Konnor McClain during an interview with NBC Sports following competition at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 21, 2022 in Tampa, Fla.
TAMPA, Fla. – Konnor McClain arrived at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas a year ago as a broken soul. Her gymnastics, she said, was “garbage.” Her confidence shattered. Picking up the pieces to rebuild the 16-year-old, regarded as one of the most talented gymnasts in the country, would be a gargantuan task for her new coaches, Valeri and Anna Liukin.
On Sunday night, in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Tampa, Florida, the rebirth came to fruition.
Following a year and a half of turmoil, heartbreak and injury struggles, McClain, now 17, strung together eight strong routines over two days at the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships to win the all-around title in her first try as a senior. Long considered a star-to-be for the 2024 Olympic quad, McClain positioned herself as just that, all while competing at what she described as 70 to 75 percent of her true ability.
“I never thought this could happen, ever,” McClain said. “Just looking back at last year and being where I was last year, this is so crazy to me.”
Last year’s national championships were held in Fort Worth, Texas, not far from McClain’s new gym, which is known as WOGA. She made it to the arena that weekend, but not to compete.
McClain by then had a reputation. As an 11-year-old she performed a balance beam routine on a national TV talent show, telling host Steve Harvey that she wanted to win the Olympic all-around title in 2024. Then, step-by-step she marched toward that goal. A star on the junior level, McClain won the U.S. all-around silver medal in 2019, then went on to the inaugural junior world championships as the alternate for the American team.
All signs were pointing her toward the Olympic Games Paris 2024 — the first she’d be eligible for based on her age.
Then the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed a year, and a subsequent adjustment to the minimum-age requirement suddenly made her eligible. A little more than a year before the Games, she reset her sights from 2024 to 2021. A production company owned by LeBron James began filming her journey as part of a Peacock docuseries about Olympic women’s gymnastics hopefuls. Everything was moving fast.
Then, at the U.S. Classic in May 2021, she struggled. A lot.
“I literally thought that I was the most garbage gymnast ever,” she said this week.
The pressure mounting, and her love for the sport waning, McClain came home from practice one day shortly after that and made a split-second decision. She wanted to move gyms.