Konnor McClain’s passion for gymnastics began when she was a toddler and her potential manifested soon after she joined her first ‘Mummy and me’ class.
At just 18-months old McClain took hold of a child-sized pair of rings and showed what she was capable of. Having completed several baby chin-ups, it wasn’t long before McClain began practising backflips on the balance beam.
Almost a decade later, McClain is still at the forefront of gymnastics and has been training with the hope of making the 2024 US Olympic team. However, the 16-year-old could now be in with a shot of making the Tokyo Games instead.
Konnor McClain is hoping to land a place on the US national gymnastics team this summer
Female gymnasts are required to be 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible for the Games. Having been born in 2005, McClain knew she would be unable to attend the Tokyo Games and therefore aligned her goals to Paris.
However, with the Tokyo Games being delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, McClain found herself with an unexpected opportunity to compete for a place on this year’s Olympic team.
McClain recalled the moment she found out she was eligible for the Tokyo Games – telling Sportsmail she was sat at home watching a movie with her older sister Olivia when her phone started blowing up. The 16-year-old said people were all over Twitter sharing the decision regarding the 2005-born gymnast.
Having been messaged by what felt like thousands of people, McClain said: ‘It was so overwhelming and so crazy.
‘I really wasn’t expecting them to change the rules and then everyone just came ploughing into me. It was literally everywhere and I was just thinking “wow is this really happening?”‘
McClain has been labelled ‘the next Simone Biles’ and has been touted to make it big because of her unusual combination of airy grace and pure athleticism. As a result, many believe Olympic qualification will be a walk in the park for the youngster.
However, earning a spot on the US Olympic Team is difficult at the best of times let alone the fact the International Gymnastics Federation has cut team sizes from five to four for Tokyo.
McClain insists she is grateful for the confidence the public have shown in her but admits the additional scrutiny can be tough to deal with.
When asked if she felt more pressure for the upcoming trials because she has been regarded as one of the athletes to watch, McClain said: ‘Yes definitely.
‘I feel like a couple of months ago it definitely took a toll on me but now I am trying not to think about it and trying not to put that pressure on myself.
‘I am just taking one day at a time so that I don’t have to deal with the mental stress levels and pressure.’
McClain was too young to compete at Tokyo but is now eligible due to the postponement
As a result, she will now be looking to qualify from the upcoming Olympic trials
Regardless of the pressure she is under, McClain says she feels prepared for the upcoming Championships and Olympic Trials despite an unprecedented year of training.
She said: ‘It is definitely different this year, just with the training and just preparing for the Olympics and the Olympic trials.
‘The stress level and the mental and physical state you have to be in for those competitions is a lot. But I am feeling pretty prepared for championships and then hopefully trials.’
Despite being given the opportunity to fast-track her way to the Olympics this summer, McClain said she and her coaches decided not to rush upgrades this year.
She explained how training for the national team has challenged her body over the years and that she has only just learnt to manage her training load.
She said: ‘I’ve definitely gotten used to it. The first week was… oh my gosh so hard.
‘Now I am getting better. Of course, your body is always going to be sore but you just have to take time to recover.’
Having highlighted recovery as a priority, Sportsmail took the opportunity to ask McClain what she does in her spare time to switch off from gymnastics.
The 16-year-old said: ‘I always go to church with my Grandpa and then I usually hang out with my family or friends.’
However, she admitted balancing life as a normal 16-year-old girl and life as an Olympic hopeful has got more challenging over the years.
McClain said: ‘This year has definitely been harder. I was really just taking it one day at a time.
‘You have to find your free time to hang out with your friends, just to distract your mind from gymnastics sometimes and then you have to go into the gym and focus on gymnastics.
‘Then of course my family, they are always there so it is easy to hang out with them.’
Despite having to juggle several aspects of her life, McClain says reaching an Olympics would make it all worth it.
When asked about what she would like to achieve at the Games if she got selected, McClain gave a heartwarming response.
She said: ‘Just to go is honestly amazing. I don’t know, I’ve never actually thought about that.
The 16-year-old says that she is feeling prepared for the trials due to start this month
However, she admitted to feeling a lot of pressure after being named as an athlete to watch
‘I was eight when I started the developmental camps so that’s when I first dreamed about being on the national team. So, honestly just to make it would be insane.’
However, she did admit she would be a little disappointed that her No 1 fan (her mum) would not to attend the Games if she qualified.
‘I would say my mum has gone to every competition I have ever competed at so it would be so weird not to have her there and not to have a huge crowd in the stands watching.’