McClain Leads U.S. to Jesolo Gold, Fending Off Super-Strong Italian Team

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Konnor McClain

Three years after the last time the City of Jesolo Trophy was contested, we were finally treated to the next edition of the fan-favorite meet over the weekend, which saw the U.S. women take gold against the strong host team, though not by the massive margin it’s used to.

Headlined by all-around champion Konnor McClain, who has also won the Winter Cup and DTB Pokal Team Challenge titles so far this year, the U.S. team ended up with a 164.065 after topping the Italians on every event but floor, where the host country was about three tenths stronger to finish with a 162.267, less than two points behind.

McClain was fantastic in her performance here despite a few minor issues in most of her events. On bars, she had a significant knee bend before catching her Pak, though she miraculously pulled it together and sailed right into the next skill without even a tiny break in her rhythm, while on beam there were a couple of checks and missed connections, and on floor she had a few small landing errors, including going out-of-bounds on her final pass.

What I noticed most about her performance was how strong her mental game is becoming. In the past, she tended to show how one small mistake could balloon into disaster, and it really held her back from accomplishing the kinds of meets she was capable of, but now, she seems fully connected to her routines, and you can almost see her mind thinking through a mistake and how to correct it. This is especially evident on beam, where a little check causing a missed connection just stays exactly that, and she’s able to move on confidently to the next skill or series. It’s impressive to watch, and while I think it would be nice to see her reach a point where she can fix these small problems entirely and hit a totally solid set, I think this is just as important and it’s great to see her getting there.

Her standouts were definitely her huge, clean, and powerful Yurchenko double full, her always gorgeous layout series on beam, and some improvements on her full-twisting double layout on floor, which still has some soft form throughout her body line, but it looks to be cleaned up a bit more than it has been previously this season, so I’m excited to see her keep going with this one and perfecting it a bit more each time.

While the Italians didn’t win the team or all-around titles, the big win for them here was getting two competitors on the podium, shutting out the potential for total U.S. domination. Asia D’Amato actually finished three one-hundredths from McClain, with a 54.967 to McClain’s 54.999, while her 2020 Olympic teammate Martina Maggio took the bronze with a 54.200.

D’Amato was excellent throughout, though I was most impressed with her beam, and with the Italians on beam in general, despite a couple of falls in their rotation. She had a few tiny bobbles here and there, but nailed difficult elements very well, and seems to be improving here in general. She also had a great landing on her Yurchenko double full, which has been a bit iffy so far this season, and floor was also a standout, with a big full-twisting double layout, arabian double front with a hop, and solid landings on her double pike and double tuck.

As for Maggio, there were a few little problem spots in most of her routines, including a big wobble with a leg up on her flight series on beam, as well as a missed connection there, but she was so clean otherwise that these were barely issues, and she had an excellent double pike to finish things up. She also had some spotty landings on floor, including on her double layout, full-in, and double pike, but otherwise, it was a successful day and she continues to prove why she’s going to be a key asset for this team going forward.

For the U.S., Shilese Jones finished fourth with a 53.733, eMjae Frazier was sixth with a 52.934, Zoe Miller was seventh with a 51.533, and Elle Mueller was eighth with a 51.466, while unfortunately Ashlee Sullivan was forced to withdraw after injuring her elbow during warmups. This was the national team debut for Miller and Mueller, and both had some great moments, with Miller doing a super difficult bars set while Mueller was gorgeous on beam.

This was the first meet back since last year’s Olympic trials for Jones, who won the March national team camp the week leading up to Jesolo. It’s also her first meet since a recent gym change to Ascend Gymnastics, an up-and-coming elite club in Washington, and she looked awesome, with just a few mistakes in her program as she shook out the comeback nerves. She looked great on vault, had a few minor issues – an arched handstand, some ankle separation – on bars, there were a few little things on beam, and she unfortunately sat her 1½ to front full on floor, though she did compete the Jones – her full-in half-out double tuck that she’s had since she was in level 10 – which was exciting as always. I’m glad she’s back, and think she has potential to be a frontrunner this year with a bit more time.

