NEW YORK — Jordyn Wieber knew the world title she won in Tokyo last fall came with more than a flashy gold medal, it also came with a target.
Gabrielle Douglas found the bullseye.
Wieber kicked off her Olympic year with a victory at the American Cup at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, though her third win in the event will come with a sizable asterisk after Douglas — who competed as an alternate and wasn’t eligible for the all-around title — stunned her more heralded teammate with a score more than two-tenths of a point higher.
“I wanted to put my name out there and show everyone what I’m capable of doing,” Douglas said.
Though Wieber stood atop the podium with a bouquet of roses in her hands at the end of the day, she gave herself a “B” while calling Douglas “amazing.”
Dubbed “the Flying Squirrel” by women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi because of her gravity-defying routines, the 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., sent a clear message the country’s gold medal hopes in London go beyond Wieber and Aly Raisman, who finished second.
Karolyi praised Douglas for her confidence but declined to dub her the new front-runner. It’s only March after all. The opening ceremony in London is still 146 days away. Plenty of drama remains. Douglas‘ “win” only adds to the intrigue as Karolyi tries to settle on five athletes to take across the Atlantic in late July.
“I don’t like to name leaders,” Karolyi said. “I think a team (where) every member is a good, confident gymnast and there’s unity is a good team.”
Consider the Americans deeper than advertised if Douglas can build on her breakthrough performance. Wieber, meanwhile, is still adjusting to being the one at the top of the mountain.
Competing for the first time since she rallied past Russia’s Viktoria Komova in Tokyo, the powerful 16-year-old showed plenty of grit but not a ton of grace. Only a spectacular save on uneven bars kept her from likely finishing behind the steady Raisman.
“We’ll have to adjust,” said John Geddert, Wieber’s coach. “It’s a different position being on top. Martha and I both said this is a nice little wake-up call.”
Danell Leyva didn’t need one. The reigning U.S. champion received his at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas last month, when a series of distractions and a sluggish performance on parallel bars — the event on which he’s world champion — and high bar dropped him to fourth behind John Orozco.
Redemption came during an exhilarating high bar routine that electrified the Garden and allowed Leyva to surge from fourth to first in the final rotation. Leyva finished with 90.664 points to slip past Mykola Kuksenkov of Ukraine.
“I definitely needed this today,” Leyva said. “Vegas was my first bigger all-around meet (this year). I didn’t do nearly as good as I wanted to. To be able to come here and do what I said I was expecting out of myself is great. It gave me more confidence.”