Konnor McClain rallies to claim US gymnastics national title

Aug 21, 2022, 6:12 AM | Updated: 8:10 pm

Konnor McClain competes on the floor during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Sunday, Aug. 21, 202...

Konnor McClain competes on the floor during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Konnor McClain arrived in Texas last spring adrift, her confidence shattered. The gymnastics that came so easily for so long to the precocious teenager had turned shaky. Uncertain.

At one point last spring, she felt she was “the most garbage gymnast ever.” She watched the 2021 U.S. Championships from the stands and caught the Olympics on TV, wondering if the dream that once appeared so tantalizingly close had slipped out of reach, maybe for good.


There McClain was on Sunday night during the final night of the 2022 championships, the talent that had always been apparent on full display, buoyed by a self-belief borne out of a mix of loss, grief and determination.

The transformation that began when she switched gyms in a rush last spring ended with the 17-year-old atop the podium, a gold medal around her neck and her self-belief restored.

McClain posted a two-day total of 112.750, just ahead of Shilese Jones at 111.900. Not bad for an athlete nursing stress fractures in both shins and less than a month removed from a concussion suffered during training.

Perhaps even more remarkable, McClain estimates she’s at around 75 percent healthy, optimistic she’ll be in even better shape at the world championships in Liverpool, England this fall.

“Anything can happen,” McClain said. “So I’m excited for the future.”

One that is back to being wide open.

McClain was expected to be a factor in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics but struggled so much early in the competition season last spring that she needed to make a change, moving abruptly from West Virginia to Texas. She’s rediscovered herself at Dallas-based World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, owned and operated by Valeri and Anna Liukin, the parents of 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin.

The process has been arduous, both inside and outside the gym. She lost her father and grandmother in the span of a week around New Year’s. She won the Winter Cup in late February but had trouble staying healthy during the spring and early summer.

She arrived in Florida last week hoping to simply build momentum toward the world championship selection camp in October. She did far more than that, taking the lead through one rotation on Sunday night and never letting go.

McClain began Sunday just less than a point behind Jones but took the lead in the first rotation when she drilled her double-twisting Yurchenko vault while Jones hopped off the balance beam. McClain never gave the lead back, though there were some nail-biting moments late.

Wearing a bedazzled red leotard with her bun held in place by a matching red scrunchie, McClain was up by a half-point going into the final rotation but lost her balance while trying to complete a wolf turn spin on floor exercise. Her score of 13.850 opened the door for Jones, who was waiting to go on uneven bars as McClain’s score flashed.

It appeared for most of Jones’ polished bars set that she was ready to slip by McClain. At least until her dismount, which Jones under-rotated, forcing her to sit on the mat, her hopes of a national championship gone.

It was a difficult ending to an otherwise encouraging meet for the resilient 20-year-old, who promised her father Sylvester before his death from kidney disease last December that she would press on in hopes of reaching the 2024 Olympics.

It’s a goal that appears in reach if she can build on two days that showcased her power, precision and maturity.

“I’m just super excited to be back out here,” Jones said. “You know, to fall twice and still end up in second place, this just really only the beginning for me.”

Even with reigning Olympic champion Sunisa Lee waiting before returning to elite competition and Simone Biles on sabbatical, the Americans appear to be in good position to reclaim the top of the podium at the 2022 world championships.

Jordan Chiles finished third in her first elite meet since winning a silver in the team competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Kayla Dicello took fourth, with reigning Olympic floor exercise champion Jade Carey in fifth. Leanne Wong, who claimed silver in the all-around at the world championships last fall, overcame a foot injury to put together two graceful sets on bars and beam.

Those three, along with McClain, Jones, DiCello and Skye Blakely appear to be the top contenders to make the five-woman team that will head to Liverpool, England for world championships in late October.

The team won’t be selected until mid-October. Yet a year removed from a second-place finish to the Russian in Japan, the Americans appear to be a threat to return to the top of the sport even with reigning Olympic champion Sunisa Lee and superstar Simone Biles both on sabbatical from elite competition.

“I still think we’re going to be able to pull through and have an amazing outcome,” Chiles said.

With McClain, her confidence restored, on the cusp of an opportunity she feared would never come.


More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Konnor McClain rallies to claim US gymnastics national title