Frazier had a few areas on bars that kept her from getting a great score there, including a big arch in handstand before her Nabieva to Pak, as well as a super close catch on her Tkachev, but otherwise I think it went well, and it was good to see her fight through those areas that could have become bigger problems. I think her beam here was my favorite set she’s done; despite a leg up wobble on her front aerial and switch ring, the rest was solid and mostly clean, and on floor I was excited to see her keep the same level of endurance from start to finish given that she sometimes loses steam by the end. Instead, she crushed it on her double double, double layout, and front layout stepout through to double tuck with a big step out-of-bounds but I’d rather see that than have her come up short or fall.

Also part of the Italian team were Veronica Mandriota in fifth with a 53.133, Manila Esposito in 10th with a 51.200, Angela Andreoli in 16th with a 49.567, and Desiree Carofiglio in 22nd with a 47.466, while Giorgia Villa competed bars and beam, and Alice D’Amato competed bars in her first meet back since dealing with a knee injury earlier this season.

I think the biggest shock here was Mandriota’s all-around performance, as she’s typically an athlete who never gets to compete bars and beam, even at the Series A meets. She was strong on both, and upgrading her Yurchenko 1½ to a double is huge for her as well – it looked very good considering it was her first time out! She won’t be a top choice for major teams but given Italy’s injury history, the team is very lucky to have an alternate who’s essentially getting to a place where she’s close to the level as the primary options. Plus, that whip to triple on floor – she’s a stunner.

Just as surprising, though, was Andreoli down where she ended up. The first-year senior has been very hit or miss this season, sometimes churning out beam routines that have me (very) prematurely declaring her a world beam medalist in Liverpool, and elsewhere falling three times in her set. Beam is what got her this time around, but she wasn’t at a hundred percent on her other events either, with a few loose skills on bars and a short double layout to start out her floor routine, though her Yurchenko 1½ was fine, showing just a hop.

Meanwhile, Esposito continues to impress not as someone who is consistently going lights-out on every event at the same level as her teammates, but as someone who is becoming reliable and consistent with lower difficulty and lots of room to grow. Almost everything I saw her do was great here, and she even had an awesome save on floor where she meant to punch into a layout on her first pass but came up short and had the presence of mind to punch into a front handspring instead.

Villa had beautiful work on bars, though unfortunately fell on her mount and then on the tuck full series on beam, while D’Amato missed the high bar at the end of her Downie to Pak to Chow half sequence and then had to hop off on her front pirouettes when she was unable to make it back to handstand. It was also a rough day for Carofiglio, who had falls on every event but beam. She wasn’t competing as part of the team and had to rotate with France, so maybe this got to her a bit. Esposito also wasn’t competing as part of the team, but she still go to rotate with Italy, so it seemed a bit unfair that Carofiglio was the one Italian gymnast on her own.

The bronze medal fight ended up being just as exciting as the competition between gold and silver, with Canada edging out Romania by just under a tenth at 152.266 to 152.167. Both teams had their shares of struggles and ended up 10 points back from the leaders, but it was an exciting match right up until the end, with Belgium (fifth with a 151.266) and France (150.767) not far behind.

With Ellie Black downgraded across most of her events and sitting her vault, it gave Laurie Denommée a chance to get ahead in the all-around, leading Canada in 13th with a 50.200, while Black was 15th with a 49.666. Denommée showed a good fight to get through a beam with lots of wobbles, and she was solid elsewhere, while Black was a bit iffy in some of her bars form and had a stumble in the middle of her double full to full turn to straddle jump series, though her lower-difficulty floor was excellent.

Canada also had Jenna Lalonde in 21st with a 47.567, while Ava Stewart competed on every event but floor (I believe just beam was a miss for her), and Cassie Lee competed on beam and floor, with the latter looking mostly fine, though beam was a miss for her as well.

