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

0 Comments

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

0 Comments

Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Kaillie Humphries begins trek to 2026 Winter Olympics with monobob World Cup win

Kaillie Humphries
Getty
0 Comments

Kaillie Humphries is off to a strong start to a four-year cycle that she hopes ends with her breaking the record as the oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

Humphries, the women’s record holder with three Olympic bobsled titles, earned her first World Cup victory since February’s Winter Games, taking a monobob in Park City, Utah, on Friday.

Humphries, the first Olympic monobob champion, prevailed by .31 of a second over German Lisa Buckwitz combining times from two runs at the 2002 Olympic track.

Humphries has said since February’s Olympics that she planned to take time off in this four-year cycle to start a family, then return in time for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Games. Humphries, who can become the first female Olympic bobsledder in her 40s, shared her experiences with IVF in the offseason on her social media.

“We’ve pushed pause so that I could go and compete this season, maintain my world ranking to be able to still work towards my 2026 goals, and we’ll go back in March to do the implantation of the embryos that we did retrieve,” she said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The next Games come 20 years after her first Olympic experience in Italy, which was a sad one. Humphries, then a bobsled push athlete, was part of the Canadian delegation at the 2006 Torino Games, marched at the Opening Ceremony and had her parents flown in to cheer her on.

But four days before the competition, Humphries learned she was not chosen for either of the two Canadian push athlete spots. She vowed on the flight home to put her future Olympic destiny in her own hands by becoming a driver.

She has since become the greatest female driver in history — Olympic golds in 2010, 2014 and 2022, plus five world championships.

Her longtime rival, five-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, plans to return to competition from her second childbirth later in this Olympic cycle and can also break the record of oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!