Wieber, Douglas pave way early for young stars at U.S. gymnastic trials
Sixteen-year-old Jordyn Wieber paced the first day of U.S. gymnastic trials
Wieber finished just ahead of rival Gabby Douglas with Sunday's finals remaining
Young Olympians-to-be appeared to headline the U.S. trials as veterans stumbled
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- With one day of gymnastics trials down, there were no tribulations for Jordyn Wieber. The world all-around champion hit four strong routines to lead after the first day of the U.S. gymnastics trials. But even with a major wobble and near fall off uneven bars, her best event, Wieber's top rival Gabby Douglas is within easy striking range, just three-tenths of a point behind with only Sunday's finals remaining. Behind the top two, Aly Raisman put in a strong showing to take third. The top three are all expected to get a call when a three-person selection committee announces the U.S. team shortly after Sunday's competition. The remaining two spots are still iffy.
At nationals earlier this month, Wieber finished just 0.2 ahead of Douglas, despite Douglas' fall off beam. Again, Wieber, the steadier gymnast, outlasted Douglas, the one with greater difficulty. "I'm close to where I need to be," said Wieber, who will turn 17 on July 12. "I still have some things I need to clean up," but everything was pretty strong." Wieber's signature Amanar vault (round-off with 2 ˝ twists) was a bit too twisted. She received 15.900 after landing with one foot behind the other and dangerously to the side, even though the mistake only counted as a minor deduction. She sailed through a steady bars routine for 15.300 even though the event is not usually her best. She debuted a harder dismount, adding a full twist to a double-back dismount that she landed perfectly. The addition, which gave her an extra tenth, was her only upgrade between nationals and trials. "It felt good to be able to stick that," Wieber said. "It's been coming together and getting more consistent, so the timing was perfect." If there was a weak point to Wieber's night, it was her fairly cautious beam routine. Though she had only two minor wobbles, she failed to make quick connections between elements that cost her useful bonus points. She still scored 15.050, but left a good three to five tenths on the table -- or beam -- by not hitting quick connections. Her floor routine, one of her best, scored 15.400.
For Douglas, her showcase routine was a mix of good and bad. Bars are certainly her best event, and she saved what seemed a sure fall -- and much larger deduction -- early in her routine when she stalled at the top of a handstand, buckling her elbows and muscling up to keep from falling off. It spoiled what was otherwise a superb routine. "I don't know how I stayed on," Douglas said. "I was using every single muscle I had in my body and I was like, wooo. It came out of nowhere. I still had five more skills left in the routine." Douglas still scored 15.250 for the routine, because of outstanding amplitude on other skills. Her two releases, both versions of reverse Hechts are absurdly high. Her remaining routines all scored well enough -- 14.900 for beam and 15.450 on floor and 15.800 on vault -- to keep her in the mix for the top place on Sunday. Her Amanar vault was, as she said, "one of my best. I need to save that one and bring it back."
Although only the top scorer over two days is guaranteed a spot on the team, count on both Wieber and Douglas being all-arounders in London. Raisman is a fairly safe bet to be on the squad, too. The world bronze medalist on floor received the evening's highest score, 15,600, on her best event, even though she tumbled out of bounds on her first pass, a 1 ˝ to double Arabian, layout front.
World vault champ McKayla Maroney hit two strong vaults, with her first (Amanar for 16.100) counting toward her all-around score. She had major breaks on bars and beam, though she is not in the mix to compete on those events anyway. It was a nice rebound for Maroney, who missed a week of training after breaking her nose and suffering a minor concussion during a bad landing on floor two weeks ago. She would be a logical choice to do vault and perhaps floor in London.
Some big names, attempting to make a comeback, fell short on Friday, virtually ending their chances of being back on the world stage. Olympic all-around champ Nastia Liukin fell on her dismount from uneven bars, her best event and the likely place where she might be able to help the U.S. as an event specialist in the team competition. "I ran out of gas at the end," said Liukin, at 22 seemingly resigned to her fate even with one more day to compete. "I feel I achieved my personal goals four years ago ... I'm ready to take on life."
The last two spots seem like a scramble among Maroney, Kyla Ross and Elizabeth Price. Alicia Sacramone, who competed well on two events -- she scored 15.700 on vault and 15.000 on beam -- is the only gymnast standing from the old guard. At 24, the four-time world champ and 10-time world medalist is a popular team player and could still be a viable alternate.
Bridget Sloan, the world all-around champ in 2009, withdrew before the event because of a strained left elbow. Rebecca Bross, a six-time world medalist who nearly beat Sloan in 2009, succumbed to the lingering knee injury that felled her last year. Bross scored a respectable 15.300 on bars, but fell off beam and managed just 12.050. One by one, the older proven champs are making way for the generation of new Olympians to be. In San Jose, the proof is in the torch passing.