© Lloyd Smith

By Blythe Lawrence

LOUISVILLE — It was the meet Konnor McClain didn’t compete at that gave her that little extra pinch of motivation going into Saturday’s GK U.S. Classic.

At last month’s World Junior Championships in Gyor, Hungary, McClain soaked up a week of training and competition among the best under-16s from around the globe. But as the U.S. team’s traveling alternate, the 14-year-old from West Virginia wasn’t called upon to compete and watched from the sidelines as the U.S. captured the team bronze medal.

When she returned to Cross Lanes, West Va., where she trains with coach Susan Brown, McClain stepped it up. Her Hungarian experience intensified her appetite to do well at the GK U.S. Classic, the dress rehearsal for next month’s U.S. Championships in Kansas City, Mo. On Saturday, under the lights of the KFC Yum! Center, McClain turned in three-and-a-half stellar routines, including the best performances of the day on vault and balance beam, to top the junior standings.

“I did have a lot of motivation for this meet,” said McClain, whose next target is the U.S. Championships where she finished fifth in 2018 in the junior division. “I just came in like it was a practice meet, a mock meet, and I tried to do well, to do my best.”

Giving her best meant not only her signature combination of fluid movement and breathtaking acrobatics, but resilience in overcoming a setback on uneven bars, where she had problems with one of her grips on a transition from the low bar to the high bar and was forced to improvise. As a result of the mistake, McClain ceded the lead to Sydney Barros before the last rotation began, but nailed her final exercise on balance beam to make up the difference, sealing the title by 0.3.

After a brief chat with her coach, “On beam I just did my normal, like I usually do,” said McClain, whose 14.350 on beam was the highest score of the day on the event, giving her a total of 55.600 points overall.

For her part, Barros, who followed directly behind McClain in the competition order, admitted to peeking at the scores before balance beam and discovering that she was in the lead. Rather than making her more nervous, the 14-year-old felt a surge of determination to close out her competition well.

“It was thrilling to see my name up there,” said Barros, who trains at Texas Dreams with 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal-Burdette and Chris Burdette. “It did give me more nerves, but it also made me extremely humble. I wanted to go out and do my routine, to do a good job.” Like McClain, she aced her beam set for 13.750 to secure the all-around silver.

Staten Islander Olivia Greaves, who trains with Maggie Haney at MG Elite in New Jersey, showed off a new floor routine with a new double layout opening pass and a big double-twisting Yurchenko vault to clinch the all-around bronze.

“I came in with some new things, to show everybody what I was working on in the gym, and I feel like I did,” said Greaves, 15, who also recorded the best score on uneven bars with 14.200. “I didn’t do it perfectly, but I feel like it was fine for today.”

Junior World team member Skye Blakely, fourth in the Classic all-around, posted the top score of the evening on floor exercise (13.750), while Ciena Alipio, fifth, had the second best number on balance beam (13.850). Sophia Butler, sixth, scored a pair of third-place finishes on vault (14.300), tying with Barros, and all on her own on floor (13.350).

Sydney Morris, a teammate of 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd at First State Gymnastics in Delaware, notched the second-best score on uneven bars (13.800), while World Champions Centre’s Zoe Miller and Hill’s Gymnatics’ Kayla Di Cello shared bronze on the uneven bars (13.75).

The seven gymnasts who qualified to compete in the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Aug. 8-11, are: Addison Fatta of Prestige Gymnastics; eMjae Frazier of Parkettes; Sophie Parenti of San Mateo Gymnastics; Ariel Posen of MG Elite; Katelyn Rosen of Mavericks; Jamison Sears of World Class Gymnastics; and Ella Zirbes of Flips Gymnastics.