SAN JOSE, Calif. -- If anybody is going to beat Jordyn Wieber, she is going to have to earn it.
The reigning world all-around champion showed again Friday that she just doesn’t make mistakes as she cruised to the highest score of Day 1 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif.
If Wieber can hold onto that lead through Day 2 on Sunday, she will earn the lone automatic berth to the 2012 Olympic Team. A selection committee will select the other four members of the team, which will be announced during the NBC telecast Sunday night.
“I try not to think about the standings,” Wieber said, “but at the same time, you know, everybody wants that guaranteed spot.”
Wieber, who has won all but one all-around competition since the 2008 season, opened the Trials with a strong 15.900 vault. Only two gymnasts outperformed her in the vault: 2011 world vault champion McKayla Maroney (16.10) and Elizabeth Price, who surprised the field by scoring a huge 16.050.
It was off to the races from there, for Wieber, the 16-year-old from DeWitt, Mich. She finished among the top three in every event before 12,220 fans at HP Pavilion. Her biggest performance of the night might have been in the second rotation, on the uneven bars. After a slight hesitation early, Wieber battled back to finish a strong routine complete with a stuck dismount. Her score of 15.350 bested the 15.050 she scored both days at the Visa Championships three weeks ago in St. Louis.
“I was pretty happy with bars,” she said. “That was one of the best routines I’ve competed.”
Keeping with recent tradition, Wieber’s biggest competition came from Gabby Douglas. And just as was the case at Visa Championships, Douglas finished excruciatingly close — just 0.300 behind — and with some notable mistakes.
If Douglas can put everything together on Sunday, she is still within striking distance of Wieber. But as Wieber has shown over and over again, if she’s ever going to lose her top spot, it most likely won’t be because of a silly mistake.
Facing the End
The beginning of the end of Nastia Liukin’s elite gymnastics career began when her legs broke apart on a handstand atop the uneven bars, and it likely became official moments later when she forced a dismount only to come up short and fall down.
The five-time medalist (and all-around gold medalist) from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games was pinning her hopes on making the 2012 team as a bars and beam specialist. However, after following a weak uneven bars performance in St. Louis with another weak 14.050 (for 10th place) Friday, it appears more than likely that the competition Sunday likely will be her last.
“I feel like I’ve been taking every single moment in of these past nine months,” said Liukin, who retired from gymnastics for two years before returning at the Secret U.S. Classic in May. “And I know that this is my last shot, being almost 23. This is definitely the last push, and whether or not it happens, the main goal for me was to come back and not prove to anybody, basically prove to myself that I could do this. Of course I didn’t have the best routines, but I proved to myself that anything is possible.”
Liukin is unlikely to be named to the five-person Olympic team, but she said she would consider being part of the team as one of three alternates if asked. Despite Liukin’s struggles to put together a full bars routine to this point, she still has the technique that made her an Olympic medalist in the United States’ weakest event.
“I just didn’t have enough endurance I guess, and that’s really what it comes down to, because I can do it in parts, I can do it separate.” Liukin said. “It takes time. Of course it’s disappointing. At the same time it’s an accomplishment to be here.”
A Forced Goodbye
In the moments before she was supposed to be introduced at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Bridget Sloan instead fought back tears upon the realization that a sprained left elbow suffered during warm-ups had ended her elite career. The one thing that made the 2008 Olympian and 2009 world titlist light up was talk of her next stage in life: competing for the Florida Gators.
“I plan on going down to school and taking names,” the Pittsboro, Ind., native said, predicting an NCAA title. “And I’m really excited about it.”
College had always been in the plans for Sloan, who kept her amateur status after the Beijing Games, but she wanted to take one more stab at the Olympic Games first. Although her chances of making the team weren’t great after two injury-plagued seasons, Sloan’s elite career officially ended when she missed the bar during warm-ups and knocked her elbow hard against the mat.
“I wanted to keep going, but safety is obviously one of the big things,” Sloan said with tears welling in her eyes. “And my body, my body is telling me one thing, my mind is telling me another, but in the end your body kind of wins.”
Sloan, now 20, was the youngest member of the 2008 Olympic team and the only member of that team to compete continuously after Beijing.
At the start of the 2012 season, five of the six 2008 Olympians were training in hopes of making the 2012 team (the sixth, Samantha Peszek, competes for UCLA). Chellsie Memmel did not qualify for Visa Championships and Shawn Johnson retired due to injury. That leaves just Liukin and Alicia Sacramone from the 2008 squad who are still competing. A year removed from a torn Achilles tendon, Sacramone, 24, posted the third-best score in balance beam and placed second in the vault Friday. She remains a solid contender to make the Olympic team as a specialist in those two events.
The all-around champion automatically earns a spot on the Olympic team. Competition Friday night offered some insights into which gymnasts the selection committee might pick to fill out the other four spaces.
The top-three all-arounders after night one were the same as at Visa Championships: Wieber, Douglas and Aly Raisman. All three figure to be safe bets to make the Olympic team.
A pair of first-year seniors is making things interesting just below. Kyla Ross followed up a strong showing at Visa Championships by equaling the best uneven bars score on the night. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Price jumped from fifth to fourth in the all-around with an overall solid performance.
“I’m really excited to show everyone what I am capable of on Sunday,” Price said.
Mixed for Maroney
Three weeks ago, McKayla Maroney had two black eyes and looked like a “zombie.” Or, more officially, a nasty fall at Visa Championships left her with a nasal fracture and a concussion.
The reigning world vault champion was back in the gym a week later, and she was practicing full routines one week after that. On Friday she competed all four events at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
As usual, the reigning world vault champion was strong on that apparatus (16.100 for first place), and she ended the night with the day’s fourth-best floor exercise. In between, however, Maroney fell on both the bars and beam. The Long Beach, Calif., native remains one of the fascinating players in the mix for an Olympic berth. While her vault is gold-medal worthy, she is trying to prove this weekend that she could help the team in other ways, too.
“I just missed the bar, it was a fluke. Same with the beam,” she said. “I’m happy with what I did on floor and vault.”
Freelance writer Aimee Berg contributed to this story.