or the last year, Konnor McClain’s coaches at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano have tried to convince her that she has the potential to be one of the best gymnasts in the world.
Seventeen-year-old McClain won the U.S. national all-around title Sunday night in Tampa, Florida, with an 112.750 combined score across two nights of competition, further elevating her credentials and star power in this Olympic cycle.
McClain also earned the individual national title on balance beam with an average score of 14.450, including a world-leading 14.800 on Friday, and completed the all-WOGA all-around sweep after Dallas’ Madray Johnson won the junior all-around title Sunday afternoon.
Shilese Jones of Seattle finished in second all-around in the senior competition (112.000) — 0.75 points behind McClain — and Tokyo Olympian Jordan Chiles, who trains at World Champions Centre in the Houston area, was third (111.900).
Frisco’s Skye Blakely, who also trains at WOGA, ranked sixth all-around with a 109.300 total and renewed her spot on the top-eight senior national team.
Over the last decade of national and international competition, few all-around meets have been close as Spring’s Simone Biles, widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time, dominated with unprecedented difficulty and execution.
In this first national championship sans-Biles since 2017, the showdown between McClain and Jones came down to the last event.
McClain entered Sunday in second place, 0.8 points behind Friday night leader Jones, but immediately erased the gap after Jones fell off balance beam in the first rotation.
Jones trimmed McClain’s Sunday lead to 0.5 points entering the final rotation, and that’s when McClain’s poise and precision shined most.
Though she suffered a lapse on one turning dance element, McClain landed each of her four tumbling passes with little more than a hop.
Jones appeared primed to re-take the lead with stellar execution and intricate combinations on uneven bars — until she underrotated her dismount and fell, costing her a full-point deduction.
Soon after, WOGA coach Valeri Liukin wrapped McClain in a long embrace. Tokyo Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee, one of McClain’s close friends, walked across the floor for a hug, too.
McClain smiled, nodded and posed for selfies with the other competitors.
“This is honestly one of the most amazing things in my career so far,” she said on NBC. “It’s so unreal, and I honestly just can’t believe it still. It seems so crazy.”
What a rush of positivity for McClain after more than a year of near-constant tumult in and out of the gym.
McClain abruptly moved to train at WOGA in May 2021 after feeling stagnant and tense with her training set-up in West Virginia and, at the time, still hoped to try for the Tokyo Olympics, for which she became age eligible only because of the COVID-19 postponement.
But a few weeks later, McClain fell off a bed and broke her hand, requiring surgery and then in the fall tested positive COVID-19 just before the national team’s world championships selection camp to further disrupt her progress.
Grief left McClain unable to train consistently — or sometimes even get out of bed — for about two months. She wanted to quit gymnastics, regretting that her years of rigorous training and travel detracted from family time and memories.
McClain competed Sunday night with a patch of her dad’s initials “MM” sewed into the back of her glittering red leotard.
After missing practice time with a concussion and the flu over the last month, McClain didn’t plan to be at peak performance this weekend.
Instead, her WOGA coaches have paced McClain’s training with an eye toward the late-October world championships in Liverpool, England.
There, she’ll be a favorite to extend her claim from best in the U.S. to top all-around gymnast in the world.