Four years ago at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, Shawn Johnson narrowly edged Nastia Liukin for the women's all-around title. While Liukin will return to the trials this Thursday in San Jose, Calif., Johnson won't; the four-time Olympic medalist retired earlier this year, leaving the U.S. in search of a new all-around champ.
Jordyn Wieber could be next in line. Fresh off her second straight U.S. national title, Wieber, 16, is putting in six-hour days to fine-tune her routine, and the work has her confident for the trials.
"I think coming out of nationals with first place, where I had eight strong events, boosted my confidence and helped me prepare for this competition," Wieber said in a phone interview with SI.com last week.
Preparation will be key, as the trials are shaping up to be more competitive than ever. In years past, six gymnasts made the women's Olympic team. This year, only five will head to London. As the reigning U.S. and world all-around champ, Wieber appears to be in good position to make the team, but she isn't ready to look that far ahead.
"I'm just really excited that I have the chance to be a part of Team USA," said Wieber, who was speaking on behalf of Kellogg's. "I'm really trying to enjoy the whole process. Hopefully, if I'm on that team, I'll represent Team USA and get a spot on that podium."
The Michigan native's most serious rival appears to be Gabby Douglas. The two competed fiercely at the U.S. national championships, and a misstep on the beam was the only thing that kept Douglas from the title. Although they will go head to head at the trials, the two girls identify themselves as teammates.
"It's always good to have friendly competition," Wieber said, "but at the same time, Gabby and I are the best of teammates and we really want each other to do well; we root for each other no matter what."
Their rivalry has been likened to that of Johnson and Liukin in 2008, but Wieber dismisses the notion.
"All the drama on TV, they kind of elevate it to make it seem like we're enemies, but we really just want each other to do well."
The teammate-rival mentality is a stumbling block for those outside the gymnastic world. Wieber, who has been doing gymnastics since age four, said she has no trouble finding the balance between team and individual competition.
"It always starts out with the team competition, and that's when we're all working together and really cheering each other on -- we're doing it all for the team," Wieber said. "Once it comes down to competing against each other in the individual competition, we really want to win ourselves. But we're still teammates in the end, so we want each other to do well no matter what."
Wieber knows that if she focuses on her routine and trusts her talent, she has a shot at gold. She explains that the essence of the team-individual balance is to perform to the best of your own ability: "I just always try to do my personal best, and whatever the score comes out to be, it is what it is," she said.
The rising high school senior also looks beyond gymnastics.
"I'm focused on finishing up my classes and being able to graduate on time," Wieber said. "That will be big because I've been so busy with traveling and training. I'd like to go to college some day, I'm just not sure when. I've always been interested in psychology, so maybe something along those lines."
But before that is the trials and, hopefully, a ticket for London. Said Wieber: "I've been waiting for this for my whole gymnastics career."