Wieber bounces back to anchor US gold-medal push

Jordyn Wieber didn’t wait for the arena announcer to finish

saying her name before the reigning world champion took off.

The sooner she could get past the most crushing disappointment

of her stellar career, the better.

Eyes set down the runway, Wieber sprinted as if the gold medal

was inches in front of her – the medal the U.S. women’s gymnastics

team has been chasing for 16 years.

Three seconds later, she grabbed it.

The moment Wieber drilled the vault that would kickstart the

Americans’ blowout win in Tuesday’s team finals, all the angst of

missing the individual all-around finals disappeared.

And she remembered, this was never really about her.

”A team gold medal was also officially a goal of mine,” Wieber

said. ”I had to pull myself together and move on and be stronger

mentally for the team.”

Standing atop the podium together in London, after all, was the

real prize Wieber and the rest of the ”Fierce Five” set about

chasing long ago, the one that would cement them as perhaps the

greatest Olympic champions of all-time.

When an official draped the medal with the deep purple ribbon

around Wieber’s neck, the driven 17-year-old exhaled. Maybe she’ll

only get one gold at these games. It certainly beats the

alternative.

”It’s a joy,” Wieber said.

And her teammates weren’t going to let her miss out on it.

Everyone was stung by Wieber’s failure to qualify for the

individual all-around, finishing third when rules limit countries

to just two entrants per team. Good buddies McKayla Maroney and Aly

Raisman gave the best gymnast of her generation a shoulder to cry

on.

”I just tried to motivate her,” said Maroney, who wouldn’t get

into details about the pep talk. ”Sometimes, you just need a

friend.”

And the U.S. certainly needed Wieber to return to the form that

made her nearly unbeatable during the last three years. The

Russians had finished just 1.4 points back in team qualifying, a

gap that could be overcome if the Americans bobbled.

Not with Wieber flashing the power and tenacity that made her

the heavy gold-medal favorite coming in.

Make no mistake, Raisman is the U.S. team captain, but Wieber is

the boss, by deed if not by words.

And in the 48 hours between qualifications and finals, the boss

needed someone to lean on the same way her teammates have leaned on

her.

John Geddert, who has coached Wieber since she was 6 years old,

said his star moped for about five minutes Sunday night. By the

time Wieber hit the floor at practice on Monday, disappointment had

been replaced by determination.

”I said to her, ‘redemption is a heck of a motivator,’ and

today was redemption,” Geddert said.

Vindication, too.

There were concerns the U.S. would be rocked to the core by

Wieber’s uncharacteristically sloppy – for her – performance in

qualifying. That seeing their leader shaken would rattle the

confidence team coordinator Martha Karolyi has spent the last year

carefully cultivating.

Maroney never doubted. Neither did Karolyi. Spend years watching

Wieber and you quickly understand she isn’t big on self-pity.

”We said, ‘Turn the page. The competition is not over. We have

the team finals,”’ Karolyi said. ”We have to get a medal for all

of us.”

Wieber’s 15.933 on vault started a four-rotation exercise in

precision. Though she struggled a bit on bars, where her mechanical

combinations earned a so-so 14.666, it was still among the top 10

routines of the day.

Karolyi held Wieber out of the balance beam, where a couple of

ill-timed miscues Sunday set the stage for an erratic floor

exercise. Those mistakes opened the door for Raisman to take

Wieber’s spot in the all-around finals.

Any carry-over of a repeat from Sunday, however, vanished with

the first note of Wieber’s percussive music. Though her intensity

can sometimes be misconstrued as detachment, she insists she’s

having a good time out there.

It certainly looked it.

Yes, a stunning collapse by the Russians moments before the

Americans’ turn on floor relieved some of the pressure. Still,

Wieber was smiling as she powered through 75 seconds of

exhilaration.

In a flash it seemed, she was holding flowers and listening to

”The Star-Spangled Banner” alongside her teammates.

”The feeling was incredible,” she said. ”To have this gold

medal around your neck, it’s really an indescribable feeling. It

just shows how much of a team we are.”