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Sunday, August 21, 2011
Wieber dominates nationals; Bross injured

By Amy Van Deusen

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jordyn Wieber, 16, easily won her first senior all-around title at Saturday's Visa National Championships, while defending champion Rebecca Bross, 18, suffered a knee injury, ending her competition and possibly eliminating her chance to compete at the world championships in Tokyo this fall.

With a 1.850 cushion from prelims, Wieber only extended her lead throughout the meet, ending up in first by more than 6 points. She shook off any nerves she'd had on Day 1, nailing the bars and beam routines that she'd struggled with in prelims.

"I definitely wanted to come back in and improve from Thursday, and I did about as well as I could have here," she said after. Though Wieber's win was never really in doubt, coach John Geddert had other goals in mind for her: "We talked about the all-around score. We really wanted to post a 61 because that can compete with anybody." Wieber posted a 61.450 on the second day, which can, indeed, compete with anyone. Though American judging is often more lenient than international judging, it's still worth noting that Russia's Aliya Mustafina scored a 61.032 to win worlds last year.

If Wieber's fantastic performance was the high point of the meet, Bross' heartbreaking injury was certainly the low point. Bross went down in the third rotation, clutching her knee immediately after her Yurchenko double full vault. Coach Valeri Liukin and the medical staff ran to her side, and after several minutes she was carried off the floor, knee wrapped.

Later, word came back that Bross had dislocated her right kneecap. It was a vault she'd crashed multiple times in warm-ups, and after, Liukin looked understandably rattled. Was he second-guessing the decision to let her compete in the vault? Liukin joined Bross at the hospital and wasn't available for comment, but team coordinator Martha Karolyi felt confident that it was a freak injury. "She's competed [that vault] for four or five years now, it's something she knows how to do."

Besides Bross' unfortunate injury, the U.S. team's performances were far better than Thursday night's. Most improved was 15-year-old McKayla Maroney. Maroney sat in fifth after Night 1, but had a great competition in finals, even beating world champion Alicia Sacramone for the national vault title. Karolyi declared Maroney's vault as the best in the world, but Maroney was more guarded.

"It's pretty cool [to be national vault champion], but Alicia didn't do the best vault she could do, so I'd like to see if I can compete against the best of the best still," said Maroney who ended on floor with a jaw-dropping 3.5 twist tumbling pass. When she stood up the Arabian double front dismount she'd fallen on in prelims, she couldn't contain her excitement. She jumped off the floor and into coach Arthur Akopyan's arms for a huge hug. "I'm really happy with what I did today, I can't complain," Maroney said of her second place all-around finish.

Alexandra Raisman, 17, dropped from second all-around after Day 1 to third after finals, but had a good meet overall. She competed a solid Yurchenko double full on vault and survived bars, her weakest event. She was about to start on beam when Bross was injured. "I wanted to cry for her because it was hard to see my teammate fall like that," said Raisman. Though she refused to make excuses about her wobbly beam performance, it was clear that watching the injury right before had affected her. On her best event, floor, Raisman excelled as usual, albeit with a step out of bounds on her ultra-difficult first pass (back 1.5 twist to Arabian double front, punch front).

Olympic silver medalist Chellsie Memmel, ranked third all-around after Day 1, continued to show the competitive grit for which she's well known. In the raucous crowd of over 10,000, Memmel had the biggest cheering section of any gymnast -- complete with "Go Chellsie" shirts, multi-colored lights, and a man in a full-body green spandex suit who danced every time Memmel performed. Memmel gave her fans a bit of a scare when she came off the bar on a pirouette during her last routine of the night. She remounted, only to fall again on the same skill and then opted not to finish her routine. Afterward, she said she'd subluxed her shoulder slightly and just wanted to play it safe. She talked to reporters with an ice pack on her shoulder, but said she was in very little pain. Despite the unlucky ending, Memmel's performance in St. Paul was impressive, and she's happy to be back competing after retiring post-Beijing. "I felt great out there. I enjoy being here, and I enjoy doing gymnastics."

Sacramone and Shawn Johnson, the other 2008 Olympians competing, looked even better in finals than on the first day. Sacramone claimed the national beam title, and changed the floor pass that had given her trouble previously, hitting a solid routine there as well. Johnson, always a heavy crowd favorite, completed her difficult beam tumbling with barely a wobble, and had tons of height on her Yurchenko double full vault.

Mackenzie Caquatto, fourth all-around, also had a consistent day. Her best routine was on bars, where she showed just about every release move that can be done.

The next step for these athletes is a team selection camp in September down at the Karolyi Ranch outside of Houston. During camp, seven women will be named to the world team, while six will go to the Pan American Games in Mexico. The competitions are too close on the calendar to send the same team to both, so it will likely be the A team that goes to worlds, while a B team goes to Pan Ams.

Wieber is a lock for the world team as long as she stays healthy, and Karolyi was almost certainly hoping to have Bross on there as well. With Bross potentially out for the rest of the year, Karolyi will need to pick a strong bars and floor worker. Caquatto could fill in on bars and Raisman fits the bill on floor. If the team were picked tonight, Memmel, Maroney and Sacramone seem the most likely candidates to fill out the roster. Memmel will have to upgrade her bar routine so it can be used in team finals, though, and the team will still be a little weak on that event. If 2009 world all-around champ Bridget Sloan is completely recovered from the biceps injury that kept her out of this nationals, she'll be a strong candidate for the team as well.

This weekend, though, Team USA is relieved that the final day of nationals featured much improved performances over prelims on Thursday. For Wieber especially, it was a very special meet. When asked how Geddert, Wieber and their families were going to celebrate, Geddert replied simply, "Heavily. I hope St. Paul is ready."