Wieber Wins 2nd U.S. Title

Reigning Olympic champion Nastia Liukin had another rough day in her bid to make it to London

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Wieber was a force on the balance beam once again.

    Forget the Russians. Jordyn Wieber's biggest competition in London might come from right here at home.

    The reigning world champion earned her second straight U.S. title Sunday, getting a little assist when Gabby Douglas fell off the balance beam at the start of the meet. Wieber finished with 121.900 points, edging Douglas by 0.2.

    Take away that mistake, and the competition might have been a lot different.

    Aly Raisman was third and Kyla Ross, a two-time junior champ, was fourth. Reigning Olympic champion Nastia Liukin had another rough day in her bid to make it to London, needing to put her hand down on the balance beam and performing a watered-down routine on uneven bars. Still, she made the cut for the Olympic trials, June 28 to July 1 in San Jose, Calif.

    Wieber has won all but one all-around competition since the start of the 2008 season, and had one of the most dominant runs the sport has seen last year. She upstaged then-world champion Aliya Mustafina at the American Cup, her first meet as a senior, then won last year's U.S. title by a whopping six points — think those nonconference patsies the SEC teams play, and you get the idea. She led the Americans to only their third title at the world championships last fall, then added the all-around gold.

    Wieber has looked vulnerable this year, however. Douglas actually finished ahead of her at American Cup, though her scores didn't count because she was competing as an alternate, and the two tied in Friday's preliminaries.

    But no one is a fiercer competitor than Wieber, and she took full advantage of the opportunity Douglas gave her.

    Uneven bars is the one place she's had some trouble this year, but she muscled through her routine without wavering a bit. She gave a slight smile when her feet hit the mat with a solid whump! on her dismount, and she and coach John Geddert exchanged a high five that almost had some brashness to it, as if to say, "Yeah, I got this."

    Watching balance beam is enough to make most folks' palms sweat, a 4-inch wide slab standing 4 feet in the air. But Wieber whipped off her tricks with such ease and confidence she may as well have been in the field behind the arena. The crowd was barely done oohing over her aerial somersault before she did a series of back handsprings, nary a wobble in sight.

    Wieber has a gameface that could frighten some NFL players, but floor is the one spot she lets her personality comes through. And boy, did she turn on the charm Sunday. She gave a sly smile as she shimmied in time to her music, following it with a cheeky little slide step. Her tumbling passes are so massive you could have parked a Volkswagen Beetle beneath, but she landed each one without budging an inch. When she finished her last one, Geddert, who'd been stalking the sidelines, clapped his hands above his head.

    All that was left was vault, and Wieber rocked it. Soaring high above the table, her legs were glued together and her toes were perfectly pointed. Her only flaw was a step forward, but the error was minor and she and Geddert knew she had the title locked up as she climbed off the podium.

    "That was a good job," Geddert told her before giving her a big bear hug.

    Douglas did a good job, too, after that error on balance beam.

    She landed a series of back handsprings off-center, and momentum kept her going — in the wrong direction. She waved her arms and even put a hand on the beam to try and stay upright, but finally had to jump off, prompting a loud groan from the crowd. Her score of 14.1 was her lowest of the two days, by far, and dropped her almost a point behind Wieber.

    But the mistake seemed to take all the pressure off Douglas, and she finished with one three world-class routines.

    The highlights were her perky floor routine, which showed the kind of star power that could captivate not just one country this summer, but two. Flashing a smile that could have powered the arena if the lights went out, she had the crowd clapping along and swaying to her techno music. She looked like a SuperBall as she tumbled, getting such massive height the folks in the first few rows had to look up to see her.

    But it's uneven bars where she really shines. Martha Karolyi has dubbed her the "Flying Squirrel" for the lightness and ease with which she flits between the bars, and she had even more pizazz than usual Sunday. When she threw herself up and back across the bar, her legs in a piked position, her form was so perfect she could have touched her nose to her knees. And LeBron and the boys in Miami would kill for her hang time, as she seemed to be suspended in the air forever before coming back down to catch the bar.

    She beamed as she landed a near-perfect dismount, and even Karolyi applauded. Her score of 15.85 was the highest of the meet on an event besides vault. But it wasn't quite enough to catch Wieber.