US tops Russia, China in women's gym qualifying
LONDON (AP) - This was not what the Americans expected.
Oh sure, being atop the standings in qualifying in women's gymnastics, that went according to plan. But world champion Jordyn Wieber, a heavy favorite to add the Olympic gold, won't even get to contend for the all-around title after finishing behind teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Countries are limited to two gymnasts in the all-around and event finals.
It was a stunner for Wieber, who had lost only two all-around competitions since 2008 - though both to fellow Americans - and it left her teammates reeling.
"I was really surprised, and I feel awful because she wanted it so bad," said Raisman, Wieber's closest friend on the team and the one who knocked her out of the all-around. "But she should still feel proud because she's an Olympian. We have to stay calm and focused on team finals."
The 17-year-old Wieber was sobbing as she made her way through the mixed zone, so distraught she couldn't speak to reporters. A quote attributed to her and distributed by the London Games' internal news agency said: "It is a bit of a disappointment. It has always been a dream of mine to compete in the all-around final of the Olympics."
The Americans finished with 181.863 points, even with a weak finish on floor exercise. That was enough to hold off Russia, which is 1.4 points behind after scoring 180.429. Defending Olympic champion China is a distant third with 176.637 points.
European champion Romania is still to come.
The team final is Tuesday.
"That's what I told her, she's going to handle this with as much class as she handled the victories. Make no excuses," said John Geddert, the U.S. coach and Wieber's personal coach. "The job's not done yet. Team USA has got a big day on Tuesday."
The Americans have come into the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without gold. But this team is stronger, top to bottom, than the 2004 and even 2008 squads, and has a swagger LeBron and his buddies would appreciate. That starts with Wieber, who is normally as steady and reliable as a metronome.
If anyone was going to avoid the 16-year curse of world champions going without Olympic gold, it was going to be her.
But she's appeared vulnerable these last few months while Raisman and Douglas have been on the rise.
Wieber stepped slightly out of bounds on vault, had a form break on a handstand on uneven bars and a few wobbles on balance beam. But it was floor exercise that really cost her. She got too much power on one of her tumbling passes and had to steady herself with a step back - and out of bounds. The deduction left her on the all-around bubble with Raisman, the world bronze medalist on floor, still waiting her turn.
Raisman needed less than a 15 to knock Wieber down to third place, and she got that easily - and then some. She gets such great height on her tumbling passes that you could park a Mini Cooper beneath her; and she lands them with such pinpoint accuracy you want to check her feet for glue.
She finished with a score of 15.325, bumping out Wieber. Raisman is second in the all-around standings behind Russia's Viktoria Komova, with Douglas third.
How this will impact the squad could be an even bigger concern than any other country. The Americans are a tight-knit bunch - Wieber, Raisman and McKayla Maroney talk or message each other every day - and such a shock to their traditional order has the potential to threaten that chemistry.
"We will deal with that. We will try to help her as much as possible," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "I would be very disappointed, too. She is reigning world champion, also US champion. Today she wasn't quite as sharp. She was very good but not quite as sharp and the other two girls surpassed her. So we will give her all the support. I think she gave a very nice effort, no major errors. What can you do? Sport is sport."
If they can regroup, the world champions showed they have the goods to win only their second Olympic title, and first since the Magnificent Seven in 1996.
All four of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world - a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value - the measure of difficulty - of 6.5, a whopping 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts will do, and it gives the USA a massive advantage after just one event.
Even worse for rivals, the Americans make those vaults look easy. Douglas' toes were so pointed in the air she looked like a directional arrow while McKayla Maroney's legs were ruler straight. Each American took a hop on their landing, but it was a minor deduction and the U.S. left the event with a score of 47.633.
Compare that to the Russians. Despite Komova and Maria Paseka doing Amanars, Russia still gave up 1.3 points on that one event.
The Russians are far better on uneven bars, but the Americans stayed close thanks to Douglas and Kyla Ross. Ross, who missed last year's world championships because she was too young, now flits between bars like a hummingbird, weightless and graceful. Douglas, dubbed "The Flying Squirrel" by Karolyi because of her release moves, wowed the crowd by flipping so high above the bar she could have changed the overhead lights.
Her feet slammed into the mat on her dismount, and delighted coach Liang Chow sprinted around the end of the podium, pumping his fist.
Douglas scored a 15.333, and the Americans were cruising.
Raisman may not have Douglas' elegance or magnetic smile, but she is steady and solid. She scored a 15.1 or better on all but one event Sunday, and is in the running to make finals on both floor and balance beam.
"Aly had the meet of her life today," Geddert said. "What a time to have it. I couldn't be happier for her. She's a great kid. She deserves it. It's a great thing for her."