Wieber forced to refocus for women’s team final

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team has stressed for months its

depth is the key to its dominance.

Now it has to make sure that depth doesn’t accidentally lead to

its downfall.

Sure, the Americans rolled to victory in Olympic team qualifying

on Sunday, posting a score of 181.863 that only Russia came even

remotely close to threatening.

But the image of world champion Jordyn Wieber leaving the floor

in tears after failing to advance to the individual all-around

final will be hard to shake. Beaten out by teammates Aly Raisman

and Gabby Douglas, the ever-composed Wieber crumbled when she

realized her dreams of joining the likes of Olympic gold medalists

Nastia Liukin, Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson evaporated in a

series of uncharacteristic miscues.

Now, Wieber has to find a way to regroup in time to help the

U.S. capture its first team title since the ”Magnificent Seven”

in Atlanta 16 years ago.

”This is the beauty of our program,” USA Gymnastics president

Steve Penny said. ”On any given day one of the girls on our team

can do it.”

True, except for the last three years, that one girl has almost

always been Wieber. She’s only lost twice in competition since

2009, both times to fellow Americans. And she’s never finished

behind two teammates in the same meet.

Not until Sunday at least. How she’ll respond is anybody’s

guess.

”She’s a strong gymnast,” teammate McKayla Maroney said. ”She

can turn it around in two seconds.”

Wieber will get two days.

She might need every minute of it.

The 17-year-old is the star the U.S. program has orbited around

during the last three years, leading the Americans to a world title

in Tokyo last fall.

She kept it going this spring and summer, with Douglas’

emergence giving the U.S. a one-two punch few teams can match.

An all-around showdown in London between Wieber and Douglas has

been looming for months. They’ve taken turns gracing the covers of

national magazines trying to duplicate the showdown between Liukin

and Shawn Johnson in Beijing four years ago.

Consider Douglas the winner by technical knockout.

The rules allow just two gymnasts per country to compete in the

individual all-around finals. Raisman’s rock-solid floor exercise

on the heels of sloppy routines by both Douglas and Wieber allowed

the U.S. captain to leapfrog her more heralded teammates and into

the finals.

Even Raisman was stunned, barely blinking during interviews as

she tried to balance the greatest day of her career against her

best friend’s bitter disappointment.

”It’s really hard,” Raisman said. ”That was kind of like my

first thought. I was really happy but then at the same time I feel

bad just because I know how bad (Wieber) wanted it.”

And if it’s gold Wieber wants, there’s still gold to be had.

Just like the U.S. men, who will go for their first Olympic gold

since 1984 in the team final on Monday, the ultimate prize has

never been individual medals but the one that ends up with five

girls standing atop the podium singing ”The Star Spangled

Banner.”

It’s why national coach Martha Karolyi simply shrugged her

shoulders when talking about Wieber’s rough day.

”I’m very sad, but I’m very happy about the other girls,”

Karolyi said. ”Hard work pays off … we support Jordyn, but

things happen.”

One thing will almost certainly have to happen by Tuesday if the

U.S. is to collect the gold it has been stalking since storming to

victory in worlds by a whopping four points: Wieber will have to

find a way to overcome the kind of adversity she’s so expertly

avoided during her lengthy reign atop the podium.

Scores are reset in the finals, where teams enter three

competitors in each event, with all three scores counting. Wieber

is a virtual lock to stand in front of the judges and raise her

hand several times. If she doesn’t do it in the right frame of

mind, gold could turn into a more modest color.

”I think that’s a test of character,” Penny said. ”I think

Jordyn’s got a lot of character … I think you’ll see the best of

Jordyn Wieber (in the finals).”

Wieber, her eyes blotchy from crying, declined to speak to

reporters afterward but seemed to recover a few hours later,

thanking fans for their support and insisting she ”can’t wait for

team finals.”

The rest of the world can.

Even with the world champion struggling and Douglas making a

major error on floor – landing so far out of bounds during one of

her tumbling passes she appeared to be jumping into the Thames –

the U.S. remained very much the class of the field.

Maroney, nursing a busted right big toe, anchored an eye-popping

vault rotation that seemed to send a message to perennial powers

Russia, Romania and defending Olympic champion China that the

Americans have only improved from their blowout win in Tokyo.

”We were awesome,” Maroney said. ”We just hit, hit,

hit.”

The Americans ripped through four Amanars – considered the most

difficult vault currently done in competition – and never looked

back. They finished their rotation a whopping 11 points in front of

previous leader Britain and were never really challenged.

The Russians came closest, with Victoria Komova posting the

highest all-around score of the day (60.632) to nudge Raisman out

of the top spot. Former world champion Aliya Mustafina put up a

steady if not spectacular 59.966 to place fifth, but the Russians

will be hard-pressed to close the 1.4-point gap with the U.S.

China came in third, more than five points back. Romania,

Britain, Japan, Italy and Canada will also head to the finals. If

Wieber recovers in time, the rest of the field knows they’re likely

fighting for second and third.

”We knew the Americans were going to be up there,” said

Rebecca Tunney of Britain, which was in the same qualifying session

as the Americans. ”They’re going to be unbeatable.”