TAMPA — For years, Konnor McClain seemed destined to become the best gymnast in the country: national junior titles from grade school, and that TV interview with Steve Harvey at age 11, where she set her sights on the 2024 Olympic all-around title.
McClain fulfilled his promise on Sunday to win the American all-around title at age 17 after leading on the first day Shilese Jones fell on her very last skill, her uneven bars rising. McClain became the sixth woman since 2000 to win her senior debut. The other five all recently became the best gymnast in the world Simone Biles.
McClain’s first senior national was to be last year, but after a cross-country move and coaching change, she wasn’t ready to compete. She watched last year’s game in the arena and felt dejected. She was not confident that she would be on the podium a year later.
“It’s so surreal,” McClain, who returned two weeks ago from a stress fracture in each shin bone, a concussion and the flu, said Sunday night. “I’m still a little bit in shock.”
US GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Results
In a two-day competition, McClain trailed Jones by eight tenths for Sunday’s final day.
Jones fell on her opening balance, trailing McClain by five tenths for the final rotation. But if Jones were to repeat her bar score from Friday’s opening night (which was the best in the field at six-tenths), she would comfortably join Biles as the only non-teen to win the American all-around title in the past 50 years. She appeared on her way until she lost balance, fell backwards and sat down, a one point deduction.
soon after, Anna Liukinthe mother of Olympic champion all-round 2008 Nastia Liukin who McClain coaches with man valericwhispered in McClain’s ear.
Guess what, you won, Liukin told her.
“She was a little surprised, but she smiled,” Liukin said.
McClain, the 2019 U.S. Juniors all-around silver medalist, was originally too young for the Tokyo Olympics, but became age-eligible when the Games were postponed a year to 2021. Before last year’s encounters for the Olympic team To determine, the Liukins got a call from Team McClain, which ultimately led McClain to move from West Virginia to their Texas gym. She skipped nationals (and a chance at Olympic Trials) to focus on 2024.
“She was unable to compete,” said Liukin, adding that a mutual decision had been made to sit outside in McClain’s best interests.
When last winter, McClain’s father, Marc, died of COVID-19. Her grandmother died the same week. She competed in a leotard with his initials on Friday and Sunday.
Asked about the thoughts that went through her mind after she won, McClain replied, “I wish I could talk to my dad right now.”
Jones was 10th at the Olympic Trials, the top finisher who didn’t go to Tokyo (on the team or as an alternate) and initially planned to retire from elite gymnastics. She was motivated to keep going after conversations with loved ones, including her father. Sylvester Jones Jr. died in December after a long battle with kidney disease.
Jones called Friday the best all-round performance of her career. On Sunday, she fell on her first and last routine. On the last, she let her bars down quickly, sliding too early and opening a little too early.
“Two crashes and second place is really just the beginning for me,” she said.
Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey finished third and fifth respectively. The Tokyo medalists became the first U.S. Olympic female gymnasts to return to elite competition after an NCAA season.
“There wasn’t much of a stress level,” said Chiles, who tried to get on the jumbotron during a break between routines on Sunday by having Jones lift her during the Lion King Cam bit. “But the advance to this was definitely I think the hardest thing I could have ever done because I had an injury.” [micro tears in a shoulder labrum and bicep]and that injury held me back a bit.”
Like McClain and Jones, Chiles and Carey are watching the 2024 Games in Paris. Just like Tokyo’s all-around gold medalist Suni Lee, who plans to return to elite competition next year. And maybe Biles, who hasn’t competed since Tokyo, but hasn’t ruled out a return for another Olympic run either.
The first is the world championships this fall. That team will be named to a selection camp in October and will be preferred for gold given the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes have been suspended indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine.
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