MINNEAPOLIS — A year ago, Brody Malone was holed up at home, with little he could do but wait for his knee to recover from a career-threatening injury.

Thursday in Minnesota, the gymnast from Rockmart took a major step toward qualifying for his second Olympics.

Coming off a third national title earlier this month, the 24-year-old opened the U.S. Olympic Team Trials with a close second-place finish, trailing leader Fred Richard by just half a point. He’ll have one last opportunity to show he’s worthy of one of the five spots on the U.S. team when the trials wrap up on Saturday.

Malone, whose all-around score of 85.1 was just shy of the two he put up at nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, isn’t dwelling on his Day 1 show.

“I take the mistakes from today, go back and learn from it, and just go do my gymnastics,” Malone said.

That Malone is even competing this week is an accomplishment in of itself. In March 2023, the gymnast was at a competition in Germany when his dismount from the high bar went awry. Landing awkwardly, he ended up with a dislocated knee, fractured tibia and torn ligaments.

It wasn’t clear he would ever come back to the sport, much less make another Olympic team. Three surgeries later, though, Malone returned at a small competition in January. By nationals he was doing all six events again. And over two days in Fort Worth and the first half of the night in Minneapolis, he appeared back on his perch as the country’s preeminent male gymnast.

Brody Malone competes in the floor exercise at the United States Gymnastics Olympic Trials on Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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On a night when other gymnasts leaned into the high-energy Target Center crowd, with Richard and others taking any opportunity to whip up a frenzy, Malone showed little expression as he went about his business.

The 10-time NCAA champion with Stanford began the night by stomping his feet into the mat to stick the landing of his Kasamatsu 1.5 vault. He followed that with another strong performance on parallel bars, before moving on to his best event, high bar. The 2022 world champion on the event, Malone looked the part as he continuously flung himself into the air on impossibly difficult release moves.

However, things began to come apart a bit in the fourth rotation.

Floor exercise was the last event Malone resumed training after his injury and, as was the case at nationals, that showed in a routine noticeably less sharp. His score of 13.75 left him eighth, his lowest placement among the sixth events. Then his legs came apart on pommel horse, though he managed to stay on the apparatus and score 13.45, which tied for seventh.

The night ended on a higher note when he scored 14.25 to tie for third place on rings.

Frederick Richard celebrates after competing on the floor at the United States Gymnastics Olympic Trials on Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Richard, the reigning world all-around bronze medalist, was one of several gymnasts who struggled early, but he charged up the standings and overtook Malone after the fifth rotation.

The two-day all-around winner this weekend can secure an automatic spot on the Olympic team if he’s also among the top three on three apparatuses. At the midway point, Malone ranks second on high bar and vault, and third on rings. Richard had the top score on high bar and floor and was third best on parallel bars.

A selection committee will determine the rest of the U.S. team based largely on simulations to determine the group with the highest scoring potential in the Olympic team final.

Malone is one of three Olympians vying for a return to the Games — along with Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus. The nerves aren’t any less intense the second time around, he said.

“For a lot of us, it’s the biggest competition of our lives,” Malone said. “All the guys out who haven’t made the Olympics before, this is their ticket to go. So I mean, of course the nerves are going to be going crazy. Even us who have been to the Olympics before, we want to go again — the nerves are still there.”

The trials continue with the first night of women’s competition on Friday. Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, is the favorite to win that event and qualify for her third Olympic team, though the field is not lacking for talent with three other returning Olympians plus five others who have earned medals at the world championships. The women’s competition wraps up Sunday night.