Rather than confirm her gymnastics supremacy, Jordyn Wieber's victory at the American Cup meet in New York City last Saturday highlighted how difficult it will be for the reigning all-around world champion to live up to her new billing as Olympic favorite. Against a modest international field the 16-year-old high school junior from DeWitt, Mich., survived several small errors and outpointed countrywoman Aly Raisman for her third career title, at a meet that has been a bellwether for Olympic success. Romania's Nadia Comaneci won the inaugural event in 1976 before taking the all-around at the Summer Games, and U.S. gymnasts Mary Lou Retton ('84), Carly Patterson (2004) and Nastia Liukin ('08) did the same in subsequent years.
Because of the meet's format, with a maximum of two gymnasts from the host country competing for official scores, the performances of the other U.S. gymnasts were considered exhibitions. One of the unofficial competitors, 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas of Virginia Beach, a member of the U.S. squad that won gold at the world championships last fall, by all accounts outperformed everyone else on Saturday. "Gabby really won the meet," said John Geddert, Wieber's coach. "She was the best today."
Douglas's effort merely complicated the impending decision of the three-person committee that will announce the five-member Olympic team on July 1. Possible choices also include returning Olympic medalists Liukin, Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone and worlds medalists Rebecca Bross, McKayla Maroney, Chellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan. (Many of them are training after suffering injuries or spending time away from the sport.) "We have so many strong girls fighting for so few places," says national team coordinator Marta Karolyi. "It is a fortunate problem."
A healthy Wieber is still likely to lead the team in London. During a team training camp last month, she battled a viral infection. And last Saturday Wieber, who suffers from exercise-induced asthma, used an inhaler before her floor routine and appeared tentative all afternoon. After a superb 2½ twisting round-off vault that scored a 16.1 ("maybe the best one I've done," she said), Wieber wobbled on the beam and landed low on a tumbling pass on the floor exercise. She almost fell from the uneven bars after a shaky pirouette to handstand but fought to right herself and minimized the deductions. "She was very protective," said Geddert. "It was, I don't want to lose this, rather than I want to win it. This is a nice little wake-up call."
March 12, 2012