NEW YORK -- Gabrielle Douglas described her appearance at the AT&T American Cup as a win-win situation. It was an interesting take, since she went in knowing she couldn't win.
Douglas, 16, was the alternate U.S. representative to her two better-known 2011 World Championship teammates at Saturday's meet, Jordyn Wieber and Alexandra Raisman, meaning she had to compete in exhibition mode. Her score did not count in the final standings, but putting up an unofficial overall total of 61.299 points -- best of the day in this important international event -- meant everything to the effervescent teenager from Virginia Beach, Va.
Dynamic, flexible and exuding charisma in a lilac leotard, Douglas, whose family calls her "Brie," showed she is anything but soft as she wowed the Madison Square Garden crowd of over 12,000. She is particularly strong on the uneven bars (her score of 15.633 would have topped the field), which has been a weak link for the Americans in recent years. Douglas set the tone for herself on the first apparatus, the vault, by sticking the difficult Amanar two-and-a-half twists maneuver.
"I wanted to show the crowd what I'm capable of," said Douglas, who moved to Iowa 18 months ago to train with veteran coach Liang Chow. "I think this is going to push me a little to do this and do it now, at the right time."
Douglas, who lives with a host family in Des Moines, Iowa, and takes classes online, admitted she had a difficult transition when she left her close-knit family behind, but has settled in to work for her goal. She made the world team last year despite nagging hip and hamstring injuries. "I wanted to put my name out there [in New York]," she said, and certainly pulled that off.
Wieber debuted new combinations in a couple of routines. She wasn't way off, but she wasn't totally on, either, posting 61.032 points to take the gold. She was subdued in the aftermath of her first event since winning all-around gold at worlds last fall.
"I don't really want to be in top shape right now," Wieber said. "We'll go back to the gym and work out the problems."
Wieber's coach, John Geddert, called her effort subconsciously "protective," adding that he is grateful it's only March and there's plenty of time for some attitude work.
"It was 'I don't want to lose this' rather than 'I want to win,'" said Geddert, who with his wife Kathryn coaches Wieber at the Twistars USA club in Dimondale, Mich., near Wieber's hometown of DeWitt. "That can get you in trouble ... We'll have to adjust. It's a different position, being on top. Marta [national team coordinator Marta Karolyi] and I both said this is a great little wake-up call."
Geddert also gave Douglas full marks for seizing her opportunity in the spotlight and noted the unusual depth among the U.S. women this Olympic year. It's the classic good problem to have, but one that will be more acute leading up to London as a rules change will pare teams down from six to five members.
This was Wieber's third American Cup win, which puts her in the company of only one other woman, Mary Lou Retton. It's instructive to see her disappointed with herself on a day when she nailed the Amanar vault, saved herself from what looked like a certain fall off the uneven bars through sheer strength and looked explosive in the floor exercise.
But her standards for herself have changed along with everyone else's, and she's not buying into the hype she's created. "I still have to work for it," Wieber said. That kind of mentality needs no tweaking at all.
The men's champion Saturday, Danell Leyva, was at the other end of the scale, exuberant after leapfrogging from fourth to first in the standings with a spectacular routine in his showiest event, the high bar.
The 20-year-old from Homestead, Fla., showed no ill effects of having to have his right ear and cheek stitched back together two weeks ago after trying to break up a fight between his dogs. After struggling on the pommel horse and making a technical error on the parallel bars -- the apparatus on which he won a world title last year -- Leyva had considerable ground to make up when his stepfather and coach, Yin Alvarez, lifted him onto the high bar.
He proceeded to execute a set he said was one of the best he's ever done. His four catch-and-release moves were breathtaking for spectators, not only in their derring-do but also because it's impossible to forget his frightening fall at worlds last year.
"I tried not to think about the math, maybe because I'm not good at math," Leyva said.
Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.