Women's Gymnastics: Making the Team
Gabrielle Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber, and Aly Raisman are vying for a spot on Team USA this weekend at U.S. Olympic Trials.
The winner of the all-around title at the U.S. Olympic Trials this weekend automatically will earn a berth to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
And her Olympic teammates? A selection committee will select four more gymnasts based on their performances at the Trials and the Visa Championships, which were held in St. Louis earlier this month.
Fifteen women are competing for those five Olympic spot at the Trials, which run Friday and Sunday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. TeamUSA.org takes a look at which names might be announced during the NBC broadcast of the event Sunday night as the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.
There’s no doubt about it: Jordyn Wieber is the one to beat — not just at the Olympic Trials but also at the Olympic Games. The 16-year-old from DeWitt, Mich., is the reigning world all-around champion and two-time defending U.S. champion. She’s only been beaten once in an all-around competition since 2008. Anyone who wants to surpass Wieber in 2012 is going to really have to earn it. She is a cerebral competitor who rarely makes major mistakes while doing extremely difficult routines. Although she figures to be a threat in all four events in San Jose, Wieber is sure to be a factor in the high-profile all-around competition for the automatic berth.
If you’re going to bet against Wieber, Gabby Douglas might just be the one. In fact, Douglas technically scored higher than Wieber at the American Cup in March, but Douglas’ score didn’t count because she was competing as an alternate. In their latest all-around showdown, at the Visa Championships earlier this month in St. Louis, Douglas finished second by a minute 0.200. If Douglas can avoid major mistakes — something she didn’t do in St. Louis — she, too, could contend for the Olympic title. Nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” for her gravity-defying release moves on the uneven bars, the 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., is also a contender on every event, but she is especially strong on the bars, which also happen to be the United States’ weakest event.
The headlines will focus on Wieber and Douglas, but if Team USA is to win its first Olympic gold medal since “The Magnificent Seven” did so in Atlanta in 1996, 18-year-old Aly Raisman is sure to play a crucial role. The Needham, Mass., native is a serious force on the balance beam, floor exercise and vault. Although she doesn’t quite match up in the uneven bars, Raisman still finished fourth in the all-around at the world championships last year. And with two world championships to her name, Raisman is a relative veteran in U.S. gymnastics. Raisman is rock solid across the board, but where she really stands out is on floor. She was the world bronze medalist in the event in 2011 and owned the arena with a commanding national-championship-winning performance in St. Louis.
If selected for the Olympic Team, McKayla Maroney would go to London as the favorite to win the gold medal on the vault. The big question is if the 2011 world vault champion is healthy. Maroney took a hard fall while warming up for Day 2 at the Visa Championships and suffered a concussion and nasal fracture that forced her to drop out of the competition. Doctors have cleared Maroney to compete in San Jose, but there will be little room for error. While the 16-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., is a potential Olympic gold medalist on vault — Maroney can perform the difficult Amanar — she has to prove she can be an asset to a five-person Olympic team in the other events. Having Alicia Sacramone breathing down her neck can’t be easy, either.
No American gymnast has won more medals at the world championships than Alicia Sacramone, who has amassed 10 — four gold, four silver and two bronze. The 2008 Olympian, now a matronly 24, remains one of the United States’ best gymnasts in the two events in which she still competes: vault and balance beam. Although a torn Achilles tendon kept the Winchester, Mass., native out of the world championships last year, Sacramone looked strong at Visa Championships, winning vault (sans Maroney) and finishing third in beam. For the selection committee, it very well might come down to Sacramone or Maroney for one spot. On Maroney’s side are the 2011 world vault title and her ability to compete in all four events. But Sacramone has the 2010 world gold medal in vault, is strong on balance beam and has unmatched experience.
While the returning veterans dominated the headlines going into the Visa Championships, first-year senior Kyla Ross was the pleasant surprise going out. The 15-year-old from Aliso Viejo, Calif. had the best uneven bars performance and fourth best balance beam performance after Day 1. She ended up second in bars, fourth in beam, sixth on floor exercise and fourth in the all-around. Her high scores in bars and beam could prove a blow to returning veterans Nastia Liukin and Rebecca Bross, who are specializing in those two events but finished behind Ross in each at Visa Championships. The question for Ross at Olympic Trials will be how she handles the pressure. Although she has starred on the junior circuit, winning eight total medals at the 2010 and 2011 junior Visa Championships, the Trials will be by far her biggest competition to date.
In the Mix
You can’t count out the only U.S. gymnast to win five medals — including all-around gold —at the 2008 Olympic Games, but Nastia Liukin’s road to London is unrelentingly uphill. Now 22, the Russian-born turned Texan returned to competition in May, following a two-year break from the sport. The results so far have been mixed. In her second competition back, the Visa Championships earlier this month, Liukin looked strong on the balance beam but showed some serious rust on the uneven bars, electing to dismount with a simple layout. She’s not competing in the other two events. Liukin is hoping to be the first women’s Olympic all-around champion to return to the Games since Nadia Comaneci did so in 1980.
The youngest member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad at 16 is all grown up, having turned 20 on June 23. After helping Team USA earn the silver medal in Beijing, Sloan claimed the 2009 world all-around title and national all-around crown and became a leading figure in the teen-dominated sport. However, injuries marred Sloan’s 2010 and 2011 seasons, and she showed some rust earlier this month at Visa Championships. Although she competed in all four events, Sloan’s best finish was sixth in uneven bars. Her all-around score was 10th. Whether she heads to London or not, the Pittsboro, Ind., native is signed to compete for the Florida Gators’ gymnastics team next winter.
Luck has not been on Rebecca Bross’ side. One of the best U.S. gymnasts of the past four years, Bross just missed the age limit to be eligible for the 2008 Olympic Games and now injuries are hampering her chances at 2012. Bross, the world all-around silver medalist in 2009 and bronze medalist in 2010, dislocated her knee at the 2011 Visa Championships, requiring surgery. Now the 18-year-old is focusing solely on balance beam and uneven bars. Although she had a strong showing in uneven bars in St. Louis, Bross, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., but trains near Dallas, looked uncomfortable on balance beam in finishing 13th.
Six other gymnasts will take the podium in San Jose in search of a spot in the 2012 Olympic Games. Among them is Sabrina Vega. The 17-year-old from Carmel, N.Y., joined Wieber, Raisman, Douglas and Maroney in winning the team world title at last year’s world championships. Anna Li, an Aurora, Ill., native who led UCLA to the 2010 collegiate title, was the alternate. She is now 23.
The field also includes four strong up-and-coming gymnasts in Kennedy Baker, Brenna Dowell, Sarah Finnegan, and Elizabeth Price. Price, 16, of Coopersburg, Pa., finished fifth in the all-around at Visa Championships while Finnegan, 15, finished sixth in front of her hometown crowd in St. Louis. Finnegan was also second on balance beam. Meanwhile, 16-year-olds Baker, of Flower Mound, Texas, and Dowell, of Odessa, Mo., finished eighth and ninth in the all-around, respectively.Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.