Jordyn Wieber wins gymnastics title

Updated: August 23, 2011, 9:52 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The rest of the world should consider this a warning from Jordyn Wieber.

The 16-year-old Wieber won her first title at the U.S. gymnastics championships in a rout Saturday night, sending a message to Russia, China and Romania in the process. Her final score of 121.300 points was 6.15 points ahead of McKayla Maroney, and will only solidify her status as a favorite for the world championships in Tokyo in October.

"I definitely wanted to send a message that I'm capable of getting good scores," Wieber said. "But I wanted to do well here first, so I definitely had both things going through my head. It feels really good. It's a definite confidence booster."

Wieber's victory was the biggest at nationals since USA Gymnastics began using the open-ended scoring system in 2006. To get an idea just how far in front she was, think about those pastings Oklahoma, Alabama and the rest of college football's heavyweights will be putting on non-conference patsies in a few weeks. Now you get the picture.

She also finished with the highest scores on floor exercise and uneven bars, and had the third-best score on balance beam.

When Wieber finished on balance beam, her last event, coach John Geddert threw up his hands and shouted, and the two exchanged high-fives as she climbed off the podium, grinning. He then planted a kiss on her forehead -- which the 16-year-old quickly wiped off.

"In front of millions of people on TV. I thanked her for that," Geddert said. "I just told her how proud I was of her."

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson made more progress in her comeback, showing some of her old confidence -- not to mention that bright smile that endeared her to millions three years ago. Johnson only did three events, but she posted the fourth-highest score on balance beam and was sixth on uneven bars.

Fellow 2008 Olympian Chellsie Memmel was in the running for the top three in the all-around before she dislocated her shoulder on uneven bars, her last event. She wound up eighth.

"With each routine I get to compete, I feel more like my old self," Johnson said. "I think I will only go up from here."

Where Rebecca Bross goes is uncertain after last year's national champion dislocated her right kneecap on her vault landing.

This was Bross' first competition since having ankle surgery in November, and she looked off all week. But she was having a solid meet until she jammed her knee on vault, collapsing to the mat with a scream of pain. She was wheeled out of the arena with her leg in an air cast, and it's not known when she'll be able to compete again.

Wieber dominated the junior ranks when she was healthy -- she missed the last two nationals with injuries -- and it's been more of the same since she moved up to the senior level. She beat world champion Aliya Mustafina at the American Cup, her senior debut, despite coming in as a late replacement. She built a 2-point lead after the first day of competition here, and the meet may as well have been over after her first event Saturday night.

Beginning on floor, she delivered a sassy, energetic routine that featured tumbling passes even the X-Games kids would admire. Her first pass, featuring two twisting somersaults, had such great height you could have parked a Volkswagen Beetle beneath her, yet she landed it with nary a wobble or bobble. But Wieber can do more than tumble. Though she just turned 16, she's got a knack for performing. She shimmied and shook to the peppy music and, when she got close to the camera, put her hands on her hips and looked into the lens with a sly grin on her face.

"Starting on floor was a huge confidence boost because floor is an event where I just go out and try to have fun," Wieber said. "It was a great way to start."

And she poured it on from there.

Wieber's vault is one of the toughest in the world -- a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the vault and then 2.5 twists before landing -- yet she makes it look as easy as a basic flip. Most gymnasts practically have to contort their bodies so they can stay upright on the landing, but Wieber takes only a small step forward.

Her uneven bars routine was world-class -- impressive considering her warm-up had been what Geddert called "a mess."

"Five minutes later, she did the best uneven bars routine she's ever done in competition," Geddert said. "I love the fact that she can just pull back and compete. ... When it's game day, she wants to play and she wants to bring her `A' game."

With the title wrapped up, Wieber had no pressure on balance beam. But she'd struggled on the event Thursday, and Geddert told her she needed a top score to finish with an overall total above 61.

"I told her, `Go up, do your routine and send a message to the world that we're legit," Geddert said.

Wieber scored a 15.3, enough to give her 61.45 for the day Saturday.

"It feels really good," Wieber said. "It's a definite confidence booster."

Not only are the world championships the main qualifier for next summer's London Olympics, they're the unofficial start of the competition for gymnastics' biggest prize: the Olympic all-around gold. Do well, and you're in the running. Struggle and you've got a lot of work to do to get back in the judges' good graces.

Mustafina won't be at worlds after blowing out her knee at the European championships in April, but there are plenty of others who will be.

And they'll all be coming after Wieber now.

"If she does her gymnastics the way she can do her gymnastics, she can compete with anyone in the world," Geddert said. "But there are other girls who can say the same thing."

Not in the U.S there aren't.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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