LONDON – Fifteen minutes had passed since Jordyn Wieber's Olympics came crashing down around her. Back in the locker room, her coach, John Geddert found her in a heap of devastation, tears streaming down her cheeks.
The reigning all-around world champion failed to qualify for the Olympic all-around finals, a stunning result in a sport she had come to dominate. This is what she had dreamed of all those years, all those practices, all those sacrifices. This is what she had worked toward, to finish in a crescendo of accomplishment here in London, to win all-around gold like the legends.
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Instead, she was beaten by two of her countrymen – Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas – and done in by a rule that limits each nation to just two finalists. A couple of small penalties here, a few less-than-perfect moves there and she wound up fourth overall but third among the Americans, trailing Douglas by just .233, on the outside looking crushed.
When the final results were flashed on the scoreboard at North Greenwich Arena, the 17-year-old from Michigan’s face turned to stone. She dropped her head, slipped a backpack on and walked out of the gymnastics hall without managing a wave to the crowd like her teammates. She blew through the media mixed zone without a comment, wiping her eyes.
It was only worse back in the locker room.
"What did she say to you?" Geddert was asked.
"She hasn't said a word," he said. "She doesn't talk. She'll get into her little shell and it'll be a while until she comes out."
[ Photos: U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber ]
Later, USA Gymnastics released a statement from Wieber saying: "It is a bit of a disappointment. It has always been a dream of mine to compete in the all-around final of the Olympics but I’m proud of Aly and Gabby."
It was a classy comment. It didn't begin to relay the pain that was clear on her face. This wasn't a bit of a disappointment. This was full-blown disappointment and there is no shame in that. Wieber can still win gold medals here, in the team final and in the floor exercise, but the all-around title is the all-around title. It's the crowning achievement she came to seize.
This here was the heartbreak of the Olympics, only with a twist. It was Raisman, out of suburban Boston, that surprisingly took her place. Not someone from another country, but her roommate in the Olympic Village, her close friend and still a teammate.
A real teammate, too. On Tuesday, Wieber has to regroup to compete right alongside Douglas, Raisman and the other for team gold.
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The pain is real. There just isn't time for it.
"I'm definitely worried," said Martha Karolyi, the U.S. team director. "I'm definitely worried. You try to find words that you can say because it is very hard. It’s almost like somebody passes away. You have to have her try to deal with it but the effect is the same."
For Raisman, the qualification was nearly as much of a shock. She came into these games one of the forgotten teammates. All the pre-Olympic publicity centered on the top two Americans, Wieber and Douglas and their contrasting styles. Everyone thought they’d compete for all-around gold and the others would fill in around them in team competition or an individual event.
For everyone paying attention, the path was clear for Raisman as she stepped out for her floor exercise as the meet's final competitor in the midst of her best day ever. Raisman said she wasn't paying attention, though. She said she had no idea about qualifying for the all-around because she was focused on scoring well enough in the floor to have a chance at medaling in that.
"I was just worried about floor finals," she said.
Wieber, however, was paying attention. She knew what was at stake.
"It was hard because of course I wanted that spot," Wieber said in the statement. "But I also wanted Aly to do her best for the team."
A clean program by Raisman with a score of 14.967 or higher would get her past Wieber and into the all-around final.
She delivered a 15.325 and surged past both Wieber and Douglas.
It wasn't until after her score was posted and some of her teammates began hugging her that Rasiman said she realized what she’d accomplished. She never had time to say a word to Wieber, who at that point was dazed and just going through the motions.
[ Photos: Gymnastics starlet Gabrielle Douglas ]
"I want to call my parents," Raisman beamed.
This is the cutthroat machine Karolyi and her husband Bela have built with American gymnastics. Wieber posted the fourth-best score overall – Russia's Victoria Komova topped the standings with a 60.632 – but she has no shot at the all-around gold because of the national limits. Wieber may end up with a top-five qualifying score but no shot at the all-around gold because of the national limits. There are just too many great American gymnasts, one reason the team is the favorite to win team gold on Tuesday.
"I hurt for the principle," Bela said. "For a kid who worked hard. She should deserve it. But Aly deserves it. Gabby deserves it. Everyone deserves it."
Geddert, who has coached Wieber since she was eight, praised Raisman for being “a great kid” but unloaded on the judges for scores lower than he believed were merited and then ripped the entire national limits on all-around finals.
"It's a dumb rule," Geddert said. "Some of the FIG [Federation of International Gymnastics] rules are absolutely ridiculous. In this system, it's a shame that the world champion doesn't get to compete in the Olympic all around finals."
The rules aren't changing. Only the stakes. The all-around finals are not until Thursday. On Tuesday come the team finals with the Americans expected to win Olympic gold for the first time since 1996.
At least, they are the favorites if they can get a typical strong performance from Wieber. Martha Karolyi wouldn’t rule out changing Wieber’s role if there are concerns over her precise performance Sunday or how she rebounds emotionally over the next day or so.
"We will huddle in the coaches meeting and we will have to take a look," Karolyi said. "We analyze what's the best way how we can have the best chance for the U.S. team."
In the end, one American dream soared with unexpected success. The other crashed in an instant. One was running around looking to call her parents. The other huddled in a locker room, just trying to cry the afternoon away.
Tears, joy and the Olympics.
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