Shilese Jones leads after spectacular performance on night one of US Gymnastics Championships

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With Olympic champions Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee not in the field, there was a sense of opportunity Friday night at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Tampa, Florida.

A mix of newcomers and Olympic medallist veterans stepped up to take advantage with Shilese Jones leading a tight competition after the first of two days of competition inside Amalie Arena.

Jones scored a 57.200 in the all-around, holding off Konnor McClain, who earned 56.400. Olympic team silver medallist Jordan Chiles was third (56.150), while Olympic alternate Kayla DiCello is fourth (55.950). Olympic floor exercise champion Jade Carey sits fifth with a 55.650.

“Absolutely, yes,” Jones said afterward when asked if her performance was the best of her career. “It just feels amazing. I’ve been wanting to showcase [my ability] and hit it four-for-four. I’m just super proud”

After three events, Jones and McClain were tied at 43.100 a piece. Jones was first to compete in the final event, performing to an upbeat floor exercise that includes music by Sia. Her sky-high tumbling included a double-double and double layout. She scored 14.100 to put pressure on McClain.

Minutes later, McClain had to muscle through her routine on the uneven bars, scoring a 13.300 after having to break several connections and losing form on a transition move from the low bar to high bar.

“I’m pretty proud of pretty much everything today. I fought through bars, which was a little rough looking and it was pretty hard,” McClain said. “My arms were giving out at the end, but I fought through it.”

For Jones, it was a career night that started with an easy double-twisting laidout Yurchenko. She had been hampered on the event in training after injuring her toe on the balance beam earlier in the week.

“The toe has just been bugging since day one [in Tampa], I had a little mess up on beam,” she explained. “So just trying to rest it as much as I can and I knew I could come out here and hit all four events if I just rested a little bit. I just knew I had it. I’ve been training every single day and I knew that just a couple of days off wasn’t going to change anything.”

She earned the night’s highest score, a 14.850, on the uneven bars where her long lines and dynamic swing make it look like she’s flying. That momentum continued into the third rotation when she went to the balance beam, the event that gave her all sorts of trouble two weeks ago at the U.S. Classic.

But Friday in Tampa, she was calm and collected, scoring a 13.700 to set up the final rotation showdown.

“I was absolutely just thrilled. Beam has been a little bit of a pain with my toe and everything,” Jones said. “Just thrilled with my overall performance.”

McClain’s night was full of highlights, as well, including in the first rotation where she delivered a solid exercise on the balance beam for a 14.800. It was a performance she’s worked hard to deliver after dealing with anxiety on the event as recently as a year ago.

“[My coach] Anna [Liukin] always tells me to breath, it always helps getting ready to compete. Just breathing and focusing on breathing instead of just focusing on my routine is really helpful and takes your mind off things,” said McClain. “It’s a 100% change for me. I feel so much calmer going into beam, it’s just such a nice feeling.”

McClain posted a 13.900 on the floor exericse and a 14.400 on the vault.

For Chiles and Carey, it was a first outing in elite gymnastics since Tokyo 2020.

“I think it honestly went really better than I thought it was going to go, not going to lie,” Chiles said candidly. “I just wanted to come into this competition, just hitting four-for-four, honestly, whether or not the outcome was great or bad, I just wanted to hit four-for-four. I can’t wait for day two.”

Competition continues Saturday (20 August) with the men’s finals. The second day of women’s competition is Sunday (21 August).

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Scott Bregman

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