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Konnor McClain perseveres through tragedy to win U.S. gymnastics title

Konnor McClain celebrates winning the all-around title at the U.S. nationals. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Konnor McClain won the U.S. gymnastics all-around title Sunday at just 17 years old.

She persevered through injuries and personal tragedies en route to her triumphant senior nationals debut. At the competition in Tampa, she had to pull off a comeback in order to take the title.

The 17-year-old trailed leader Shilese Jones, 20, by eight tenths heading into the final day. But then Jones fell on her opening balance beam, providing McClain with the opening she needed.

In the end, just 1.85 points separated first and fifth place, the smallest margin at nationals event since the current scoring system was introduced in 2006.

The field was filled with stars, including Olympians Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey and 2021 world all-around bronze medalist Kayla DiCello. Chiles, DiCello and Carey placed third, fourth and fifth, respectively. McClain took the title with a final score of 112.750, just ahead of Jones’ 111.900.

McClain, who is coached by Anna and Valeri Liukin, the parents of former Olympian Nastia Liukin, faced a long journey to get to the podium. In the lead-up to the competition, she dealt with stress fractures in both shins, a concussion and the flu.

On top of it all, she lost two family members in the span of a week last winter as a result of COVID-19 complications: Her father Marc died in late December, and her grandmother died soon after.

“It’s been really a hell of a year,” Anna Liukin said. “This kid’s matured so much. You don’t wish it on anybody, but she really prevailed.”

For McClain, who last year lost her confidence as a gymnast and made the move to Texas to beginning training with the Liukins, the win came a shock — particularly after she says she felt maybe “70, 75 percent ready” for the meet. Her primary focus is on world championships this fall.

“I never thought this could happen — ever,” McClain said. “Just looking back at last year and being where I was last year, this is just so crazy to me.”

For McClain, her one wish after winning was simple.

“Honestly, I wish I could talk to my dad right now,” she said.