Douglas, Wieber Raise Bar for U.S. Gymnastics
By Mark Emmert, Des Moines Register (USA Today London 2012 feature)
Four years ago, it was Shawn and Nastia fighting for U.S. gymnastics pre-eminence heading into the Olympic Games.
This time, it looks to be Gabby and Jordyn jostling for the top spot on the podium and the most coveted medal in their sport.
Jordyn Wieber got the better of Gabby Douglas on Sunday, defending her national championship by two-tenths of a point. Douglas, who trains at Chow’s Gymnastics in West Des Moines, opened the door early for her more seasoned rival by falling off the balance beam.
“We push each other to do better and greater things, like sticking every pass on the floor routine, and sticking a double pike even though you’ve never stuck a double pike before. It pushes us to do awesome and greater and beautiful gymnastics,” Douglas said after recovering from her beam misstep to complete three strong routines and earn the silver medal before 9,793 fans at Chaifetz Arena and a national TV audience.
“We’re really friendly, and I feel like we’re all sisters off the floor. But when we’re on the floor, it’s rivalry, it’s competitors. It’s, ‘This is my time to shine and I’m coming for you.’ You know, that mentality on the floor.”
Wieber, 16, is a Michigan native and reigning world all-around champion. She held off Douglas with a mistake-free two days. Douglas is the up-and-comer looking to harness her athletic prowess while overcoming the occasional mishaps.
“It’s really exciting just to know it’s kind of a dogfight,” Wieber said. “But at the same time we’re real supportive of each other. And it really shows the depth of the U.S. team.”
Shawn Johnson, who also was coached by Liang Chow, said the current rivalry reminds her of the one she waged with Nastia Liukin leading up to the Beijing Olympics. Johnson won all-around at the national championship and Olympic trials that year, only to see Liukin turn the tables for Olympic gold.
“When you have that close of a rivalry, you’re just constantly trying to outdo one another. And before you know it you’ve set the bar so high that you two are lights years ahead of everybody else,” Johnson said while attending Sunday’s competition.
“And that’s what they’ve done. They stand out in a crowd. Nobody can touch them, especially when they hit everything. And their goal is just to beat one another right now.”
That quest continues next at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., on June 29 and July 1. Douglas said she’ll build on Sunday’s result, when she responded quickly to the fall on beam with perhaps the best floor routine of her career (a 15.300) and strong vaults (15.800) and uneven bars (15.850, good for the gold in that discipline).
“Losing by 0.2 and stuff, oh guys, it’s just going to eat me up,” she said. “But that’s motivation. Motivation is going to drive me to be a better gymnast.”
Douglas couldn’t escape her one mistake even during a post-meet conversation with U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who could be seen squeezing Douglas’ cheeks with both hands and peering intently into her eyes.
“She’s just like, ‘Squirrel, you’re bar champion again, and don’t jump off the beam,’ ” recalled Douglas, whose nickname is the Flying Squirrel. ” ‘And if you hadn’t jumped off the beam, you’d be national champion.’ And everybody keeps telling me that.”
Douglas was the last competitor of the afternoon, on the uneven bars, which is her strongest event. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to catch Wieber but was determined to give the crowd a show, enjoying her moment in the spotlight. At the conclusion, she thrust a fist into the sky, a message to anyone wondering if her early mistake would be her undoing Sunday.
“She was on the floor very aggressive all the way down to the last event. That’s the way we want it for Team USA; we want fighters,” Chow said.
“I can confidently say that after this meet, I think she’s ready to deal with all kinds of situations.”