(L-R) 2012 U.S. Olympic Team members Gabrielle Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The news came from a fan.
“Gabby, you won!” a voice called from the crowd.
And that’s when it hit her. Gabby Douglas, the excitable 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, had secured the
Olympic Trials all-around title and earned a trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games. A selection committee named McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber as her teammates a few minutes later Sunday night in San Jose, Calif. All nominations are subject to the approval of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“I was just like ‘Oh my gosh,’” Douglas said of hearing the fan’s announcement. “This is like so real and a dream come true.”
The win was a long time coming for Douglas, and at times it felt like it might never come.
Douglas and Wieber, also 16 and the reigning world champion, had been in a near deadlock since March, when Douglas earned the highest score at the American Cup but Wieber officially won the meet because Douglas was competing as an alternate.
Wieber is nothing if not a fighter, though, and she narrowly held off Douglas at the Visa Championships three weeks ago in St. Louis. Then Wieber rolled through Friday night’s first day of the Olympic Trials with a 0.300 advantage.
Finally on Sunday night, Douglas jumped into first place with an uneven bars performance that lived up to her “Flying Squirrel” nickname in the first rotation. Wieber chipped away at that lead after every rotation, but when Douglas finished her floor routine with a big smile and a 15.300 score, her lead was secure by the second narrowest margin: 0.1 points.
Her status as a soon-to-be superstar was also wiped away. Now Douglas, like Wieber, will go into the London Games as a bona fide contender for the coveted all-around title.
“Everyone was telling me that you have this great potential and you can be on top,” Douglas said. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s really helped me believe in myself. And I did, and I’m kind of up on the top and wow, it feels so amazing.”
The packed house at HP Pavilion kept the energy level high as the final 14 gymnasts battled for the five Olympic spots. In the end, however, there were no major surprises.
When USA Gymnastics announced the Olympic team — the first time it has been announced on-site at Trials since 2000 — the five crying faces who emerged from a corner of the arena were the five most expected to see.
In fact, U.S. National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi, who led the selection committee, said the five gymnasts named were the five she anticipated before Saturday’s competition and even before the Trials began on Friday.
“For quite a while this was the ideal team that I was thinking about, but they needed to prove themselves,” Karolyi said. “If somebody would fall apart when this arena starts to yell, the noise, the lights, the yelling and everything, we had to test out the nerves. The strength of the routines we knew, but they have to be able to perform their good routines under the stressful situation. And they proved they can do that.”
Sarah Finnegan, Anna Li and Elizabeth Price were named as the alternates.
Attention was paid particularly to Ross and Maroney. The other three gymnasts’ Olympic spots seemed as secure as a deadbolt going into the competition. But Ross only debuted on the senior level this year and Maroney, the reigning world vault champion, missed a week of training after suffering a concussion and nasal fracture prior to the second day of Visa Championships.
Ultimately Ross, a 15-year-old from Aliso Viejo, Calif., won the bars title at Olympic Trials and finished third on beam. Maroney, a 16-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., still blew away the field on vault and proved serviceable elsewhere.
And when Karolyi announced the five team members after the meet, she said Maroney’s name fourth and Ross’ fifth.
“It definitely was nerve wracking,” Ross said.
But definitely worth the wait.
“I can’t even think of that right now, that’s so crazy to even hear,” Maroney said of being nominated to the Olympic Team. “It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to get there.”
The night ended on a positive note for Douglas, but her budding rivalry with Wieber is by no means settled. Wieber had won all but one all-around competition dating back to the 2008 season - until Sunday. The DeWitt, Mich. native is as consistent and competitive as they come.
“You can’t always win I guess,” Wieber said with an uncomfortable laugh. “But I was really proud of Gabby. She had such an amazing performance. I think that I definitely have a lot of improvements to make, though.”
While the night ended on positive notes for eight gymnasts, it also had a bittersweet ending for three of the United States’ all-time best gymnasts.
Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist, lost her legs on the uneven bars and moments later missed grabbing the bar on a release move, falling flat to the mat like a pancake. The clearly exhausted gymnast got back up and finished her routine, and then closed out the night with a determined performance on her only other event, balance beam.
As she walked off the podium, a sad expression turned into a smile as the sold-out crowd rose to a standing ovation. It was the second standing O for the Olympic champion.
“Seeing thousands of people on their feet is what brought on the tears,” she said. “I was really just trying to prove to myself I could do this. Seeing thousands and thousands of people on their feet — not once but twice — I'll remember that for the rest of my life.”
The night was also almost certainly the end for fellow 2008 Olympian Alicia Sacramone, 24, and Liukin's training mate Rebecca Bross, 18, who won the world all-around silver medal in 2009 and bronze medal in 2010. Like Liukin, both fell short in their quest to make the Olympic team as event specialists.
In the end, however, the night was a celebration of good gymnastics and a new Olympic team.
“I still can’t even believe it,” Raisman said.