Konnor McClain rallies to win U.S. all-around gymnastics title, fulfill promise

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TAMPA — For years, Konnor McClain seemed destined to become the best gymnast in the country: medals and acclaim starting in elementary school, and that TV segment with Steve Harvey at age 11 where she set her sights on the 2024 Olympic all-around title.

McClain fulfilled promise on Sunday, winning the U.S. all-around title at age 17 after first-day leader Shilese Jones fell on her very last skill, her uneven bars dismount. McClain became the sixth woman since 2000 to prevail in her senior nationals debut. The other five all became the best gymnast in the world, most recently Simone Biles.

McClain’s first senior nationals was supposed to be last year, but after a cross-country move and coaching change she was not ready to compete. She watched last year’s competition inside the arena, feeling down. She had no belief that a year later, she would be on top of the podium.

“It’s so unreal,” McClain, who came back this summer from a stress fracture in each shin, a concussion and the flu two weeks ago, said Sunday night. “I’m still in shock a little bit.”

U.S. GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Results

In a two-day competition, McClain trailed Jones by eight tenths going into Sunday’s final day.

Jones fell on her opening balance beam and trailed a consistent McClain by five tenths going into the last rotation. But if Jones repeated her bars score from Friday’s opening night (which was best in the field by six tenths), she would comfortably join Biles as the only non-teens to win the U.S. all-around title in the last 50 years. She appeared on her way until landing off balance, falling back and sitting down, a one-point deduction.

Soon after, Anna Liukin, the mother of 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin who coaches McClain with husband Valeri, whispered 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. junior all-around silver medalist, was originally too young for the Tokyo Olympics but became age-eligible when the Games were postponed one year to 2021. Before last year’s meets to determine the Olympic team, the Liukins got a call from team McClain, which ultimately led to McClain moving from West Virginia to their Texas gym. She skipped nationals (and a shot at Olympic Trials) to focus on 2024.

”She wasn’t in a shape to compete,” said Liukin, adding that a mutual decision was made in McClain’s best interest to sit out.

Then last winter, McClain’s father, Marc, died from COVID-19. Her grandmother died in the same week. She competed on Friday and Sunday wearing a leotard patch with his initials.

Asked the thoughts going through her head 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 (either on the team or as an alternate) and initially planned to quit elite gymnastics. She was motivated to continue after talks with loved ones, including her father. Sylvester Jones Jr. died in December after a long kidney disease battle.

Jones called Friday’s all-around the best performance of her career. On Sunday, she fell on her first and last routines. On the latter, she rushed her bars dismount, piked too soon and opened up a little too early.

“Two falls and second place is just really only 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 following an NCAA season.

“There wasn’t really any stress level,” said Chiles, who during a break between routines Sunday tried to get on the jumbotron by having Jones lift her up during the Lion King Cam bit. “But the ramp up for this was definitely I think the hardest thing I could have ever done because I did have an injury [micro tears in a shoulder labrum and bicep], and that injury kind of held me back.”

Like McClain and Jones, Chiles and Carey eye the 2024 Paris Games. As does Tokyo all-around gold medalist Suni Lee, who plans to return to elite competition next year. And perhaps Biles, who hasn’t competed since Tokyo but also hasn’t ruled out a return for another Olympic run.

First up is the world championships this fall. That five-woman team will be named after an October selection camp and will be favored for gold given the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
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The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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International Boxing Association lifts ban on Russia, Belarus

Boxing gloves
Getty
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The International Boxing Association (IBA) lifted its ban on amateur boxers from Russia and Belarus over the war in Ukraine that had been in place since early March.

“The IBA strongly believes that politics shouldn’t have any influence on sports,” the federation said in a press release. “Hence, all athletes should be given equal conditions.”

Most international sports federations banned athletes from Russia and Belarus indefinitely seven months ago, acting after an IOC recommendation. It is believed that the IBA is the first international federation in an Olympic sport to lift its ban.

The IOC has not officially changed its recommendation from last winter to exclude Russia and Belarus athletes “to protect the integrity of the events and the safety of the other participants.”

Last week, IOC President Thomas Bach said in an interview with an Italian newspaper that Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could at some point be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag.

IBA, in lifting its ban, will also allow Russia and Belarus flags and national anthems.

“The time has now come to allow all the rest of the athletes of Russia and Belarus to participate in all the official competitions of their sports representing their countries,” IBA President Umar Kremlev, a Russian, said in a press release last week. “Both the IOC and the International Federations must protect all athletes, and there should be no discrimination based on nationality. It is the duty of all of us to keep sports and athletes away from politics.”

In 2019, the IOC stripped the IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition following an inquiry committee report into finance, governance, refereeing and judging. The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

The IBA will not run qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Games, but it does still hold world championships, the next being a men’s event in Uzbekistan next year.

Boxing, introduced on the Olympic program in 1904, was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games but can still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” Bach said last December.

On Sept. 23, the IBA suspended Ukraine’s boxing federation, citing “government interference.” Ukraine boxers are still allowed to compete with their flag and anthem.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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