The top all-arounder for Romania – and outside of the U.S. and Italy in general – was Ioana Stanciulescu in eighth with a 51.466. She looks to be slowly building back after not competing since Euros in 2020, with solid difficulty on all of her events in addition to a clean Yurchenko full on vault.

Also representing Romania were Maria Ceplinschi in 12th with a 50.300 (floor was, as always, a standout for her, and she had a Yurchenko double full on vault), Ana Maria Barbosu making her senior debut in 14th with a 49.734 (she unfortunately struggled here, including a hard fall onto her head on her double tuck final pass on floor), Andreea Preda in 24th with a 46.634, and Silviana Sfiringu competing all but floor.

Noémie Louon led Belgium in 11th with a 50.732, with her beam a highlight, followed by Maellyse Brassart in 18th with a 49.366 (mostly held back by some weak landings on floor), Keziah Langendock in 23rd with a 46.900, and Zsofi Verleden in 25th with a 46.566, while Lisa Vaelen competed strong sets on vault and bars.

Finally, Morgane Osyssek led France’s team with a 49.501 to finish 17th all-around (notable was her big Yurchenko 1½), followed by Louane Versaveau in 19th with a 48.600 (her floor was very well done), and Célia Serber in 20th with a 48.300 (I loved her beam here!), while Coline Devillard competed everywhere but bars (she brought her rudi back on her key event, vault, and also looked stronger than usual on beam and floor), and Silane Mielle competed on bars and beam.

The session also saw one individual competitor, with Anna-Lena König of Germany finishing 26th with a 44.834. Sadly, it was just a rough day for her in general, including a fall on beam that turned into a second fall as she attempted to remount, which happened in the very first rotation and seemed to set her up for drama, though she’s a talented young athlete and I hope to see her bounce back from this soon!

The vault title went to Devillard with a 13.675 average, just a quarter of a tenth ahead of D’Amato with a 13.650. The U.S. collected the remaining gold medals, with Miller winning bars with a 14.450 while McClain cleaned up on beam with a 13.850 and on floor with a 13.900.

Jones picked up the silver on bars and the bronze on beam, while Frazier got a silver on floor, Italy saw Maggio take silver on beam and Villa grab the bronze on bars, and Black picked up the bronze on vault while Stanciulescu earned bronze on floor.

The U.S. women won the junior competition with a 159.766, about nine points ahead of Italy with a 150.933, while a second Italian team won bronze with a 148.567. Romania, Germany, France, and Belgium also had teams in the competition, finishing fourth through seventh, in that order.

In addition to the team win, the U.S. also filled out the top five all-around spots. Tiana Sumanasekera made it through her sometimes tricky bars set with a great routine to win gold with a 52.500, ahead of Madray Johnson in second with a 52.366, and Myli Lew in third with a 52.299. Just off the podium were Zoey Molomo in fourth with a 51.134, and then Ella Murphy in fifth with a 51.000, while Gabby Van Frayen ended up ninth with a 50.233.

The true star of the junior session, Sumanasekera also got three golds in finals, winning vault with a 13.500 average, beam with a 13.800, and floor with a 12.850, while Molomo earned the silver medals on vault and floor, Johnson picked up silver on bars and beam, and Lew won the bronze on bars.

Outside of the Americans, the top all-arounders were Amalia Ghigoarta of Romania in sixth with a 50.733, Helen Kevric of Germany in seventh with a 50.467, Viola Pierazzini of Italy in eighth with a 50.234, and Lilou Viallat of France in 10th with a 50.100.

Kevric ended up winning gold on bars with a 13.700 and she added a bronze medal on floor, Ghigoarata won the bronze on beam, and Romania’s Sabrina Voinea won the bronze on vault.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

2 thoughts on “McClain Leads U.S. to Jesolo Gold, Fending Off Super-Strong Italian Team

  1. Really amazed by Amalia Ghigoarta’s beam bronze routine. Simple skills done so well and so confidently blended in with the kind of non-stop choreography FIG wants for this quad.

    Like

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