleaning the frogs, they dipped the legs into a homemade concoction of flour and spices and had themselves a “frog” fry.
“They are so good. I had no idea,” Malone said. “That’s my No. 1 thing to do whenever I go home now.”
During the late fall and winter months, Malone enjoys bowhunting for whitetail deer. While he was still in high school, he set up a climber (tree stand) in the woods near his home, and it is one of the few honey holes he has left. Over the last winter break, Malone was home no more than five minutes before he had his compound bow in hand, practicing before going out the following morning to ensure he could make an ethical kill.
Malone’s dedication to his passions is clear; he strains over minuscule details. His obsession stems from hours spent glassing for animals through binoculars and fletching arrows for his bow, tedious tasks in their own right that give him a break from the pressures of competition.
“It’s completely different from gymnastics, obviously,” he said, “and I think it’s nice to have that balance. It teaches you a lot.”
On a rare weekend off from competition, Malone and his Stanford teammates huddle around a card table with ESPN’s SportsCenter blaring in the background. They are a comical group of young men, members of a cherished fraternity thanks to their unique athletic skill sets as gymnasts. They banter back and forth, and there is a high level of respect for one another.
“He [Malone] is extremely authentic, and he’s always very polite to anyone he talks to,” said Curran Phillips, Malone’s roommate. “The way he was raised definitely helped with his respect for authority. Being roommates with him for almost a year, I’ve definitely learned that from him and tried to change that in myself.”
Ian Gunther, also a member of Stanford’s NCAA championship team, calls Malone’s Southern identity an “integral part” of his personality.
“Once you hear him talk,” Gunther said, “you’ll know instantly.”
Contact Dalton Young at dyoung8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.