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Wieber wins women’s title, but US Olympic team remains in flux

By Vahe Gregorian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — Soon after Jordyn Wieber fended off Gabby Douglas to win the U.S. women’s national gymnastics championship on Sunday at Chaifetz Arena, presto, national team coordinator Martha Karolyi had the entire five-woman Olympic lineup etched in her mind.

But she wasn’t sharing after the competition attended by 9,373.

“Oh, I can not tell that!” she said, laughing.

And not because she’s good at keeping secrets.

“That’s very much my opinion for this moment, and it could change,” she said, adding that she also had a group in mind after the first half of competition Friday. “And I am inclining toward a different one today.”

In fact, Karolyi said she still could conjure 25 combinations in her mind from the 15 women who advanced to the U.S. Olympic trials in San Jose from June 28-July 1.

Among those in contention—and now recognized as part of the U.S. senior national team—is 15-year-old St. Louis native Sarah Finnegan, who was sixth Sunday and sixth overall with a cumulative score of 117.60.

That was 4.30 points behind Wieber (121.90), the defending U.S. and world all-around champion, and 4.10 behind Douglas.

“She has the package,” said Karolyi, though noting her near-fall off the beam and actual fall from the bars and adding, “She has to prove that she can do it in every single competition.”

Where that ultimately will leave Finnegan, who now trains in Kansas City, in the Olympic derby can’t be known.

For all her hedging, though, Karolyi seemed to suggest that three of the five spots are virtually claimed.

By all logic, that means all but set are Wieber, who has won her past five competitions and felt “a sigh of relief” at extending it, and Douglas, whose splendid performance on the uneven bars eclipsed her tumble from the beam.

“Gabby Douglas is charging, right behind (Wieber),” Karolyi said, later adding, “OK, well, I wasn’t happy she gave up (and fell), but she went up and she didn’t fall apart.”

It also seemed evident that Karolyi is smitten with third-place finisher Aly Raisman (120.95), who won the beam and floor events and stands out with her consistency and poise and even her nearly grim demeanor.

“I really love to have this type of gymnast; she gives her heart to be good,” said Karolyi, who acknowledged Raisman’s athletic ability can overshadow her artistry. “We take as they are; not every single gymnast in the world is a ballerina.”

So only two spots seem to truly remain open. With any number of candidates.

Also moving on to San Jose were all three remaining members of the group that won the team silver medal among eight overall at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Of those three, Bridget Sloan was the only one to compete in the all-around, finishing 10th.

Seeking to return to the team essentially as specialists, Nastia Liukin and Alicia Sacramone competed in two events apiece.

Sacramone, who has more medals (10) in world championship competition than any other U.S. woman, was in her first competition since suffering a torn Achilles tendon last year.

She won the vault and was third in the beam.

Asked how she pulled off the vault victory, Sacramone joked, “I can’t tell you my secrets, (or) I’ll have to kill you.”

Karolyi said Sacramone looked physically strong and mentally confident and added, “I think it’s fantastic comeback.”

Liukin, who won five medals in Beijing, impressed Karolyi more with her resolve than her performance per se.

Liukin, who began a comeback in October that has been hindered by a shoulder injury, had slight improvement from a shaky bar performance Friday (from 13.150 to 13.650).

But she still finished 19th overall in that event and was sixth on the beam, off which she nearly took a tumble.

“She struggled, but she is still fighting, and I think that two weeks can make a difference and I really appreciate her efforts … knowing that there are really no guarantees she’s making this team,” Karolyi said.

As for the specifics of the selection of the five-woman Olympic team, here’s how USA Gymnastics lays it out:

“The individual all-around champion from the combined two-day competition at the U.S. Olympic trials automatically qualifies for the U.S. Olympic team,” the procedures state, adding, “The remaining four athletes and up to three replacement athletes will be determined by the selection committee from among the competitors at the U.S. Olympic trials.”

The process also allows for the potential continued eligibility of McKayla Maroney, the defending world vault champion.

Before Sunday’s competition, Maroney suffered a fall performing a floor exercise and was sent to a hospital for examination after showing signs of a concussion.

According to USA Gymnastics, she was determined to have a mild concussion and broken nose.

By the time competition began, though, she had petitioned for permission to compete in the trials. It was granted.

So not until the trials end will Karolyi have a full team she’ll have to stick with.

“Things will clear up,” she said, later adding, “This is why we have this series of competitions, to see how everybody can handle mentally the more and more pressure. Because the pressure is rising.”

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