U.S. Olympic gymnastics team likely impacted by age rule decision

Konnor McClain
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The news broke while Konnor McClain watched “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

When the movie started, the U.S.’ top 15-year-old gymnast was on a four-year Olympic plan, preparing for when she would be old enough for the Games in 2024.

By the end — or the point she stopped to check social media — McClain came to believe she became age-eligible for the Tokyo Games in 2021. She would have one year to prepare to compete against the nation’s best (and world’s best) gymnasts for, potentially, a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Three years earlier than expected.

“Just to make it to the Olympic Trials would be such an accomplishment, especially for her being young,” her mom, Lorinda, said by phone on Thursday. “Making it to the trials would be great and keeping that 2024 path on track. This all made it a little hard because we were on a slow pace. We were working for 2024, so this kind of threw a wrench in our spokes. I think that’s her goal right now, see if she can hit the trials.”

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has had a rule since 2000 that female artistic gymnasts must turn 16 or older in that year to compete in the Games (and now for world championships in all the non-Olympic years). When the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, the FIG faced a decision: Keep the Olympic field under 2020 terms, or let those turning 16 in 2021 into the fold.

“I’m glad I’m not making the rules because I don’t know the right decision,” NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said before the decision was announced. “I don’t know if there is a right decision.”

The FIG made an announcement Thursday afternoon. While the release didn’t explicitly say it, the gymnastics community interpreted it to mean that the younger gymnasts are eligible for the Tokyo Games.

“I just got on Twitter for some reason, and I saw,” McClain said by phone Thursday. “I was like, oh my gosh, is this true? I told my parents, and I told my sister, get on Twitter right now.”

“I was very surprised,” McClain’s mom said. “I thought they were going to leave it for her to be ineligible and keep the rules as they were.”

If recent history holds, the move should impact the makeup of the U.S. Olympic team. A USA Gymnastics spokesperson said Friday that the organization is reviewing the FIG announcement and can follow up this week regarding how it affects Olympic team selection.

At least one woman who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic teams. That includes Kyla Ross, the 2011 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist who made the 2012 Olympic team. And Laurie Hernandez, the 2015 U.S. junior all-around champion who made the 2016 Olympic team.

The 2019 U.S. junior all-around champion, Kayla DiCello, turned 16 on Jan. 25 and would have been eligible for an Olympics in 2020.

McClain, who turns 16 on Feb. 1, 2021, was runner-up to DiCello at junior nationals, and is among a few rising juniors now on the radar (including Skye Blakely, who was fourth at junior nationals).

The deeper field should make it more difficult for older gymnasts to make the most competitive Olympic gymnastics team in the world.

“I have NOTHING against the 2005 generation but I don’t agree with this decision,” was tweeted from the account of Cecile Landi, who with husband Laurent coaches Simone Biles. “It will be the 2020 Olympics so the rules should remain the same as THIS YEAR.”

McClain was born in Nevada. She began walking the balance beam and doing backbend kickovers before age 2, mimicking her 4-year-old sister.

The family moved to West Virginia when McClain was 3. She was featured on Steve Harvey‘s “Little Big Shots” at age 11 in 2016, proclaiming she was set on the 2024 Olympic all-around title. She then performed a balance beam routine in front of a studio audience.

McClain won the beam title at the last two junior nationals, but vault is her favorite event. She has been attending U.S. national team camps with other junior and senior stars for the last two years. At first, she was intimidated by the sight of Biles, but calmed after Biles initiated conversations with her.

Come next year, McClain may be competing against Biles domestically and, possibly, with her on the same team in Tokyo.

“Konnor has a lot of upgrades and skills she trains at the gym, but her and her coach have put them on the back burner because we thought we still had four years,” her mom said.

McClain’s coach and McClain’s mom, friends since childhood, briefly texted about the new situation while still in shock.

The gist?

“Wow, it’s going to be a rough year,” Lorinda McClain said. “She’s got a lot of work to do.”

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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