“I never imagined that could happen,” MacLean said. “Just looking back at last year and being where I was last year is just crazy to me.”
McClain, who finished second after the first day of competition, jumped to the lead when Jones fell off the bar during the first turn. Jones responded with an outstanding performance on the floor and vault, reducing her deficit to five-tenths of a point. In the final session, with Jones on the bars and McClain on the floor, Jones would have won if both gymnasts had repeated their routines from Friday. After McClain had an imperfect but solid floor routine, her gold medal hopes relied on how well Jones successfully executed her normally excellent bars routine.
Jones floated through the air on firing elements with great technique throughout, hitting verticals and keeping her legs glued together. But on her last component, a double frontal flexing jaw, the 20-year-old sat on the floor, a major mistake that cost her the top spot on the podium. Jones said that in an effort to stay down, she opened up from her tucked-in position “a little early.” Jones won the silver with 112,000, landing against the Tokyo Olympics Jordan Chiles, who earned 111,900 in her impressive return to elite competition.
For McClain, an abrupt decision to move from West Virginia to Texas has pushed her to this moment. As she struggled last spring, she realized she needed a change and abruptly left her old club for the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas — with about 12 hours between making the decision and leaving. She trains under Valery and Anna Liukin, parents of 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin, along with a few elite gymnasts. Since then, her way of thinking has changed and her self-confidence has increased.
After the switch, McClain had a tough road here. Her father, Mark, He died in December From the Corona virus, and her grandmother died shortly after – noon to noon devastating losses for the teenager.
“It really was a year from hell,” Anna Liukin said. “This kid has matured a lot. You don’t wish that on anyone, but she really won.”
McClain recently dealt with stress fractures of both tibias, then a concussion and illness. McClain said she felt “70, 75 percent” ready for this meet, with her primary focus on picking a world championship this fall.
But at the US Championships, she seemed ready and confident. She flipped high above the bar on her tough series, and took the top grade on this machine as well as her all-around crown. An improvement in its offering to bars, at 14,050 compared to 13,300 on Friday, has boosted it. And in the end, her routine on the floor, with precise jumps, choppy passes and only small jumps on landings, helped secure the title. She faltered from her wolf role – a dance element performed in a squatting position with one of her legs extended – but after Jones’ mistake, that break no longer matters.
Once Anna Liukin realized the end result, she whispered to McClain: “Guess what? I won.” There’s no big celebration, not when the others are still competing, but McClain smiled to her amazement.
MacLean had a hard time explaining what that meant to her, adding that it might take her time to enjoy it. But when asked about the thoughts inside her head, she had a quick answer: “Honestly, I wish I could speak to my father properly right now.”
Without Simone Biles here, this competition features a group of gymnasts in a tight race for that first place on the overall podium. Entering Sunday, only 1.55 classmates made it to the top five gymnasts – Jones, McClain, Chiles, Kayla DeCillo and Jed Curry – who all made it to day one without major errors. DeCillo finished fourth with a score of 110.950, directly ahead of Curry in fifth with a score of 110.900. The margin of 1.85 between first and fifth positions is the smallest since the open enrollment system was introduced in 2006.
“They will continue to improve and be where they want to be for the worlds,” said Chelsea Memmel, technical lead for the women’s high performance team. “This is not necessarily the encounter, especially for seniors, the encounter you want to climax. I think there is room for improvement for everyone, and they are in a good position.”
Another American gymnast, Liann Wong, scratched out of competition after two events on Friday and only performed on the bars and beams again on Sunday. Wong, World silver medalist last yearHe won the US Classic a month ago and would have been directly involved in the mix for a medal here.
Despite Jones’ disappointing ending, she had a weekend with plenty of highlights. Jones tied Wong for the bars title, and her actions on the ground were packed with hard landings, excellent technique and a safe landing. Jones’ total on the machine for two days outperformed Curry, the Olympic gold medalist on the floor, to win the title.
“Two falls and second place is really just the beginning for me,” Jones said.
Jones didn’t think she’d be here. She planned to compete for the US Olympic team only once, though her father, Sylvester, would try to convince her that she wasn’t near the end of her career and that her dream could go on.
But everything has changed. Her whole life is different now. Jones’ father died in December after a battle with kidney disease. The date of his death, written in Roman numerals, sparkled with rhinestones down her left sleeve as she performed prominently during the two days of competition, despite a toe injury. Her father’s words inspired her to keep going, sticking to that Olympic dream she had always believed she could achieve.
Having even lost an alternate venue for the Tokyo Games, she’s back in the mix, approaching what could be her first berth at the World Championships this fall. In Tampa, she proved to be one of the best gymnasts in the country, as she stood on the podium alongside another athlete who could understand the grief that came her way to this achievement.
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”