In Olympic terms it was a "where were you?" moment. Where were you when Dan O'Brien no-heighted in the pole vault at the Olympic trials and missed out on the Dan vs. Dave competition that everyone was waiting for at the 1992 Olympics? Where were you when the U.S. basketball team lost in 1972? When Ben Johnson tested positive?
Add to that the shocking question people were asking on Sunday at the North Greenwich Arena: Where were you when Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world all-around champion forecast by many as the 'it' girl of the Olympics, missed out on qualifying for the all-around final? This was simply a blockbuster.
It's not that Wieber crashed into the concession stands -- she was the fourth-best gymnast in the day's series of qualifying sessions. But only two gymnasts per country can qualify for both the all-around final and the apparatus finals throughout the week, and she was tripped up by a pair of teammates who had superior afternoon.
It wasn't a shock that one should have been Gabby Douglas, who, after all, beat Wieber by a tenth of a point at U.S. trials earlier this month in San Jose. But who could have seen Aly Raisman, a two-time world team member finishing ahead of her, too? As team captain, Raisman was a popular and experienced teammate, and as a world medalist on the floor exercise, she was, and still is, a strong candidate to win a medal on her best event. But Raisman was thought to be too weak on uneven bars to be a serious threat in the all-around phase.
Instead, she had perhaps the strongest day of her career. "She's surprised," said Mihai Brestyan, her coach in Needham, Mass. "She worked very hard. You dream for something, but then you're surprised. I'm certainly surprised."
The evening began quietly for Raisman, who landed an Amanar vault for a solid score of 15.800 on her first event. But so strong is the U.S. squad that it was actually the team's lowest of four scores and could therefore be discarded, a luxury that teams don't actually have in event finals. Wieber was comfortably second behind Douglas among her team after the uneven bars, although Raisman's score was a respectable 14.166, enough to keep her within striking range most people never realized she had.
The group moved to balance beam where Wieber has had problem in the past connecting some difficult elements. Geddert wasn't around to say whether he told Wieber to take out all the connections, but she did miss out on one and also had a wobble and a hesitation that started adding up to trouble. With a 14.700, Wieber was starting to fade after her teammates, Kyla Ross, Raisman and Douglas, each scored in the 15s.
All still seemed fine for Wieber when she moved to floor exercise, which is generally a good event for her, but she stepped out of bounds after over rotating a routine tumbling pass. After her score came up as just 14.666, the look of concern swept across her face. With this, Raisman needed anything above 15.200 to pass her, making Wieber one solid routine away from an unthinkable early exit.
Because her name was still second on the scoreboard, Wieber was one of the few who seemed to grasp the situation. She averted her eyes from Raisman's routine, but must have heard the crowd reaction. Raisman hit each tumbling pass cleanly, showing off a pair of Arabian tumbling passes that earned her a score of 15.325, the highest mark of the day on the apparatus and enough to keep Wieber from reaching the all-around final of 24 gymnasts, 21 of whom qualified despite amassing lower scores than she did. On Tuesday, there will be one unexpected spectator, who will surely remember where she wasn't.
"I'm very sad to see [Wieber not qualify]," said U.S. program director Martha Karolyi. "I'm very happy the other girls made it. Aly Raisman, she's the hardest working person you'll find. Finally she gets the payoff for the hard work."
Even Raisman herself said she was stunned when it sunk in that she would be competing in the all-around final instead of Wieber, her close friend and roommate in the Olympic village. She has a habit of not watching scores, her or others, as she competes. "My first thought was about her," she said. "I feel bad. It's too bad it's just top two. It's too bad we can't all be going."
After the competition, Wieber rushed through the mixed zone interview area without speaking. Her coach, John Geddert, had an arm around one of her shoulders and Kathy Kelly, a USA Gymnastics vice president, had an arm around the other shoulder. The U.S. federation later released one written comment attributed to Wieber: "It is a bit of a disappointment. It has always been a dream of mine to compete in the all-around final of an Olympics, but I'm proud of Aly and Gabby and happy that they reached the all-around final and happy that I was able to help the team get to the finals. I think from the beginning we were all very strong. It was always going to be close between the three of us doing the all-around and in the end it is what it is."
They released another attributed to Geddert: "I am basically devastated for her. She has trained her entire life for this day and to have it turn out anything less than what she deserves is going to be devastating. She has waited her entire career for this. She is happy for her teammates and disappointed that she doesn't get to move on."
Wieber still has a chance to go out on a very high note. The U.S. women finished with the highest combined score in qualifying followed by Russia, China and Romania. She will still be a key player in the team competition on Tuesday night, with a chance to win an Olympic gold medal. The Russian women, after all, seem to have closed the gap a bit. They finished 1.434 points behind the U.S. in qualifying here after losing out by 4.082 points in the finals at the world championships in Tokyo last year. Wieber also qualified sixth for finals on the floor exercise.
Apart from the all-around qualifiers, the U.S. earned six spots in the event finals that will be contested over three days later in the week. McKayla Maroney led all gymnasts in qualifying for the vault, an event on which she is the reigning world champ. Douglas qualified sixth on uneven bars and third on beam. Raisman was first on floor and fifth on beam.