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Olympics 2012: Jordyn Wieber slowed by leg injury, leaves with one medal
Question of the Day
LONDON — Jordyn Wieber came to the Olympics with her eye on a fistful of medals.
She'll leave it with only one, her aching right leg in a protective boot and lingering questions over exactly what went wrong.
The world champion finished seventh in the floor exercise final on Tuesday after another methodical performance, leaving her as one of only two members of the gold-medal winning Fierce Five to head home without an individual medal to call her very own.
Oh, and then there's that suspected stress fracture in her right leg, the one that limited the 17-year-old in practice in the run-up to the games. Did she mention that?
"We can't do the numbers, we couldn't train," said John Geddert, her coach. "I had to set her down on a lot of landings. We couldn't do beam dismounts. We had to cut back on things and water down. But it is what it is."
Wieber downplayed the injury, saying "it's fine" and that it wasn't painful enough to keep her from performing.
Maybe, but she lacked her usual precision on arguably her best event, stepping out of bounds early in her typically dynamic 90-second floor routine and removing her from medal contention.
She fought back tears as the music ended. Geddert gave his star some space and was already doing interviews by the time good friend and teammate Aly Raisman celebrated the first-ever gold on floor by an American.
It wasn't the ending Wieber or her sometimes fiery coach envisioned after capturing the world all-around title in Tokyo last fall. She entered the year focused on joining Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin as Olympic champions.
Instead, she was caught by teammate Gabby Douglas at trials six weeks ago, then surpassed by good friend Raisman in all-around qualifying in London on the second day of the games. Wieber finished with the fourth-best total but was just the third-highest American, and the rules limit just two gymnasts per country in the finals.
While Geddert fumed, calling the restriction "ridiculous," Wieber pulled herself together thanks to a pep talk from Raisman and McKayla Maroney.
Confidence regained, Wieber drilled all three of her events as the U.S. won its first team gold in 16 years.
It was sweet redemption, but was quickly followed by an unexpected week off. She insists the down time waiting for the floor final didn't bother her.
Wearing a warm-up jacket while Douglas soared to the all-around title Wieber thought would be hers? Well, that was another matter.
"It was tough sitting in the stands watching because 100 percent of me wanted to be out there competing. But you know, I've just got to follow the rules," she said. "It stinks but that's the way it turned out."
Though she had the leg treated with ice and therapy, Wieber never underwent a thorough exam. Geddert believes it wouldn't have mattered.
"It's the Olympic Games," he said. "It would have taken wild horses to drag her out of here."
He's almost certainly right. Wieber competes with an intensity few in the world can match. Though she's not the most elegant gymnast out there, she overcomes it with power and precision.
Both were lacking in critical moments during the games. She sailed out of bounds on floor at the end of qualifying, giving Raisman just enough room to slip by and knock her best bud out of the finals.
It was more of the same on Tuesday. In a competition where every tenth counts, Wieber let precious points slip away with the kind of mistakes she's avoided during her rise to the top. U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi praised Wieber for her toughness but allowed the cutback in training almost certainly affected her confidence.
"If you have a little problem you have to work hard to do the same things you do at other times easily," Karolyi said. "But she showed her strong character. She really tried her best."
Wieber always does, which is what made her the centerpiece of a team that hoped to top the 10 medals put up by Liukin, Shawn Johnson and company in Beijing four years ago.
Signs of trouble, however, popped up at trials in San Jose earlier this summer. Dealing with a sore right heel,Wieber watched Douglas reach the top of the podium, giving Wieber her first official loss in a meet in three years.
Still, a showdown was expected in London. It never happened, Douglas winning by a technical knockout whenWieber didn't make the finals.
Despite the disappointment, Wieber gets to go home with the one medal that's been the program's mission for 16 years. Things could be worse.
Besides, there's still a chance Wieber could keep going. She begins her senior year of high school in the fall and is almost certain to compete through the world championships in Belgium next year. After that, if she stays healthy and in shape, the 2016 Games are not out of the question.
"Not fulfilling her dreams here might add a little fuel to the fire," Geddert said. "A lot of those kids, they're all cut from the same cloth. They all get a little bit hungry when they don't achieve what they want to get done."
By John R. Bolton
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